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

September 16, 2014

Endurance Riding Get Started Primer

The mission of this blog, even through my mishaps, misjudgements, and finally success has been to inspire others who may want to dip their feet, if not fully immerse into the general sport called Endurance Riding.  So now and then, I like to go back to that original goal, and post up a few useful tidbits for the prospective Green Bean, Newbie, Distance Wanna-be.

So what is this sport called Endurance Riding?  Based on the American Endurance Ride Conference's (AERC) definition (they sanction the rides, set the rules, are the governing body of, etc.) an endurance ride is comprised of a sanctioned ride with a distance of 50 or more miles.  There are two divisions within the sport.  The first being endurance as defined above.  The second being Limited Distance with rides of 25-35 (have seen a 30 but never a 35) miles, and a slightly different set of rules.  Limited Distance has also been called "luxury distance" by some, but I hold no negative connotations about LD what-so-over.  It is all the general sport of distance riding as sanctioned by the AERC.

What you need to know about participation is that there are time limits that you must meet, and wellness criteria your horse must meet to move from vet check point, to vet check point.  In order to not disqualify on time you need to average about five miles per hour, which means you need to ride about 7-8 miles per hour to compensate for water stops, tack adjustments, sponging and such.  In order to ride 7-8 miles per hour you will need to train at least that fast for your moving time.  If you've never done this ever, it is pretty challenging in the beginning, but in training that is your "get to" goal, you start off conditioning your horse slow.  Walk five minutes, trot five.  Adding a 10-20% increase in the distance of about every two weeks.  So if you conditioned your horse by riding three five miles rides (15 miles) week one, then week three you will increase your distance by say 20%, making your goal distance for that week 18 miles, then two weeks later 21.6 miles for the week.  Two weeks later you push towards 25 miles for the week.   Once you have reached your weekly 25 mile ride goal  You look at breaking things up a bit differently to work on that speed average you will need.  So once a week your continue to ride 15 miles, then the other two rides of 5 miles each perhaps you find a nice flat loop and just work on gait transitions that pull your 5 mile ride up to a better mph average.  Please note this is not a conditioning plan, but rather an example of never increasing distance and speed at the same time.   This example illustrates gradually building up your distance at 4-5 mph and is called LONG SLOW DISTANCE.  It is a great opportunity to climb and descend hills, and let your horse relax into the idea of the sport in a sane and calm manner.  The later tweaking up at speed comes much later in the process, and in the early stages you would not be looking towards winning, or top-ten placement.   It can take a couple of years to build a horse strong enough  to run for the front, and many horses including some arabians do not have winner stamped upon their DNA, but  very likely do have completer within reach of their's and your ability.

If you can wrap your head around that idea, you have a very good shot at setting mileage goals, and having some nice rides on whatever type of healthy horse you may have.  Not every horse can do a 50...but more of them can, then can't with proper preparation.  I personally like the challenge of riding a 50 mile, but feel my horse is safer  and  very much happier on an LD.  It is my style to calculate risk to our better good when I can.

Here are some things I'd wished I'd known early on:

*Competition is not a good place to work out behavioral / training issues.   The downside is the excitement of so many horses moving out on the endurance trail is where you discover problems you previously were unaware you had!   An example:  My horse ate, drank, and had great brakes and reasonable control on our conditioning rides.  That flew straight out the window at the start of her first LD.  She just went nuts and it set a pattern that plagued us.   If I had a do-over, I'd let the whole darned crowd go right on down the trail....and dink along at our own quiet little pace for about ten competitions (or a good two years worth of LD's) before we even thought about starting with the pack.  Let her break in slow, and figure things out.

*Where to find a good mentor.   This is one thing I really hate about AERC closing their records to non-members.  As a person new to the sport you want the ear of someone who has a good ride history and experience.   (That also applies to me.  I can only assist you with the problems that I've figured out for myself or with the help of an advanced rider, but no further. )
Between financial considerations and bringing on three different horses, that is the whole of my unimpressive record.  85% completion rate over 14 rides, in 7 years.  But it is not the quantity that matters, it is the quality *LOL*.  In 2014 I finally was able to enjoy the process, and the ride.  So your start in looking for a mentor is here.

*Set realistic goals.   Nothing will burn you out faster than thinking you are going to take the thing by storm (some do I guess) only to discover that the economics of it is too much of a barrier, or the time required is not feasible.   My goals these days involve just deciding on a ride and working towards it, and hoping for a 50 mile ride once a year.   Would I like to compete more?  Yeah, I would, but it is a hobby, not a vocation.

