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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

November 29, 2010

The Biggest Obstacles to Newbies

Though I've been beating my LD drum for a couple of years now I still very much consider myself a newbie to distance riding sports.  I also always hope that those who may frequent this blog keep my rambling ideas somewhat firmly tongue in cheek.  Sometimes I "think" I know what I'm talking about.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not a full-time idiot, but rather like to think just a part-time one.  I don't always get it right.  Ummm...I don't even frequently get it right.  But once in a blue moon an epiphany smacks me right between the eyes, and when it does that is such a beautiful place to be!  Starting the sport is not easy.  Continuing in the sport is not easy.  Mastering the sport is not easy.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle a newbie can face is being mentored by an advanced distance rider.  Not because they don't know what they are talking about, but because what they are saying, or doing, is being filtered through the mind of someone who has not been there and done that.  Let's take a training ride for example.  If you mentor a newbie to the sport are you going to ride your (experienced) pace, or are you going to ride at finish is to win pace?  What are you teaching that fledgling to the sport that may be attempting the sport for the very first time?  My first mentored ride about gave me a heart attack!  The wonderful lady who rode with me would have considered the training ride to have been slow paced, as she is an intermediate rider.  For her more experienced horse it was probably tooth grindingly slow as we trotted out for ten miles.  At the end of the day my first thought was I can't do this.   I can't even stay balanced to post or two-point the trot for that long.  Thankfully, my old mare had enough trail miles on her that she was no worse for wear, but I nearly went home and  burned up my AERC card right then and there!  What would have been good for me as a newbie would be to have been shown the pace I need to go to finish.  Not to place.  Not come in middle of the pack.  But how to set my pace to cover just barely enough ground to relax and get the job done.  I in fact am still struggling with that one issue a little.  We are getting better as we get more rides under our belt, but figuring out how much ground we are covering, and when we can just relax and enjoy the view to this day is somewhat of a challenge because of my previous rider error.  You notice I said "my" rider error.  Not my mentor's error.  As a result of my not saying "can you teach me how to rate for a slow finish."  All I needed to do was communicate, but I in fact was so clueless that I just went along for the ride, and did it time, and time again.

Expectations can sure set up the newbie to fall on their face as well.  There is a little bit of Cybil Syndrome in all of us, and it takes very little to tip a new rider into sniffing the dust and blazing on down the trail.  It is in fact easier to drop the rein on some horses and let them run rather than fight for control.  Galloping along is also a lot of fun, at least until you hit the vet check.  You look around at all those horses that were galloping along in front of you and they are looking fresh as a daisy, and your horse is slathered in sweat, panting nostrils flared, and the vet is thinking "what kind of a twit do we have here?"  I will admit to total mystification of how a horse can trot, canter for 25-100 miles and look like that at the finish. I see it happen with my own eyes, but it is a level of horsemanship that thoroughly escapes me, especially when the veteran rider says something like "I only condition 10 miles at a time, or I only ride on the weekends."  I scratch my head, shuffle off, and want to lay under the tire of a four-horse rig.   How do they do it?  Please, don't tell me, I will only confuse the issue and I'll again think that I in fact can do that too.

Maybe the biggest newbie obstacle is the newbie themselves.  That bad word EXPECTATION rolls out yet AGAIN.   It is easy to think that you have trained in your little bubble and you are ready to whip the world, win a regional award, of in fact finish the season unscathed.  However, your little endurance horse may not have signed up for any of the above.  Your horse's best might be two LD finishes in one year.  But "I trained all winter" you say!  Well---it isn't winter anymore cupcake, the temperature is 90 degrees and humidity will hit 60%.   Then there is the twist of fate that a newbie shows up at a spring ride.  There are twenty-five riders signed up for the 30 LD, and twenty-two of them are getting their horse out of the barn for the first time since winter rolled in.  She rode all winter (again) and she top tens her first ride of the year.  Suddenly she is a front-runner, she's in the hunt!   Well---stop sniffing the dust sweetheart, you and your horse are still pretty green around the gills, and you will prove it, next time.  ~E.G.


  1. Thanks for this info. As a complete newbie who is considering (with trembling knees) doing an LD this year, this is good info to have. I have a mentor who thinks I can do more than I do, but I have explained that I'm not comfortable at that level. I hope that I don't have the high-expectation problem...I am just hoping to finish alive! Fighting my horse will be the biggest challenge, and that frustrates/scares me the most. Your challenges with your horse have been both great to read but also a bit too close to home sometimes...

  2. Irish...get used to shaking knees, especially if you don't have a good handle on your horse. Mine are still shaking everytime a horse comes up from behind, as we have to go into training mode ALL OVER AGAIN. Somehow you survive, even though you may have cursed outloud, or under your breath, seventy-five percent of the entire ride. But when you finally finish you think, OH THAT WAS FUN! Can't wait to do it again *LOL*.

  3. Personally, I love mentoring others. Hopefully Funder can attest that I'm a pretty good mentor. ;) I've been lucky enough to have two friends start in this sport because of me, and I mentored another, who had been doing endurance longer than I had, to her first 100 mile completion.

    I think as a mentor, it's *your* job (the mentors) to start out slower. Get a perspective of the rider and their horse. The first few rides should just be fun trail rides. Then start to add distance, then speed. Just like we would train our horses. I think a lot of the information online, which most newbies find, is too aggressive and regimented. This should be about having FUN first and foremost. It shouldn't turn riding our horses into a job.

    I've been following your blog for a while now (a year or two?). I think that you and Phebes are more than ever on the right track. Soon you'll both discover the natural "pace" that works for you. Once you get there, it's magic. THAT'S the pace that will allow your horse to go on, and on, for miles, and miles, and come in looking fresh. Keep doing what you've been doing. Look for that slow and steady - head on the job attitude and you'll find it.

    I hate to see new riders/horses finishing near the front. To me it just leads to issues down the road eventually. Like you said "next time."

  4. You make some excellent points... I probably would have made the same mistake of just 'taking you for a ride' if I'd ridden with you. I guess another good point is, you need to say ahead of time what you're looking for, and ask the mentor what he/she thinks of that!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  5. EG, Very well said! You are very insightful about the difference between expectations and what can actually be achieved. Thanks for sharing this.