When deciding to participate in an endurance ride you must have a plan and a goal. The goals of an elite rider with an off the track Arabian will likely be much different than the person with a back yard horse wanting to attempt their first ride. Both horses will need a base of training, but the intensity and level of training similarity are apples and oranges. You both have a ride goal, you both have a horse, but where that horse will place at the end of the day are different places. At least, they most likely will be and should be.
This short article is written with the beginner in mind. If you have a strong equestrian competition background, you likely will not need this guide to help you along.
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE HORSE
Breed: Arabian, Half-Arabian, Arabaloosa, Appaloosa, Tennessee Walker, Fox Trotter, even a Quarter Horse have all been known to do it. Actually many breeds are able to complete an Endurance ride with careful preparation, and sensible riding. That said, this sport is not up every horse’s alley, you just have to prepare, see how it goes, and if you think your horse is ready, shoot for it. Speaking from my own personal perspective, I struggled with a horse for several years that I thought would excel at the sport. She looked right, she was bred right, but she didn’t read the book, and though she managed a few LD’s it was hard for her, hard for me to manage her, and finally I had the sense to throw in the towel. Then I bought an Appaloosa that I felt could do LD’s but likely never finish a 50. She finished a 50 with plenty of fuel in the tank. That said, you might be surprised what your horse is capable of with preparation. My spotted horse humbled me in a big way. We didn’t break the speed of sound, but she chugged right along, just like I had taught her.
Characteristics: A forward horse is good. Forward does not mean pulling your arms from the socket, it means travels forward with energy and interest and control. A horse that is always perked up and looking for the next turn in the trail! A trot that is 7 or 8+ mph will get you places. A trot that is slower will make for a long day, and possibly an over-time. A horse that won’t drink on trail will get you pulled, ditto the horse that won’t eat during the holds. A horse that has heart, big bonus, he won’t give up when things start getting tough. Leaner muscle has more of the kind of muscle fiber you are looking for called slow twitch muscle. This kind of horse will trot longer, and cool down faster, all to your good. A more heavily muscled horse may not rule you out, start a training program and see how the horse manages the rigors of training. If the horse can do the training distances, and pulse down effectively, carry on! Many people riding non-arabians for their own reasons.
HOW HARD IS IT
It is as hard as you make it. I put off doing a 50 mile ride for several years thinking my horse couldn’t, I couldn’t , and the fact was I was so afraid of failure that I just froze up. The ride itself when I finally did it was harder than LD, but not as difficult as my mental machinations set it up to be. Endurance is more of a mental game than LD, more tiring than an LD, more challenging for horse and rider, but definitely a doable goal. Just get your head in the right place, prepare, and DO IT. There are some things that will make the first one a bit easier:
· Get a buddy to act as your pit crew. A friend or spouse who is not riding can fill this role for you. This will afford you time to sit down, eat some food, drink some fluids, and use the port-a-potty. You can ride without a crew, but you will need to set up your hold area the day before, and you will be busy during the holds, and may have to lean on the goodness of others to hold the horse for a short period of time. If you need someone, ask!
· Find a ride buddy. The miles go quicker and you have some moral support. If you are riding with an experienced person you can also pick their brain for a wealth of information while passing the time. Sometimes you can find a ride buddy by posting on the endurance ride sites such as Facebook’s AERC site. Or search out the regional clubs where you will be riding and see if you can get someone to volunteer to ride with you. A slow rider will be your best bet. Realize that if you partner up with someone that person could potentially be pulled from the ride, take a wrong turn, or any other number of odd things happen. So you will still need to be self-reliant, and depend primarily on yourself.
· Eat and drink. Those seem like a no brainer, but do it, even if you feel like you don’t want it. Dehydration and low blood sugar can ruin an otherwise stellar day. You will sweat out electrolytes just like your horse. Have some salty snacks at hand for the stop. My favorite is an icy cold dill pickle! The horse is not the only one participating. Take care of you.
GENERAL SUPPLIES FOR THE TASK
What you need for this great adventure is fairly basic. A plan, a fit horse, a saddle, a pad, bridle, rope, halter, buckets for water, a large sponge or scoop, water bottles and holders, a small saddle bag, a hoof pick, a spare hoof boot, a helmet that fits, a water proof rump rug, a waterproof horse blanket, a sponge on a leash or long thin rope, a cooler with drinks and food, someplace dry and warm to sleep (tent, horse trailer, in your vehicle or other), changes of clothes in case you get wet, a product called Body Glide or Monkey Butt for anti-chafing), hay and feed for your horse, food and drinks for you, your ride entry fees, and a way to get to the ride. That is the short list. I take along an extra of anything I have that may break. I’ve never needed any of it, but I figure the day I don’t take it, I will. The thing you will need the most? A can do attitude. Really. Believe you and your horse can, and you are your horse likely will (if you prepared).
How do you get started?
AERC Visit the AERC website to find the ride calendar, how to articles, mentor list, and links.
Endurance 101 and Beyond : website with great free articles on beginning endurance riding.