*Don't be afraid to step up to a 50 or even set a 50 as your first ride goal.  I spent six years getting to that moment.  I probably could have done it long before I did it.  Don't let fear of failure hold you back.   Failure is quitting.  Failure is giving up for the wrong reasons.  Aspiration and hard work is winning if you are pointed towards your end goal.  If you've completed an LD or 2 and your horse still has gas in the tank, just reach on up for the 50.  You will probably make it just fine ☺

*How to solve glitchy problems.  This comes back to good mentoring again.   If you get onto the AERC facebook site and say I'm getting sores on my legs at about 20 miles what do I do?  People will come back with a wealth of practical ideas on how to solve that or most any problem.   Forums do have trolls (people who just like to make you feel bad, it is their life aspiration to make you feel like an idiot).  IGNORE THEM.  They make their own karma.

*Have fun.   If it isn't fun, what is the point?

 And if you just need a distance buddy to talk to...well here I am.  I don't know it all, but I am happy to share what I do, and point you to good sources when I don't.  Which is a big a part of what this blog has been about than anything else.

Happy trails.



  1. I'd love it if Germany had a mentoring program. I've written my regional representatives and they were just awful - not helpful at all, telling me there are no mentors, just follow them on facebook, that's it.

    If I were up in the UK, things would be different. Their website shouts, "Interested in trying our sport? We'll hook you up." Nice.

    Since the sport is so different in Europe, I'm hesitant to just show up at a ride with my horse. (As if she were ready...) I'd be disqualified for sure for breaking some rule I don't know about.

    And honestly the thought of riding through towns on pavement dampens my enthusiasm for pursuing it. This is why I'd love to try out Belgium or France - but I have no language skills in those lands. Imagine sitting through a ride meeting in French. *shiver* I can talk with the Hollanders but I don't think they have a single hill in their nation and I'm not interested in flat racing. (Some of the rides actually start on a horse racetrack - can you imagine trying to teach Phoebe (?) to be calm at the start, and there are horses going around and around a racetrack?)

    So I'm reading the unwelcoming German endurance forum trying to get a feel for the people and the sport. Someone said, "We should do things here more like the AERC" and I immediately emailed that person. Waiting to hear back.

  2. That would be so frustrating! I'd have a hard time adjusting to the cultural and language barriers of living in another country. As for competing on pavement....that is my most stressful part of any endurance ride, the road portions as you don't know what may come out at the horse (usually dogs) and how the horse will react. If you go down on payment you are about guaranteed an injury, if not a bad one. Good luck to you, I hope you find a person over there that can help you.

  3. Jacke: I tried something different at the LD I did last weekend! I was always a "start dead last, let them all get ahead". But it never worked -- Arie wasn't fooled, he KNEW that every single rider was ahead of him and it was a struggle to get him to calm down. I had my first ever RO this year because I was worried about him.

    So on this ride, a husband/wife on screwy horses blasted out in the lead. No one else followed so I waited a little bit and I left ALONE. Arie was very very happy. Even though he knew there were 2 ahead, he could plainly see that we had about 20 behind us! He kept up a glorious 10mph trot, happy as a clam, a little strong when we caught sight of the leaders, but very controllable. Came to the halfway vet check still in 3rd place -- couldn't believe no one had passed us up! A group of 4 riders (including an international level rider) came in close behind, so when it was time to go I let all 4 leave in front of me and continued to ride alone. That also helped give Arie some motivation for the last loop. We finished in exactly that order, with the group of 4 still sometimes in sight.

    Best ride I ever had, fastest time I ever had, best horse I've ever had. So sometimes it's worthwhile to try out different things if your normal placing doesn't work! Next time, I hope to be lucky and find that sweet spot near the front again.

    Hope you find your motiviation back soon! Hey, I'll probably be going to a CMO at Tippecanoe IN the weekend of Sept 27. Is that doable for you?

  4. Karen, congrats on finding Aries happy place, he must have talent! But then you two have more than four rides under your saddle. Journey moves pretty slow left to her own devices, and does do better with some one a bit ahead. We started with the pack a couple times, and riders at the clark and maumee rides are very competitive. I have no illusions of a top ten unless there are only ten horses.

    I. Am not doing much competition of any kind this year. Trying to save for a bigger goal...but I may switch gears to a plan B goal. Love CMO just so much driving for a fifteen or less mile ride. Now if I was in better proximity....I would love being on a team for long course, or solo for the short course. I just need a horse that summers up north!