Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started this Sport

Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started this Sport

Notes from the Green Bean Endurance Webcast presented by Mary Howell on Dec. 3, 2018

1. DON’T wait too long to dive in! It took me three years to work up the confidence to enter my first AERC rid. Go to public trail rides and practice camping overnight as part of your training. If you don’t think your horse is ready, ask your mentor or the manager of the ride you want to attend if they know of an experienced endurance horse you can for a ride or two. When conditioning your mount, lunging and lessons involving basic dressage/equitation will build balance & secondary muscles. Once your horse can cover 15-20 miles without issue, you’re ready for an LD!

2. DO invest in a good farrier and saddle fitter. For your horse to be able to cover many miles in comfort, it’s essential to have a balanced trim with good hoof protection and a saddle that allows free movement of the shoulders and stays in place when going up or down hills. I also learned the hard way that you may need more brakes on your horse to avoid getting caught up in too fast a pace early in the ride – I used a kimberwicke bit with chain and running martingale to keep Shiloh under control, and a properly fitted hackamore can also work well.

3. DO plan your route when traveling to an AERC ride for the first time. I work full-time and when I first started competing, regret not leaving early enough to arrive before dark. I also got lost a lot since GPS doesn’t always work in remote areas. Reviewing the route ahead of time and having printed directions, especially for the last several miles to basecamp, will minimize stress and help ensure a smoother trip. Take potential traffic congestion into consideration when timing your travel, and try to travel with someone whose been that. If the ride entry doesn’t provide enough detail, contact ride management for key landmarks and tips for the last few miles into camp. Take time to note the location of the nearest fuel and stores in case needed.

4. DON’T wait until the last minute to pack. Especially if you’ll be crewing for yourself, try to avoid overpacking and bring just what you really need, using a checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything. I like to repurpose empty containers and use ziplock bags for packing feed and supplements, which also speeds cleanup when I get home. Should you forget something, as I’ve often done, fellow endurance riders are GREAT about loaning their stuff!

5. DON’T throw too much at your horse its first season. Allow plenty of non-riding rest between competitions (1-2 weeks for each 25-50 miles) and be prepared to increase feed and add supplements, including an ulcer preventative. I’m amazed how much quality hay (alfalfa mix) and high-fat feed my horses need to maintain weight since they compete regularly. After an AERC ride, try to feed small but frequent meals. Should a control judge give your horse a body score of 4 or less, also have the horse checked for ulcers and consider adding a daily “buffer” supplement such as Neigh-Lox or GastroCare from Southern States that help the horse get maximum value from each meal while preventing ulcers.

6. DO help your horse hydrate, rest and relax. Give a dose of electrolytes BEFORE you leave home, and try to unload at least once en route to stretch their legs, pee and graze. If your horse won’t drink plain water, add a handful of rice bran powder (we call this “sweet water”) or offer well-soaked beet pulp, maybe with a handful of grain, apples or carrots on top. Once you’ve set up camp, take your horse around ridecamp to familiarize him with the vetting and crewing areas, as well as the beginning and ending of the trail (if allowed). Take him horse for another walk just before bed and always stop at water tubs. If you notice your horse isn’t eating or drinking well, take action – maybe swap some hay with your neighbor or try hand feeding. An endurance horse’s energy stores come from what he ate the day before the ride.

7. DO pay attention during the ride meeting to key trail information. Use your smartphone or write on your arm to record the loop colors, hold times, and any other key info, such as if there will be spotters on trail for a given loop. If you miss the ride meeting, make sure to find out pertinent details. It’s also good to review highlights of the next loop during the hold. I’ve been known more than once to head out on the wrong loop and end up getting completion miles only!

8. DON’T forget to take care of yourself. Make sure you drink plenty of water or diluted energy drink the day before and during the ride, at least 12 ounces per 12-20 mile loop. Be ready to ask for help holding your horse if you need short break mid-ride. If you’re getting sore, try some yoga (downward dog!) and change your clothes to prevent any rubs from getting worse. Pack snacks on your saddle – about 4pm the day I rode Tevis, eating some beef jerky and some potato chips not only fixed my upset stomach but helped me drink more water to make it through the next 12 hours.
9. DON’T forget to electrolyte. Always carry an extra dose or two in your saddle bags in case you forget to give during the hold. I taught all my horses to be hand fed while I’m mounted (without biting my hand off!) and I try to electrolyte them after each long water drink on trail so they have more time in the holds to just eat.

10. DO stay longer in the hold if you think your horse needs the extra time (let the out timer know!) and also to pull off trail if your horse gets caught up in a group going faster than the pace you planned. If your horse isn’t eating, don’t leave the hold until you get that behavior turned around, even if it means hand feeding. Many times listening to my horses mid-ride helped them have the energy and vet scores to finish strong!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Teresa Smith

    Great article to read, especially for a novice. It’s been on my mind for a year; to ride an endurance ride. I love my horse but she’s a bit high strung. She’s an Arab with lots of energy. Seems like she’s a scared cat when I leave our own pasture. But I’m moving forward and will begin to condition her. Any advice on spooky horses and how to begin helping my horse calm? I think she can overcome anything and I’m dedicated to her.

    1. Mary Howell

      I use my older more seasoned horses to help pave my nervous greenies on their early rides. If you only have one horse, but can find a friend to train with, see if they can help your first few outings. I also took my youngster to several rides to hang out before he was old enough to compete. Thank goodness for high-ties since he didn’t stay in my portable metal corral – wore it as a necklace. Just finished his first 2 50s this fall!

  2. Melissa Derbin

    This is great! Thanks, Mary!

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