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

June 8, 2011


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 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.


  1. EG- THANK YOU for this post. It is so true! I'm feeling a little uncertain myself, as my mare is still not quite right after our pull last month and what we thought was a minor interference issue. The questioning and wondering what came first is driving me crazy!!!

  2. I don't think it's all that different from other horse sports. Think of how many racehorses have career ending injuries. Think of how many jumpers have navicular or ringbone or what have you. Think of eventing or combined driving or even dressage. I have yet to meet a horse that goes through life without injury... and that includes those who live in the pasture. I've seen foals break their legs just playing. They're big, strong animals, but they are incredibly fragile. If you ride enough, you're bound to be on a horse when it breaks down sooner or later. Now think about how much TIME endurance riders spend on their horses. Statistics. That's all it is.

  3. I guess that is a little of what I'm saying. It isn't just the competition time, the miles of preparation hammer at joint, tendon, bone. Yes, there are inherent risks in any of the performance sports. I really believe in my heart that Phebes issue stems from a metabolic disorder of some kind. But I'm on the cusp of possibly acquiring another horse. If I do, I really want that longevity, and there just are NO GUARANTEES! I'm giving a lot of thought to the preparation of the next horse. Slower....slower....and even slower. I've used tendon boots for competition but have been pretty haphazard on training rides. I think I need to invest in some ice boots too. I have not decided if we will even start in LD. I may start her in another venue for a year. I want a horse that I feel confident riding FIRST. That may take awhile.

  4. I think that it's never a bad plan to try a little bit of everything with a horse, especially a new horse. The first year that I had Fee, we did everything from trick-training to backcountry packing to crazy costumes to dressage lessons. I'm still waiting for a chance to try her on cows (I've never "done cows" in my life, but a cowboy friend has promised to teach us). Giving a horse a varied base of training allows him/her to learn to trust you in new situations, and also gives you an opportunity to understand that individual's strengths and weaknesses. Also, if the horse ends up hating endurance (some do!), it will have other training to use as a new career.

    I think that the biggest "trick" in endurance is really knowing what your horse does well, and what s/he doesn't do well...and then building your day around that knowledge. For example: Fee isn't very happy in the company of other horses. She can *handle* it (practice is ongoing), but she doesn't enjoy it. For a horse to be successful in endurance s/he has to enjoy it--so my endurance rides are solo with Fee. Wouldn't I love to ride with other people in competition? Yes. But if I want to get to the finish line year-after-year with her, I have to figure out how to keep my dragon happy and *wanting* to go. That means I need to understand her, and to be willing to organize her day around her strength, which is trotting trails all by herself.

    Endurance is organized so that almost any reasonably fit horse can finish...but they don't all finish the same way. Some go fast, others go slow. I had a horse for a while who liked to alternate between walk/trot and trot/canter. She *could* trot steadily for miles, but she was happier mixing up the gaits...and if you knew that, you'd have a happier, sounder horse at the finish. Some horses need to eat along the trail, others prefer to gulp food at vetchecks and concentrate on moving forward on the trail. To say that a horse travels at an average speed of 6mph leaves out a lot of details.

    All that is a long way to say a short thing: YES, ABSOLUTELY teach your horse as many diverse skills as you can!

  5. Maybe it's just a regional thing or even a local individual thing, but I've had SO MANY experienced riders give me a hug and tell me how hard endurance is. This is not an easy sport. I don't know who's telling you it is, but it's not!

    I've only really looked at the results for the rides I've done, but off the top of my head half of them are experienced riders. Some racers, yes, but some experienced conservative riders getting pulled M or L at every ride I've attended.

    No matter how hard it is, I wouldn't change a thing. I can't believe the bond I have with my horse now. Yall know what I'm talking about, and you know how impossible it is to explain to other people. I'm with Dom - any horse sport is dangerous. And any horse leads a perilous life just standing in the pasture. I feel responsible for injuring my horse - but I'm doing the best I can by her, period.

  6. Funder,

    I did indeed have someone write me to say that it "is no big deal" to excel at endurance, and so why wasn't I? I've also been told that unless I'm willing to put down $3500 + on a horse that I'm wasting my time and will end up with another horse like the one I have!

    My feeling about riding distance has not changed. I love the sport, and can't imagine doing anything else. I am just feeling a little ....overwhelmed with starting over from scratch again.

    And no, I don't feel that you (or other endurance riders) have anything but the best motivations for your horse. And I believe your girl will heal up and be just fine. It is obvious that you care a great deal about your mare. I agree that pushing the boundaries with a horse changes how you feel about them forever. It is difficult to even explain what you feel. You realize how much heart they have to do this incredible thing.

    Setting my Phebes aside has been one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made, but I feel it is in her best interest. When I felt the muscle tone on the prospect mare, I was shocked. Maybe stunned is a better word. Phebes has NEVER had muscle tone like that. I knew what her normal was but had no idea what normal actually was relative to a healthy horse.

    Moving forward, I do hope that I have learned enough to make good decisions for the prospect horse. I count on this little network of "friends" to help keep me pointed straight! ~E.G.

  7. EG, anybody who tells you that you need to spend $3500 on a horse is selling something...and I daresay, it's a horse. Srsly. I should do a poll of riders at the next event I attend to verify this, but I can name several horses right off the top of my head who were exceedingly cheap or free BEFORE the economy fell apart. We can start with MY horse, who was a gift (uh, literally and figuratively). I've met a lot of riders who have tried to "buy success" in the sport by purchasing a CMK Arab or one that already has 1,000+ miles...with varying degrees of success. I put 2,000 miles on somebody else's spendy horse, but the experienced 100-mile horse she bought the same year never finished a ride under the new owner.

    Money can't buy success in the sport, which is one of the reasons I love it.

  8. EG, after talking with my riding partners this morning, I wrote a blog post asking for advice about horse shopping...maybe there will be some help for your ponderings when we get some comments rolling in! --AareneX