Many would consider riding Endurance or Limited Distance a hobby. To personalities less driven than mine that may be so. Hobbies for me are entertaining little life segues that come, and quickly go. I’ve refinished furniture and sold or given it away. Decorative painting has come, and gone. I’ve beaded, quilted, stitched, dark roomed and photographed. Though I enjoyed each of these pursuits none have held me so much as the mystery of the trail and the view between my horse’s ears. I am tenacious, and a loner at heart, one would think a perfect storm for the sport of distance riding. Yet none of that pulls me forward, or keeps me wanting to try, try again. It is the personal challenge that makes me want to continue, it is riding the horse that doesn’t read the rules, and my over fifty body but young mind that doesn’t give a damned about the rules of growing "old." Keep moving or you "rusticate" is my mantra. Asking why a person rides endurance is like asking the mountain climber, why Mount Everest? It isn't the mountain that draws, it is the challenge. Can we safely travel one more mile, trot a little faster, do a multi-day, reach a mileage goal, finish with a horse in better condtion than last time, beat this one particular trail? It is the reaching for that which is somewhat elusive, but reaching anyway time and time again, exploring our limits, and always pushing our boundaries.
My mentality is that a person that continues to strive and makes incremental progress is a success. It is the quitter who is preordained to fail. The beauty of distance riding is that I can set the bar for my own successes and even when I perceive myself as a dismal failure in the moment, there is a gift in each small disaster that I become more attuned to my horse, my goals, and who I really am. Many times I have been advised to give up on my difficult little mare and also to give up on riding towards endurance. My horse is a challenge to handle, to ride, to maintain weight, to keep sane and safe. It would be easier with a push button purebred arabian. So much easier that the urging of others has pressed me to just give up on her, and let her be someone else’s “show horse.” Even more so, much easier to just put my toys away and not continue to play...I could, but where would the challenge be in that? Would the sport be as appealing to me if I lowered the bar, or just give it up as another fall by the wayside hobby?
Often in endurance riding we hear of the people who win. The best conditioned horse is chosen among the top ten, but I find myself cheering for the unheard of person or horse that endures. It is quite possible that one of the last teams in may have had the most challenging ride of the day. I can attest to the challenges of holding back a young green horse hell bent on self-destruction as experienced horses race on past! There are also those who ride for the long haul. That is where you really find the person with grit, riding with physical limitations, but riding nonetheless. At our last ride an elderly woman completed her 13,000th endurance mile. She looked so tiny, frail, and fragile as she with wonder in her eyes selected her turtle award from the box. Life could spin on a dime this winter and maybe she will never ride another mile, but she will have reached a pinnacle that others in this sport will only dream of and her horses held close to her heart, always. I will remember that moment as an important awakening of what this sport can bring to me and why I hope to continue to be involved.
Nothing has pulled at my heart for as long as distance riding has. It took me a long time to even get the opportunity to try, and probably nothing has given me the sense of accomplishment that my little mare’s good finish brought last spring, when I had to tuck my tearful face because I had learned so deeply from my mistakes, and because I was so proud of her. She has grown, and I have grown, and though we continue to be challenged we will try, try again, against the odds, and the naysayers. We may have future epic fails, but we will shape ourselves and our goals to fit our own needs, and challenges, and just do the best we can. That is what makes you a winner. In what other sport could you say that? The AERC really does have a place for everyone, if you have only competed 30 miles, or 13,000 miles, there is always a higher rung for which to reach, a higher goal in which to aspire, and a reason to endure. ~E.G.
Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance
Favorite Links for training, gear, and memberships!
- National Association of Competitive Mounted Orienteering
- HOW TO CMO
- What is CMO?
- Old Dominion Endurance Rides
- Renegade Hoof Boots
- Riding vs. Racing a discussion with the Duck.
- Trumbull Mountain's INTRO TO ENDURANCE RIDING
- Principles of Conditioning
- Conditioning the endurance horse by SERA
- Short Article: Feeding & Training the Endurance Horse
- Feeding the Endurance Horse, Swedish Author
- Preventing Dehydration In the Endurance Horse, Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association
- Jim Holland's fantastic training links here!
- South Eastern Distance Rider's Association