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

January 28, 2011

On Riding Your Own Ride

Riding your own ride seems like a simplistic enough concept, but in reality, especially with a green endurance horse it is one of the bigger challenges a newbie will face on ride day.  So, any time you pair up with another rider, especially an experienced distance rider at a competition you have raised the bar, and set your horse up for riding someone else's ride.  The horse you are paired up with may have a number of ride years on it, it may be conditioned for a little bit faster pace than you are ready for. Yes, you are riding along...maybe at slow "endurance" pace, but perhaps your horse is being pulled along just one mph faster than training and conditioning warrants.  Is that fair to the horse? Will the horse lose more fluids through sweat?  Will muscle tone be affected as the ride progresses? Will appetite up and go? Will the horse have a mental connection to his rider if he's working on instinct rather than the calm direction of his human partner?

Let me say up front that I've had issues in the past with just this very concept. Anyone who has followed my blog knows that.  It is now easy to see it in hindsight, but it was not easy for me to grasp those first few LD's that I was creating a problem for my horse.  I was told that we would be riding slow, and as I had no real concept of what that meant other than I needed to keep my pace at 6 mph average, I ended up over-riding my horse early on, and paying the price.  My fault.  Looking back is sometimes painful,  and disappointing, but it is also educational if I process my failures which I try to be honest about here.  Maybe I can stop someone from repeating my mistake.  I'd bet that I'm not alone in my early mess-ups.  I'm also equally sure that going forward I'll make some new foible that I'll kick myself for later.  But I do have a logical understanding now of what riding my own ride means, and I also have a clear and mindful picture of what that pace is with Phebes, which I've mastered on the conditioning trail, and have not quite mastered on the competition trail as the herd dynamics come into play, though it has gotten "better" with each ride by very small increments.   Riding our ride means a 25 mile finish time of about the full allotted time on the conditioning trail.   I only discovered what her real ride time should be by training solo at LSD without any other horses on our radar.  I encourage you to find that relaxed pace for your horse on a 20+ mile solo ride, take your Garmin along, and see what natural speed your horse does in a relaxed frame (not high headed, not pulling to go, go, go) on a loose rein, while keeping heartrate at 130 or below.  I'll bet it will be well slower than your real finish times have been if you are newbies on the LD trail.  Especially if you have been riding in a group.    Phebes is actually a beautiful ride on these LSD sessions.  Her hoof falls are efficient, she doesn't waste energy, she is less inclined to spook at imagined terrors,posting the trot is nearly effortless, and she is slower than the itch at 4.5-5 mph.  It took me two months of diligent work at the trot riding alone to find the sweet spot.

The joy of riding in a group sometimes supersedes one riding their own ride.  It is fun to ride with your comrades, and sometimes the social aspect of the sport may be the driving force of why a person even does it.  Conversation makes the time go quickly, but it might also cause you to miss critical information about how your horse is feeling.  How accomplished are you as a horse and rider team if you can't point your horse down a trail and ride it solo?  That is where you learn your real strengths and weaknesses, though it does increase your personal risk somewhat.  Think about it---if you are riding in a group, even a group of two, if your horse is not leading, then guess what?  He's following, and he's not setting the pace, he's in "herd mode" which pulls him along....just maybe, at slightly or even much faster than he may need to go that day.  

When I began this sport a couple of years ago I didn't know about any of the mileage incentives of competition.  All I knew was that you went, it was a horse race of sorts, and that you could complete or run for the top ten.  Watching the first few after ride awards meetings this concept was further re-enforced in my little pea brain as the top ten got the "good prizes" and everyone else got their t-shirt.   It was later through exploration of the AERC website that I discovered the plethora of fun  long-term goals to work towards that involved "distance" rather than "speed."   You really have to ride with a different mentality if you want to ever shoot for regional or national level mileage awards.  You have to ride "smart", be a good steward, and take way better care of your horse if you want to rack up multi-day type mileage, ride after ride, season upon season, with the same horse for a decade or more.   It takes "ride your own ride" to an entirely new level.  These concepts take time, they take endurance!  What is more challenging?  Riding a one day ride, really fast?  Or having a horse that can do 25-30 miles two or three days in a row?  Five days in a row?  Think about it.  What a great way to bring a horse along in this sport!

Riding your own ride isn't an easy concept to grasp, or to implement.  In fact, it is easier to let go of the reins and let that horse run...but letting go and running with the pack may eventually bite you (more likely your horse) at the vet check. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday.  If mileage goals are your aim, learn to do it, and learn to do it well.  When LD mileage is your game, the ride time DOES NOT MATTER as long as you complete in the max allotted time.   This is what they are talking about when they say almost any horse can do LD.  In fact is it almost down right liberating once you really ponder on it!

If you are a new rider coming into this sport I challenge you to grasp this concept early on, and compete your horse with this mindset for at least one full season to find your horse's natural rate (pace) of going, to fine tune it until it is muscle memory and habit.  It offers further benefits than your completions.  It gives you time on trail  to use LD (as its original purpose, a training ground for longer distances) to teach your horse vital skills related to traveling over distance (grazing, drinking, using the body efficiently), it gives the rider the opportunity to work out training issues that may not present anywhere else but the LD trail.  It also gives one the opportunity to really see the trail from some spectacular vantage points, and time to enjoy the journey rather than the hurry back to ride camp.  Perhaps you ride a non-typical (not an arabian) breed of horse? By making a practice of riding your own ride, and riding multi-days you could  shoot for a regional mileage award.  Show people that yes, your Standardbred, Saddlebred, Tennessee Walker, Foxtrotter, Mule, Icelandic, or "fill in the blank" breed can excel in a distance sport, and that To Finish is to Win really does mean something good. ~E.G.


  1. Great post!

    I think the big trick for me was that singular/plural "you" thing. Yes, you show up to your first ride ready to "ride your own ride" - but according to the way I'd say it, it's not your own ride, it's yall's own ride. Your horse, usually workmanlike, or lazy, or bored, or whatever on your own trails, turns into a crackhead at the ride. All of a sudden the horse has very strong opinions too, and they involve zooming along much faster than you'd planned!

    I'm still struggling with making my ride pace about the same as my training pace. I am so lucky that Dixie's pretty independent minded and doesn't melt down when she gets passed or "left" by other horses, but it's still hard for us. :)

  2. Even though the last couple of rides my total mindset was to ride slow, and ride my own ride, it was really difficult with the 50 mile horses coming on fast. I slowed her down I guess by about a half hour or so, which is an improvement, but I want my TRAINING pace on an actual LD ride. When we get that worked out I'll feel like we have reached our primary destination. I'm still waiting for the snow to melt off the arena so I can go for our clinic, once we do that and a few follow lessons, then we will start legging up for spring, and then back for more lessons in July & August. That's all the farther I've given thought yet.

  3. Great post!

    After ten years in the sport, I've finally gotten the hang of "riding my own ride."

    Part of my early problem was that I was riding with a friend/mentor who didn't know much more than I knew (but I didn't know that at the time)!

    After that, I was riding somebody else's horse, and he (the horse) was a "crackhead" (as Funder so eloquently stated). Also, my friend never got confident enough to accelerate up to mid-pack speeds, so I spent years "standing on the brakes", which was no fun at all.

    I didn't *intend* to take three years to get Fiddle legged up for competition, but because my life got really complicated, that's how much time it took. In retrospect, it was perfect. She was slow to mature, and slow to trust. Now, I can point her anywhere and know how fast she needs to travel. And she is happy to go there, and we have fun.

    I think I was working so hard to "do things right" in the early days that I often forgot to have fun. These days the only thing I work hard to do is to have fun. This way is better.