I feel like I know a number of people involved in the sport of endurance or LD who have a horse out of commission, including myself. I've given a lot of thought to what is wrong with Phebes, and remain undecided if that first ill fated ride is the cause of her current difficulty, or if her current difficulty was the same cause of the original ill fated ride, and the continuing cause of her rather firm muscle tone. I truly hope that I was not the ultimate cause of long-term damage to my horse. But this sport is risky. Horse and rider ,depending on distance and speed, gets really pushed to the upper thresholds. It is a delicate balance. Endurance racing pushes those boundaries even harder. I've tried very hard to prepare my horse, and I feel that the speed at which I've trained and competed has been very conservative. (My record is on the AERC website if anyone wonders...) Even so it has presented issues for my horse.
We hear so much about the thrill of riding endurance, the successes, and the almost "high" related to being involved in this sport. But we rarely talk about the struggles of beginning riders, novice competitors, and those who compete on their backyard horses that may not be entirely suited to this edgy sport. I have been told by experienced riders, on experienced horses that this sport is "not that hard." Perhaps on the right horse, it really isn't. But not every competition has all entries complete without a pull. Are only newbies to the sport getting those pulls? I know that I still feel like there is a steep learning curve every time I'm on the competition trail. With what...seven attempts maybe, I'm starting to get a feel for pacing. I know what my horse needs, not fully how to get a horse to take care of itself. Would I quickly notice a gait abnormality before I damaged my horse? Will I recognize a metabolic problem quickly enough that my horse is not at risk of death? I can't answer that, as I've not been there or done that, yet, and hope I never do! I just know that endurance is fraught with hazards for our horses who don't get to make the call themselves as to if we ride today, or how far, or how fast. I wonder what their choice would be if they made the call. Most of them I expect would choose a shade tree on a sunny, breezy day, graze on grass and flick away flies with their tails. It would be the rare horse that would choose the horse trailer, the trail, and the miles. Very, very rare specimen.
I've been to rides and seen the tired exhausted eye at the vet check. The horse was talking, but nobody was listening. He would likely be pointed back down the trail. I've also seen the horse so energetic at the vet check/trot out that they've nearly been dragging the handler. It makes you wonder about the difference between training program A or B, or maybe breeding program A or B. Or is it feeding program A or B! What is the magic that makes certain horses excel while others struggle to complete? I'm not even sure five years in this sport will give me an answer to that question. It seems that those who do best are not as willing to share the recipe of their success, or their difficulty in the early years. The newbies among us however cling closer to a mental principle of my friend's failure was my failure, my friend's success is my success, and we share accordingly. I'm glad of that. It has helped me along the way and I hope that my less than successful attempt at distance riding thus far will help someone else to not repeat my errors so that their learning curve will be straight up, up, and up! It is when we deconstruct our ill fated rides that we experience the magnitude of what we ask of our horses. It is when we find ourselves on foot without our horse, climbing that very steep hill on foot and wondering if we will make it to the top, that we know at least a little what we ask of our horses. We ask them to endure. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't.
Feeling a little philosophical about it all. ~ 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