You have heard this sage piece of advice I’m sure as you’ve scrubbed your mentor and the internet for information in regards to riding the distance sports. But what does RIDE YOUR OWN RIDE really mean?
RIDE THE DISTANCE YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR
Did you know that equine fatalities in the endurance sport are directly related to the distance ridden in a very big way. According to a study of endurance horse fatalities 2002-2014, horses in the LD discipline had no greater risk of fatality than horses at home in a stall or pasture. However, “horses that compete in 50-mile competitions are twice as likely to suffer a fatality and horses competing in 100-mile rides have a tenfold greater risk of fatality,” (source document by Nancy S. Loving, DVM, Feb 28, 2016 click here)
So don’t let another rider no matter their experience level push you to go farther than you are committed and ready to go. Commitment means a higher level of conditioning and preparation for a longer or a faster distance. You must be willing to give your horse that critical edge as you increase your distances. Not preparing puts you in the bulls eye for a pull or a catastrophic event. So if you prepared for an LD, don’t let another rider push you into doubling your distance until you have done your homework. Then go whip the trail!
Here are a few stats from the cited study:
- Between 2002-2014 there we 87 equine deaths as a direct result of participation in the endurance sport. This boils down to about 1 horse every 3000 starts or 0.32% of entered horses. Looking at the large picture the percentage is small, but looking at the 87 deaths themselves if it is your horse, that number is huge.
- Of these deaths 30% were not fatigue related, meaning 70% of them were.
- 20 of the 87 equines completed their rides, then later died. The ride vets are your allies, but they do not hold a crystal ball. They are looking at your horse in the “moment” and giving their best educated opinion in that short snippet of time.
RIDE THE HORSE YOU HAULED TO THE RIDE
If you prefer to ride non-arabians or arabian crosses you need to remember your horse may have a higher risk of metabolic failure than some Arabian horses. Source document: Risk Factors for Elimination During Endurance Rides Examined. The higher the body mass index, the higher the rate of metabolic risk.
Pacing is also a factor, if you decide to ride with a buddy and that buddy is riding a horse that is perhaps pacing at 3-4 mph average speed faster than your horse has been able to condition, you have substantially increased your horse’s risk. In fact, buddying up with any horse that is running your horse off it’s rails is asking for issues. If you train at 5 mph, then compete at 5 mph. Better yet, condition at 6 mph if you want to compete at 5 mph! Have your pace down solid at home first. That means the speed you are shooting for, with good heart rate recovery, good appetite, drinking well, and sound at the trot. Don’t condition slow and compete fast. Don’t ride your horse 10 miles on the weekend and think that is enough. You are the brains of your dynamic duo. Wave your riding buddy on with a hearty “have a good ride”, drop back, set the pace you know your horse is prepared for and hedge your bet for a healthy completion.
DON’T START AN ALREADY MARGINALIZED HORSE
Say what? If you go to vet in and your horse already has guts sounds given a “C” you might just be doubling down on your risk of a severe outcome. That brain of yours? Yep! Use it. Granted it is extremely disappointing to work hard in preparation, pay for camping, and ride fees, to only show up and not get to start. But you know what? It is a whole lot less disappointing than needing a truck to haul out your horse’s dead carcass or having to choose euthanization because you cannot afford thousands of dollars for colic surgery. You will be miserable for a short while with your “did not start”, but have your horse for many, many more rides to come.
Distance isn’t your only risk factor. Speed frankly can kill. Look at the incidence of fractures and death in Region 13 of the Middle East. Source: Al Reef Cup Endurance Fatality. It isn’t only the newbie that can make the mistake of too much speed. Nobody talks about the front runner who has a horse given bags of fluids pre-ride/post-ride.
THE TAKE AWAY FROM THIS?
Do your best to know your horse. Know what his pulse should look like after fifteen miles at endurance pace. Know how his/her legs should feel, every hump, dip, or bump. Know the cadence of his gait when you are aboard, and how much vigor the horse usually has. Has the horse lost its forwardness? Better adjust your ride… Look into your horse’s eyes after the ride. Do the eyes relay spit and vigor and give me more? Or does the horse look depressed and fatigued. Those eyes tell everything, look deep in them, listen. Be your horse’s leader, voice, and advocate in this endurance thing. You do this sport because you love it. You love the freedom, the trail, the adventure of it. This article is not meant to instill FEAR. It is meant to make you THINK. At the end of the day… you make the calls that could save your horse from a catastrophic ride. Prepare for the distance you want to ride. Prepare for the SPEED you want to ride. You can’t hedge every bet, but you can reduce your horse’s over all risk quite considerably by riding smart and then riding your own ride. Let’s all be safe and try to stay out of the 0.32% ☺