Intro to Endurance Riding Part One

My mare, Rianon, and I had been doing Competitive Trail rides for a number of years and having a wonderful time, but I continued be enamored with Endurance.  One perfect Fall day I was in CT doing a 25 mile CTR ride. Trotting down beautiful trails with a good friend and her gelding..I was all smiles. She rode Endurance and used 25’s as training rides for her wonderful Arabian. I was lamenting that the ride was almost over and, not for the first time, she told me to do Endurance. My mare was perfect for it….I wanted to ride longer distances….and, she promised, it is easier and more fun!! Of course I had excuses….we weren’t ready, how could she go double the distance or more and stay sound, could I be effective as a rider for 50 miles? She told me over and over…….Never put off things you really want to do….you never know what life has planned for you.  I will never forget that day – because it was the day I decided to go for it – and I signed up for a 50 mile ride the next season. Nor will I ever forget her.  Several years after that ride, on a Thanksgiving morning, she went out to the barn to find that her beloved gelding had broken his leg in his pasture during the night. It was so severe he had to be put down that day. She was inconsolable and devastated.  Not quite a year later she died herself after a short and deadly battle with cancer.  There’s not an Endurance ride I go to that I don’t think of her and her prophetic words of encouragement.

Early the next season I did a 25, a 30 and a 2 day 50 by early July. She felt very ready!  On the second day of the 2 day 50 she was actually stronger than the first!( I’ll write more about Multi-Day rides next time).  I chose a relatively easy 50 mile Endurance ride in Maine. I’d ridden some of the trails before and I knew although they were a bit rocky in places there were plenty of soft roads to make up the time. And..  Those Maine folks are wonderful!  Friendly, organized and they always serve great food!  Maine is someplace I’ve always been attracted to…but it’s not a state you visit without a good reason. No matter what route you travel it takes 7 hours to get there from VT!! Best of all I talked a friend into doing it with me! It would be her first 50 as well and her mare and mine paced well together. The bonus was her partner agreed to be our Crew Extroidenaire!

Please know that I do not even pretend to be an expert on Endurance riding, nor can I attempt to cover more than a small fraction of the information available about competing. For those of you who are interested in reading in-depth information  please go the American Endurance Rider’s website…www.aerc.org…and read the Endurance Rider’s Handbook. This article will merely be an enticing overview of my biased experience. I’ll just cover the basics and hope to make it sound as much fun as it actually was!

It has never taken me more time to plan for anything! Honest, it took me a week and my house was in a upheaval with buckets, bags, horse blankets, pads, coolers spread out everywhere. There were nightly calls to my friend, Robin….what should we bring for the holds….how much food….how many pads….Oh, the excitement and worry!!

I have an older gooseneck with a small dressing room. It was loaded up like the Beverly Hillbillies with Rianon’s stuff! All I took for myself was a small overnight bag. After all, it’s all about the Princess.

After arriving at the camp site I set up my fence and offered Rianon water, hay and carrots. I stayed with her a while to assess how the travel effected her and then went to see where the Vet-In would be held.  I walked her around the camp a bit and let her graze and take in her surroundings…then headed over for the Vet-In.  Veterinarians at a ride are there as your teammates. In every way they want to make sure your horse is happy and healthy throughout the ride. You should feel comfortable asking questions and sharing your concerns. You will have been given your “Rider’s Card” which you will guard with your life. You will need it at every hold and of course at the completion. I usually put it in a plastic baggie and then in a pouch attached to my saddle once the ride starts. On the card the Vet will check and assess your horse’s metabolics in much the same way they do for a CTR. You will be graded…. of course you are hoping for all A’s! However, a lower grade (a B or C) is only meant to make you aware of possible issues. Lower than a C is cause for alarm. For example, if my horse’s gut sounds and skin pinch grades are “B’s” after 7 hours of trailering…I won’t be overly concerned, but I’ll be very sure to get some fluids and a soupy mash in her when we get back to the camp site. You will then be asked to trot your horse out and back in a straight line. (Mercifully no circles or serpentines) and again, you’ll be graded. That’s it!! Quick and Done!  Already I’m in love with this sport!

Written by Nancy Okun

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