So okay! You've got your conditioning rides in the bag, and the horse is ready for the big endurance debut (yay!!!) but there are a few little nagging unsolved problems holding you back. Let's take a look.
Chafing sounds like such a little old thing. A little pink spot, no worries, right? Wrong. That pink spot can quickly become non-intact bleeding open sores. It can happen pretty darn quick. The last time it happened to me I was on a long, hot, sweaty conditioning ride. I kept feeling like something was under my sheepskin saddle cover. We'd slow down, and I'd run my hands over it, under it, nothing...we'd pick up the pace, and pretty soon I'd feel it again. By the time we finished the ride my problem was pretty evident as I had bleeding open chafing under the elastic leg band of my undies. Let me tell you, that is very unpleasant. Another time was on a 30 mile LD. I started getting sore at the inside of my knee near the bend and above. It went from irritation, to sore, to so painful at the 25 mile mark that I wasn't sure I could ride another five miles in to finish. This time the lower skirt edge of my saddle had developed a slight curl from sitting propped up after I'd cleaned it. The edge was curved in such a way that each time I posted the rise of the trot, it brushed my inner right leg/knee. It wore the skin completely away. Chafing has been the enemy other times. The girth that never created a problem suddenly started rubbing my horse at the elbow. That is a horrible feeling to know you've been riding along and your horse was in pain from a nasty rub at the girth/elbow.
So what do we do about chafing?
First try to prevent it. Make sure your equipment fits right and feels right. Same with your clothes. Buy under garments with flat seams, panties without leg trim, or hems, bras without under wires. Put Monkey Butt Powder (talc) in all those places you have clothing that will be sliding (rubbing) against your skin. I personally prefer body glide as it seems to hang with me longer and is easier to reapply without a mess, but Monkey Butt is cheap, and plentiful, and with reapplication does a pretty good job. Putting a sheepskin on your saddle and leathers can make a big different in overall comfort for the rider. For your horse, make sure tack is properly fitted , that your girth is adjusted, not too loose, not too tight, cover your girth with a wool sheepskin cover, and if you can't do that try a high quality merino wool girth, or if your horse prefers neoprene smear it down on the edges with a zinc oxide diaper cream which acts as a lubricant and protective barrier for the skin. Diaper cream is messy but it can sure save the day. Check your saddle fit after each ride, by looking for dry spots under the pad when you pull tack. Dry spots near the front indicate a too tight saddle, dry spots under the seat may indicate bridging, a dry spot today may become a saddle sore in the future. You can shim up a slightly too loose saddle, but there is no fixing a too small saddle. Check your saddle fit frequently as the horse gains condition saddle fit may change.
Let's talk about the rider first. You finish up a ride and you feel parched. Your lips are chapped, you are sun burned, and a little bit queasy. You roll into bed after feeling whipped, and the next morning you are so muscle sore you can barely get up the porch step to get into the house. You are likely dehydrated. What do we do about rider dehydration? Again, you want to be proactive and prevent it in the first place. Even on a cool day your body is perspiring, though you may not notice it due to evaporation. On hot humid days you are visibly sweating but not cooling due to a lack of evaporation. Think salt and fluids. If you merely drink bottle after bottle of water you are hydrating, but you are also flushing the salts right out of your body. This can lead to a condition called hyponatremia, and in its worst form can lead to convulsions. Not drinking leads to shifts of body fluids for the function and preservation of vital organs, and when that fails we have heat exhaustion, or a potentially deadly heat stroke. So we must replenish both fluids and electrolytes. My way of accomplishing this has been the use of Hammer electrolyte capsules (instructions on the packaging), and never allowing myself to feel thirsty. If you wait until you are thirsty to drink, you are already dehydrated to some degree. If you like sport drinks, try drinking one sports drink to one bottle of cold water. One ride I remember clearly that I took two water bottles per loop. It was a pretty warm day and I had consumed six bottles total for 30 miles. Feeling pretty wrung out, I got back to the horse trailer and was craving something salty, and spotted a full jar of kosher dills in my cooler thinking...that sounds so good. I ate one pickle, two pickles, three pickles, and before I knew it I had gnashed through nearly a jar of those salty things, and suddenly I wasn't feeling queasy and out of sorts anymore. The sodium in the pickles had set me back to rights. Other things to try that have worked well for me, V-8 juice icy cold at the hold is really good stuff. Full of sodium and veggie goodness. Potato chips for snacking, and Payday candy bars are a great salty snack while still in the saddle. Eat at the hold to buffer the extra sodium you are taking in. Just remember, fluids and electrolytes, not one, or the other. You will find this cures that feeling of nausea, the extremely crippled up muscle soreness, and hit-by-a truck post ride fatigue. Other things to think about are skin protection (ie. UV protection) via your clothing, or sunscreen, chapstick, and just generally taking care of you. These things can all offset the effects of dehydration.
