When Aspirations and Endurance Collide
This was a pinnacle ride in many respects. My four year old mostly arabian, hundreds and hundreds of training rides under our belt, and a belief that I could whip the world. The story started and pretty much in its own way ended right then and there at the first Limited Distance Ride.
I sought out the advice and wisdom of seasoned endurance riders. Followed them down the training trail, asked questions, and put all of my try into that first LD on my horse. The horse I raised from a baby, put under saddle myself, took all the lumps and bumps and bruises from. How could one ride go so horribly wrong?
The pace we set wasn't any faster than the training rides. Maybe even a little slower than some. My horse did not exhibit a hitch in her giddy-up. She drank water. She ate food. If I were going step by step from the how-to book, we were pretty much on course. But incredibly wrong the ride did go.
My horse completed. She got credit for that completion. Her eyes were bright and her trot-outs were stellar. But at the end of the day, we got a mark down in muscle tone. We completed. But the horse had not yet urinated since the last loop. With a sense of satisfaction on a job well done, we were walking back to the horse trailer to untack. She indicated she had to pee. Since I had read so much I knew that I should look at the color of her urine.
It. Was. Black.
Yes, it was black swirled with red. The horse that had been ridden to fitness, carefully groomed to the best of my own personal knowledge and what I could glean from four other experienced riders had experience rhabdomyolysis (also known as tie-up). Her muscles cells were breaking down to mush and having to be filtered through her kidneys, and I'm lucky she didn't die or have permanent kidney damage. Immediate veterinary intervention was necessary. She recovered. It took a year, and very careful rehabilitation to bring her back.
Why did she tie up?
She was extremely fit. Lean (not skinny). In heat cycle. Had alfalfa on the ride. The temperature was unseasonably warm. She was very over-excited at the start and about pulled my arms from the sockets trying to slow her down.
Essentially, the perfect storm for a major metabolic melt-down.
I. Was. Devastated.
This little walk down memory lane is brought to you by me in hopes that you recognize that not every horse is suitable for this sport. Sometimes you won't know it until you get there. Happily, this horse is okay today, but who knows what would or could happen again, fifteen or twenty miles out on the distance trail.
My purpose isn't to scare anyone. Just to bring awareness that things can go wrong in this sport. Not every horse is suitable. It happens to beginners, it happens sometimes to seasoned riders. If you hedge your bet, and ride sensibly it reduces most of the risk. But not all of it.
The powers that be which sanction rides will have ride vets available, safeguards in place, and try to lead you on the safest path while you are there.
Fatalities in AERC are low per number of starts.
Most rides have wonderful outcomes.
There are no guarantees.
So ride smart.