My distance riding journey began July 2007 on Aidrian (Puddin') an 18 year old arabian broodmare. I put her under saddle and began training with Barb W. and her AQHA gelding George. We spent the spring evenings and weekends training at 4-6 mph, puttering along the trail, riding calmly and sanely for our first novice non-sanctioned 15 mile LD. It was here that I felt the first chords of noncontent and confusion as we trotted along and horse, after horse, after horse blew by us. These horses were the 50 mile horses that started before we did. I felt confused and a little afraid that there was no way we could do this! Barb says something like "they are passing us like we are standing still!" Synapse connects with synapse within my brain that the pace we were riding was too slow. So next I hooked up with intermediate LD riders to train with and completed my first LD on the older mare with only one minute separating us from a top ten. Next up I was on my newly under saddle half-arabian, and we trained "faster." At intermediate pace still I felt outpaced by these riders as I didn't have the riding experience to hang with it, and didn't know that my horse shouldn't be doing it anyway. All the empirical evidence said otherwise. We were still too slow to cut Endurance. Hell...we were too slow to cut LD! First crack out on the LD trail, averaging only 5-6 mph my horse has a tie-up post ride from over-exertion. Wasn't I going slow? From that point forward our rides began to unravel into levels of disappointment & discouragement. Even though I was riding a "slow" endurance pace the rides continued to plague us with problems, muscle tightness, lack of appetite, poor gut sounds, coupled with if I tried to ride on a loose rein Phebes would torque up her trotting speed to 10-13 mph! When she hit the LD trail she was doing what she had been trained to do, ride at intermediate speed. Un-training is much more difficult than training my friends. A horse that has become race-brained is counter to the beginner's long range goals.
Our fourth attempt together we hooked up with an experienced "slow" LD rider. But even that Anglo-arabian's slow pace was faster than my mare needed to go per the ride vet. So again I asked myself "how slow is slow"? Pacing a distance horse is an art form, and if you are thinking of just coming into the sport, that how slow is slow speed really needs to be your focus. The answer to how slow is slow, is something like slow is however slow it takes for your horse to catch the learning curve.
It is hard for me to believe sometimes that I've been at this for 3 years. During this time I've watched fellow blog buddies start in LD and move on to the longer distances (Elsie "Living in a Zoo", Melinda "Boots & Saddles", Tamara "The Barb Wire"). Though I cheered them on in their success I'd be less than honest if I did not express my inner frustration as they mastered the LD and moved up to 50, 75, and Tevis. While here we are, trying still to perfect the LD. However I feel it is in Phebe's best interests to do the shorter distance well before we can ever set our sights to Endurance. She must rate effectively (which will require lessons), she must eat and drink (which will require her to relax), we must finish with good muscle tone (which goes back to rating well and relaxing, and electrolytes, and all kinds of stuff...), and we must do all these things consistently, for a cycle of rides and multi-days. We can't measure ourselves against the successes of others. They are riding their distance journey, not mine. We have to take pride in our own accomplishments however small. While I look up to certain riders and their achievements such as Karen Chaton, I also have to understand that even these Endurance Icons look up to someone else, and probably at some juncture of their riding career experienced their own forms of discouragement in some situation or other until they too learned how to do it right.
If you are just starting out, don't get discouraged, ride your own ride, and define what slow really is...As newbies to the sport (Phebes and I have had only 5 LD's total) it is easy to look at the front runners and the icons of the sport as how it is done, but they too must have started AT THE BEGINNING. ~E.G.