The 101 Primer
60 Days (plus) 6 Weeks to Endurance
Let’s just get the hard stuff out of the way in the very first paragraph so that we can move straight into the meat of the thing. Your horse should be capable of these skills before you ever even approach your first attempt at a Limited Distance or Endurance Ride:
- Horse ties safely, corrals, electric pens, or other containment system safe.
- Horse saddles and bridles quietly, and the tack you use does not cause lumps, bumps, bruises, rubs, or chafing.
- Horse rides safely in a group, can pass other horses and be passed safely.
- Horse is willing to eat eagerly on long trail rides, and drinks willingly from available water sources (creeks, ditches, mud puddles in a pinch).
- Horse is trail safe and experienced with trail obstacles such as stepping over logs, stepping up or down into a creek, crossing puddles, etc.
- Horse is not on any type of medication or AERC illegal substance.
- Horse will willingly accept syringed electrolytes.
- Horse is trailer safe loading and unloading.
- Horse will accept being touched on all parts of the body including eyes, and mouth.
- Horse will calmly accept having all four hooves handled.
- Horse is in overall good health.
- Horse has mastered rider cues of walk, trot, canter, gait transitions, back up, and side pass.
- Horse will step sideways (in the correct direction) with pressure from the rider’s leg.
- Horse is well-mannered when from the ground.
- Horse has been ridden at least one hour a day, three times a week, at the walk/trot for six weeks. (If not, start this process gradually with 15 minutes of intermittent trotting and each session add 5 more minutes of trotting until the horse can trot for an hour).
If all these factors are in place, you are good to begin your distance riding conditioning program. If your horse is not solid in any of these areas, back up, and get those things working well first before you point him down the distance trail. It will make your horse happy, the people around you happy, and in the long run give you a successful shot at completing your first distance ride.
Okay! Let’s ride!!!
Please note that these are ride days, not calendar days. Each week you should ride a minimum of 3-5 days, with rest periods and reduction of feed on the off days. Everyone's horse is different. Some will thrive and get stronger on a 3 day program, some will be over trained on a 5 day program. Keep in mind that a rest day after a hard work out is as important as the workout itself. It allows healing, and rebuilding, and a remarkable thing called super compensation to happen.
Remember your prerequisite legging up above precedes what follows below.
Day one: Trail day, ride 5 miles keeping a 5 mph or better speed average. This means you will trot the flats, trot the uphills, and walk the downhills.
Day two: One hour of sustained trotting on the flats with a speed average of 5-8 mph.
Day three: Find a gradual hill of at least a quarter mile (the longer and more gradual the better), and trot the horse up the hill, and walk the horse down the hill. Do this for one hour.
Day four: Back on the trail today, increase your distance to seven miles, maintaining a 5-6 mph average, trotting the flats and the uphills, and walking the downs. Keep enough hustle in your horse’s step that within an hour you’ve easily covered 5.5-6 of the 7 miles.
Day five: One hour and ten minutes of trotting on the flat. This is sustained, moving out trot. A flat woodland trail works great, a very low and slow traffic country road, or field perimeters would nice. The idea is keep it flat, and forward at about 6 mph.
Day six: Point your horse up your training hill. This time you canter up the hill once, and walk back down, then trot uphill, walk downhill until the hour session is up.
Day seven: Back on the trail today, increasing your distance to eight miles, maintaining a 5-6 mph average, trotting the flats, and trotting the uphills, walking the down hills. Make the horse hustle up any short little climbs.
Day eight: One hour and fifteen minutes of trotting on the flat. Work at getting the horse to really stretch out some at the trot. Keep the terrain flat, and forward at 6 mph minimum and 7 mph maximum.
Day nine: Back to the hill. This time canter your horse up the long hill twice, walking back down, then trot the remaining trips up until the hour session is up.
Day ten: Trail day! Increase your distance to ten miles, maintaining a 5- 6 mph average speed, trotting out hard on the flats, trotting easy on the uphills, and walking the down hills. Hustle up those little short hills with a canter.
Day eleven: Get back out on your flat course. This time you will add some short cantering strides into your trotting. Mix it up for an hour, keep your speed average below 7 mph, and above 5 mph. Your flat work is meant to teach your horse to relax, and manage rating at the trot and canter.
Day twelve: Back up that long hill. Do it three times this session, walk back down, and trot up with any remaining time in this once hour session.
Day thirteen: On the trail again, same pattern as before, trot, trot, and trot… just add two miles to make it twelve total, keep your average speed up, and do a little hustling on the uphills like before.
Day fourteen: We are going to change up the flat session a little here by incorporating fartleks, which a brief bursts of cantering intermixed with the trotting. This one hour session should slowly build in intensity, then drop off in intensity towards the end to cool the horse down with a nice walk home. Don’t confuse the canter with run away galloping…just easy, contained, and brief canters to break up the use of different muscle sets during the hour of work. If your horse is accustomed to arena work you can have this session in a roomy arena, or take it out onto the trail. I do not recommend this type of work on roadways unless they are dirt track.
Day fifteen: Four quick canters up the long hill today, with a walking down hill. Let the horse put enough into it that they are blowing a bit and cooling back off on the downward slope.
Day sixteen: Trail work! Pick out a fifteen mile trail course. This will be your primary training course now, and look for something that will mimic the terrain somewhat of the first ride you intend to go on. You can’t go wrong really with a good mix of flats and hills. You will want to write down the time you left the trail head, and the time when you finish. You should be able to easily finish this in three hours at this point. This will be your baseline time that you will try to beat next week.
