Your horse is standing in his pen, munching on some last minute hay. You are just minutes from slinging your leg over the saddle, maybe for the first time. You are extremely worried about the outcome of the day. Will you survive your first endurance ride?
What follows is some collective wisdom from various sources on ways to make the day a success, even if you are riding for the first time.
#1) Did you do your homework? Before asking your horse to trot, and canter for 25-50 miles, did you follow a progressive conditioning program to put your horse into a state of fitness to handle the ride? Check out these links and ask yourself if you have really put the kind of effort into your prep work needed to give your horse the fitness he needs for the endurance sports. Example: 1 Example: 2 and Example: 3. Without a progressive loading of the horse’s systems, mental, muscular, and skeletal, you are setting your horse up to fail, and yourself up for a huge disappointment. Prepare for each and every ride.
#2) Speaking of fitness, how fit are you? Check out this article on getting the rider fit. Rider Fitness.
#3) Did you do your homework at the ride meeting the night before? What…? They have homework? No, you do. The ride meeting can save you some headaches by paying close attention, making notes on your map, and asking questions when and where the logic seems kind of fuzzy. Things to know in advance : Trail markers will be on what side of the trail? How are the turns marked? How many miles between available water for the horse? Do you have the ride manager’s contact phone # on your map? You do have your map, yes? (doesn’t hurt to have two copies in case the first one melts in the rain tucked safely inside a ziplock bag). Figure out where you are on the map and put an X on it. Next figure out which direction on the map is north. Then mark N, E, S. and W on the respective margins of the map. Orient yourself to the map. You did jot down the time for the start, and you do know to show up for the out timers fifteen minutes early to check in?
#4) It is now a quarter hour before the start, and you have given your letter/number to the out-timer. Here is where the rubber meets the road and you start your endurance riding adventure. Leg slings over saddle. Where will you start in the pack? If you are pointing at a completion it really doesn’t matter if you are in 11th place or turtle. Complete is complete. If this is your goal, let those fired up riders go on out while your faithful steed munches some grass back at the trailer, then head out nice…and calm…just like your conditioning rides. Bet you a dollar you will catch one or two of those hurry up and go types who started in the crazed rush of the herd, and blew the wind out of their horse in the process. Unless your horse has trained to be a front runner and has a few years experience already at the sport, keep yourself out of the rush. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, why rush?
#5) Now you are actually out on the marked trail. How do you keep from getting lost? It is all kind of “Dorothy in Oz” , nothing looks familiar and you simply follow the yellow brick road , uh…trail ribbons. Sounds easy, but for some of us it is the most challenging part of the ride. Remember those notes you took and put on your map at the ride meeting? Be sure you refer to them prior to each loop they may pertain to. If you were told to turn at the rusty blue gate, don’t be making a turn at the green one. If you were told to cross three gravel roads before the turn, don’t go turning after two! Look for ribbons in the location you were told they would be. Remember that turns may be marked on the side of the trail where the turn is (not necessarily the same side as the ones you have been following). In some places turns may be marked on the ground, or on the road in chalk, or an arrow on a pie plate attached to a bush or tree! See why it may be pertinent to ask questions? One of the easiest ways to get lost in a hurry is to blow past the marking for a turn. I’ve done it, others have done it. This is a common, way easy to make mistake. Daydreaming will get you to miss it, fiddling with your gear, snarking at your horse pulling at your arm sockets, riding with friends and being involved in conversation will nail you. So easy to blow by a turn. A single ribbon can be easier to miss than you think. Sometimes one just has to stop and look all four directions to spot a ribbon, maybe the wind blew it, maybe if came off the branch and is lying in the dirt, and the worst case scenario? Maybe someone is sabotaging the trail. In this case you had better of familiarized yourself with your map and it doesn’t hurt to have a compass to help you find North and point your map that direction. Then figure out which way you need to go. Getting lost is a big old fat bummer. But before you leap off the next cliff, it happens pretty much to everyone at some time or other. Don’t let it ruin an otherwise wonderful budding endurance career ☺
6) Getting the horse pulsed down at the holds can eat up some time. So have your game plan working and practiced before you throw in the stress of an actual ride. Know how to get that pulse d-o-w-n. Have two or three sponges in a big tub of water. Throw some ice in that tub (a frozen milk jug works great) to bring the water temperature lower than the air temperature. Try using a pump up sprayer of chilled water focusing on the jugular, neck , and chest. Experiment and find out what works for your horse and use it! Lots of it. Check out Cold Water Cooling and Cooling Hot Horses.
7) Don’t hurry don’t tarry. Truer words were never spoken. Pay attention to how much time each loop is taking so you know how fast you need to go (or don’t) on the next one. Don’t let your time average drop below 5 mph or you will go overtime. Better to ride a bit above that to factor in the times you must slow down for hills, tack issues, or tricky footing. Remember the don’t hurry part? It can cause your horse to not pass the vet check in the way of elevated pulse, lameness, non-recovery. Don’t let pie-in-the-sky thoughts of placement blur your judgement. Ride to complete!
These are just a few of the ways you can insulate yourself from a non-competition. But please remember that the true failure is the rider who never starts in the first place! Don’t “you” be that person. It takes a few rides to get all the nerves, and bugs worked out of your program. Get out there, learn, and enjoy the ride.