Lil Bit of Magic on a training ride prior to her last LD
I wanted to reflect a bit today on this long process I've gone through called Endurance Riding. The beginnings if you will--- were quite painful and difficult. A group of slow to mid pack endurance riders mentored me well through a mild winter of legging up with a goal of spring ride. We even pre-rode the last loop of the trail that would be half of my horse's first LD. That very first ride was nearly tragic for me. I probably rode a bit faster than I should have, but nothing that we had not done and built up to in training. Let me tell you the mistakes I made that day so that perhaps I can prevent you from the errors I made that day. Don't be fearful though...just be smart.
- My horse lacked mental maturity.
- She was in heat.
- The horse had five days off prior to the ride.
- I brought a bale of alfalfa.
- We left at the start with the pack.
- The first five miles were way too fast.
- I was unable to read my horse (due to lack of overall distance experience).
- It was unseasonably warm / I did not have electrolytes.
- My horse had an underlying medical issue of which I was unaware.
Lack of equine mental maturity.
Let's start with the first one. My horse had reached the legal age of four and was coming towards being a five year old. I tried to do the right things. Didn't back her until three and half. Didn't ride until four. Didn't attempt until almost five. Spent a winter riding with endurance riders. That sounds like a good thing doesn't it? She simply was not mature enough emotionally to handle the stress.
If I could do it over? I'd repeat my process up to age four. Then I'd spend an entire year doing various trails at very slow work, and let her mature slowly, until she could mentally handle the uncertainty of the trail.
Mare was in heat:
Ever hear of excitement induced equine tie-up? Well you have now. The dumb version of it is the animal, usually a mare, gets over excited, dumps all kinds of hormones into the system, and something goes badly wrong suddenly with muscle contraction. If it gets bad enough...the muscles start breaking down, liquifying the cellular contents which then go into the blood stream to be filtered by the kidneys, clogging the kidneys, and sometimes causing kidney failure, metabolic failure, and death.
Since hindsight is equably around 20/20, I'd talk to a veterinarian about Regumate, or some other something to control her hormones, if I were really financially able, I'd have her spayed for her own welfare.
The horse had five days off prior to the ride:
It has honestly been so long that I don't recall why she had the long break. Maybe I was trying to let her rest up, fatten up, maybe it rained for five consecutive days, perhaps I was covering for someone at work. Regardless, a fit mare and a long lay-off preceding a ride are very bad ideas.
The horse can have off days for sure. With the new horse I'm happy if we condition one long ride, and two shorter ones with a day off between each for recovery. But if we are on the precipice of a ride, and I can't ride, I'm going to break out the long longe-line and give that horse at least thirty minutes of good work on that off day. Even if you can only work them until they pop a sweat, you are better off than letting them totally prop up their hooves. With an older more seasoned horse, it may not be such an issue. Greater minds than mine can answer that one. But I'm downright superstitious about it.
I bought a bale of alfalfa.
Alfalfa isn't the devil. It does supply calcium which is a much needed nutrient when a horse is sweating out it's minerals. The problem was she wasn't used to much alfalfa at all. You've heard the old adage don't change anything at a ride. If the process is working, stick with the known, be it your horse's feed, tack, or your own stuff. Practice rides are the place to try new things, because it costs you nothing to pull the plug.
We left with the pack at the start.
Do your horse a favor. Check in with management, let them know you are riding that morning, wait for the start, let the dust settle say....2-5 minutes, and head out at a nice relaxed trot like you've been doing in training. Keep your focus clearly on the pointy ears in front of your face. Make it your mission to use up a good portion of your ride time, say about five hours or a hair less if the day is good to you. There is no hurry. You are there to experience and learn, so get your money's worth!
The first five miles was way to fast.
Remember ? We started with the pack? The pack was running fast. My little mare literally about pulled my arms from their sockets. Those first five miles probably were where the tie-up started. But she was so hyped that the symptoms did not present themselves. No quivering, no twitching, no hitch in her giddy up, just forward, forward, and forward. Even the vets missed it.
If I could have a do over I would trot ten minutes, then walk five, and repeat as long as necessary. I'd walk every hill, and if I was too danged late getting in, but my horse was well, it would be okay.
I was unable to read my horse due to a lack of experience.
Though I had this horse from the time she was two months old, I had no solid basis of distance experience to draw from. Theory only gets you so far. Mentors can only take you so far. The buck stops with you, the rider.
That is where a year of slow work would have been to our good. Since we'd hit the ground running from the get go, all I knew was the hyped up version of the horse. It hurts to say that I did not know better, and my mare payed the price that day. I still only know some of the picture after 300 LD miles and 100 endurance. I still have trepidation pointing my horse at a 50, because as we push boundaries, crap potentially happens. I'm not a boundary pusher anymore. That first ride really cured me of that. I'm cautious to the point of wishing I had bubble wrap for my horse, and a crystal ball. The best I can do is learn from my errors, and help others to not repeat those mistakes.
It was unseasonably warm and I did not have electrolytes.
Remember we had trained all winter. Temps mild in the 40-50 degree range. Great riding weather. That April day would be one of the hottest in I ever remember. Close to 85 degrees I'll bet. Winter coats still hanging on a little. I'd never used electrolytes. It was cold, we didn't need them.
Oh yes we did. That could have been the thing that kept all the other dominoes from falling that day. I was unprepared. Don't you be.
My horse had an underlying medical issue of which I was unaware.
Maybe if all other things had been right it never would have happened. But then, maybe no matter what, we were headed in the direction of metabolic disaster. This same horse had an emotional moment with the vet two years ago and tied-up right then and there. She was at home, getting a blood draw.
So what would I do different if I could start this horse all over again?
ALL OF IT.
We might have completed. We might have not damaged her muscles. We might be riding slow LD's still. Once the trouble was started, it was a battle keeping her well from that point forward. She ended up with a couple hundred LD miles, and now is a chubby pasture potato. Maybe your horse is the exception. But how do you know?
The moral of the story for me was this.
You can intellectually think you've got it. But until you've done it, there is no real barometer of experience for you to read your horse. So start slow. Learn the ropes together. Realize that though many horses can do this sport, there are those that can't. Listen to what your horse is telling you. Gain experience long before you set your sights on speed, and have fun. Heck, those people running their horses fast in the front miss some of the best part of the ride anyway. Laughing with your buddy, a quiet hand on your horse, wild flowers scattered among the hills, the mist rolling in, the vista that takes your breath away, and the beautiful solitude of just "being" with your horse.
Journey with a wiser more experienced (but sure don't know it all yet) rider.