Day seventeen: Five quick canters up the long hill today, walk down, keep the session to an hour.
Day eighteen: Flat work at the canter and trot for one hour. Save walking for the warm up and cool down only.
Day nineteen: You will ride your fifteen mile course today in a time slightly less than the baseline ride. This may involve only a few minutes less, but at some point pick up your pace enough to shave off a bit of time.
Day twenty: We are going to change up the hillwork some. Find a short kind of steep hill, and hustle up, and shimmy down, hustle up, shimmy down, repeat until the horse is blowing good, then walk it off, repeat. Find a grade with safe footing and let your horse carefully pick its way across a grade, working both directions to use both sides of the horse. All this work is just snappy and precise work, letting the horse work out coordination over various terrain, with cardio work in between. The idea is to change things up so the horse isn’t soured on repetitions. You can work patterns around trees, work up and down little hillocks and ravines (keep safety in mind), but think of technical footing that involves coordination and concentration.
Day twenty-one: Flat work at the trot and canter. Ride patterns, circles, serpentines, through cones, throw in some flat sprints, keep the horse interested in the work. An athletic vigorous workout with short walking (active rest) breaks to stabilize wind and pulse.
Day twenty-two: Back to the fifteen mile course today, shave off another minute or two.
Day twenty-three: An hour of long gradual uphill canters intermixed with some easy downhill trotting. You are just wanting the horse to start getting a feel for moving downhill at the trot. Reserve this work for easy downhill grades, and keep walking those steep downhills.
Day twenty-four: Flat work at the trot and canter. Flat work at the trot and canter. Ride patterns, circles, serpentines, through cones, throw in some flat sprints, keep the horse interested in the work, keep the session to an hour.
Day twenty-five: Start planning for the first slow endurance competition now. Pick a ride that is about eight weeks away. Today you will do a long slow distance ride of 10 miles, take a forty minute break to refuel horse and rider, and then go out and repeat that 10 mile loop. This is your first 20 mile day, and you are pretty much Limited Distance ready at this point. Pick an LD ride that is two weeks away.
Day twenty-six: Back to the long gradual hill, canter up, ease back down. Work a solid hour, get that horse blowing some on the uphills. If the horse is fit enough to not be phased….time to find a longer hill. Keep the sessions to an hour total including warm up, and cool down.
Day twenty-seven: Schooling, arena work, or an easy pleasure ride at the trot for a one hour session.
Day twenty-eight: Work your fifteen mile trail, shave off a couple minutes on your time.
Day twenty-nine: Back to the long hill, one hour session, keep the work snappy!
Day thirty: Pleasure ride, schooling, or walking across a grade, or wading in water. Something different and interesting for the horse.
Day thirty: LIMITED DISTANCE RIDE HERE.
Day thirty-one: Rest Day (as always reduce the feed on a rest day).
Day thirty-two : Rest Day (as always reduce the feed on a rest day).
Day thirty-three: Ten miles, keep your pace up steady at 5-8 mph.
Day thirty-four: Ten miles, keep your pace up steady at 5-8 mph
Day thirty-five: Canter up the long hill, with walking downhills.
Day thirty-six: 15-20 mile training ride at one pop. Should be able to complete in 3-4 hours. Sign up for your first Endurance RIDE.
LET'S TALK ABOUT REST:
Allow one day of rest for every ten miles of conditioning/work. This allows the horse to let down its mind, relax and be a horse, regain fluid losses, restore glycogen stores for the next ride, and heal any micro-injury that may not have made itself evident (yet). Rest will keep you fresh, and your horse vital and willing for the next session.
So if you completed your first 50 mile endurance ride you would want to give your horse at least five days off to recover before you move into maintenance. When your horse is having a rest day REDUCE CONCENTRATED FEEDS BY AT LEAST 50%.
NOW LET'S TALK ABOUT MAINTENANCE:
Maintenance: One long ride a week 15-20 miles (your long slow distance ride at competition pace), one short get it done ride a week of 7-10 miles where you pick up the pace and motor (above competition pace), an hour once or twice a week with a focus on hills, or interval training. Once the horse's athleticism has been built the maintenance part is far less stressful and more forgiving.
If you have a schedule of rides planned you will be counting those competitions as your training miles for the week, a rest period, then picking back up with maintenance again until the next competition. People with much more experience than me stress that rest periods are as important as conditioning. So to clarify: if you do a 30 mile LD you have pretty much already done your maintenance for the week. A 50 mile would give the horse about a week off before you resumed work. Personally I worry about tie-up, so I'm going to round pen, lunge line, or wiggle the horse around some after the five day off period, and then ease back into doing something. Further, if you are like me and only get to actually "compete" 1-3 rides in any given year...there is a lot of dead air space between those competitions, so I ride and try to maintain our base. But this is my way. Follow the links for other's views on how much conditioning. The Rider's Handbook is a great place to start if you are new to distance riding.
****Other training links from greater minds and experience than I can offer:
Collective Wisdom for Endurance Riding
Ten Commandments of Endurance Riding
A Simple Method from Perseverance Endurance
The Real Endurance 101 and Beyond
Gear and More from Endurance 101
Resources for equipment, tack, gear:
The Distance Depot
Snug Pax saddle bags
Moss Rock Endurance for a great price on reins and bit hangers.
Renegade Hoof Boots
Easycare Inc (hoof boots and gear)
American Endurance Ride Conference for membership, ride calendar, information here.
To contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org