Now what about your horse? Basically the same set of rules apply. Experiment on training rides with low doses of equine electrolytes. Does the dose stimulate your horse to drink more? Or does the horse go further off water and food? For the latter, try electrolyting after a good meal, and rinsing the horse's mouth with a couple syringes of water to avoid burns in the mouth from the concentration of sodium. It took me several weeks to work out a solution of how much is enough, and we are finally getting there. It's a work in progress. Our solution to get the horse drinking was to dose her after her evening feed ration, and again after her morning feed just before tacking up, rinsing her mouth well each time. During the ride depends on the heat. Hot and humid, a dose at each hold as long as she is eating and drinking well. Your horse may not need as much, or it may need more. My horse drinks far earlier in the ride when electrolyted than when she isn't. Which means she is beginning to replace those fluid losses ahead of the curve, rather than behind it.
No pun intended but foot pain is my achilles heel. So far I've had the ball of my foot swell until it could barely fit into my boot. My second toe nail has fallen completely off three different times, but more than those the thing that has made me feel like I'd have to quit mid-competition was agonizing foot pain from compression. As long as the terrain is ever changing, up down, round, and across hill and dale, I'm good. Give me a half mile of flat trotting and I can about have to call it quits. You do a lot of flat trotting on a 50 mile endurance ride. My first line of attack was a set of caged Easy-ride stirrups. My foot still hurt. Next was a full size bigger boot. My foot still hurt. But my toe nails quit falling off! Next were cushioned insoles for my boots...better, but not quite there yet. Thick wool blend socks...a little better, but not the magic bullet. The last thing I tried was mole skin. It is an adhesive bandage/barrier with slight padding. I place it on the outside of my sock where the stirrup's outside edge breaks on the ball of the foot. We did 50 miles without significant foot pain. The point is it may take some trial and error to figure out a fix. I have chronic osteoarthritis in my right foot from a crush injury when hubby's horse stood on my foot and did a nice pivot. The soft tissue healed, the joint has never been happy since. But we are managing. Next thing to look at with foot pain is how much weight are you putting in your stirrup? Are you riding balanced? Will a simple adjustment of your leathers relieve the pressure point?
If your horse is having hoof pain issues...that one is beyond me. Find yourself a good farrier, and talk to your vet. A simple solution may be as simple as hoof boots, pads under your shoes, or a reduction in grains/ sugars in the diet. Ask an expert!
Cooling/ Chilling Out
Water, water, water. Keep a chilled towel in your cooler and wrap that sucker around the back of your neck. Those big blood vessels in your neck work the same way a horse's blood vessels do for cooling. Icy cold/wet or frozen hand towels bring your body temp down. Sling off that helmet and don't be afraid to dunk your head in a bucket of cold water. Cool off the head and neck, lower the body temperature. We keep a pump up sprayer with ice water in it. My horse loves to have that cold mist applied to her neck and chest. It feels good to me too when it is really hot out. Just have ice in your cooler and let your crew add it at the last minute. Them gel ice packs are great too...slap one of those on your neck, or your belly. If you are lucky enough to have a living quarters, cold water melon goes down great, as do Popsicles. For your horse, very cool water on a hot day. Avoid the big old rump muscles, but cool the neck, face, chest, belly, and inner hind legs, then scrape it off with your hand or a scraper. You will find that cold water heats right up. Remove it, and sponge again, keep at it until the water temperature comes way down. I have been known to have a cold squirt bottle of dilute gatoraid for Journey...she likes it ☺
Oh that nasty debilitating pain shooting from hip down your leg. The only fix I have found is yoga stretching exercises. They've not failed me yet, knock on wood. Others swear by chiropractic. Others by riding lessons and balanced riding, there's a thought!
I hope if you are new to the sport that these little problem solvers can help you in some small way.
Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance
Favorite Links for training, gear, and memberships!
- National Association of Competitive Mounted Orienteering
- HOW TO CMO
- What is CMO?
- Old Dominion Endurance Rides
- Renegade Hoof Boots
- Riding vs. Racing a discussion with the Duck.
- Trumbull Mountain's INTRO TO ENDURANCE RIDING
- Principles of Conditioning
- Conditioning the endurance horse by SERA
- Short Article: Feeding & Training the Endurance Horse
- Feeding the Endurance Horse, Swedish Author
- Preventing Dehydration In the Endurance Horse, Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association
- Jim Holland's fantastic training links here!
- South Eastern Distance Rider's Association