Distance riding as a full time or anytime discipline for that matter brings with it inherent risks for your horse. While horses by their very nature are more or less full time accidents waiting to happen, where do you draw the line? How much risk are you willing to take for the sake of a ride?
Personally, I'm pretty risk adverse when it comes to the care and / or suffering of my animals. I'm a person of very nominal means, and large veterinary bills can put me into a tailspin. Not to say my animals aren't fed well, wormed, have all their shots, and normal care, but the big stuff, the unplanned stuff scares me now that veterinary care is pretty much equal to the price of human care without the benefit of low copays and insurance backing you up. So I try to be a good steward by making sure the pasture is free of debris and sharp objects, the electric fence is functioning, feeding times are regular, and there is always a supply of fresh water in their tanks. Likewise I try to make decisions in the best interests of my horse whenever I can. Yet still, stuff happens. Phebes managed to cut herself this year, and Journey this week caught her hind foot on the stall door, jerked it back, and cut her heel bulb. Stuff happens.
Then there are the risks associated with competition. Higher risks with the horses that go faster may include mechanical injury, pulled tendons, sprains, stone bruises, metabolic issues including colic. But it doesn't stop with the fast paced horses. Being a mid to slower than dirt rider puts you out on the trail longer, so it is anybody's guess which is harder on the horse, getting the job done and over with in a few hours, or plugging along in the heat for twice the time, carrying the rider for twice the time. That carries its own set of risks as the sun bakes the horse longer, they sweat longer, and have more time out there for stuff to happen in general.
So what do we do? Each of us makes the best decision for our horse that we can. Sometimes that involves deciding not to play the game at all in the best interests of the horse. There are times we make that call such as:
Horse with underlying issues such as scratches, low-grade lameness, sore back, not quite right acting.
Gear fitting issues such as rubs, interference wounds, saddle fit.
Terrain extremes (deep mud, ice).
Inclement weather including ice, snow, lightening storms, high heat and humidity.
Not everyone draws that line in the sand to say I'm not riding in the best interests of my horse. Where do you fit on the risk adverse spectrum? Especially when the risk you are taking is not necessarily a risk to you, but a risk for your horse. Our horses do not get to make that choice. We have to be good stewards and say today is not our day, give "OLD DOBBIN" a good scratch, and a carrot, and shoot for the next ride. After all, the sport is endurance riding, not stupidity riding. Yes?