Reprinted from Endurance News, January 2011, Ride Managers’ Column, monthly publication of the American Endurance Ride Conference, www.aerc.org, 866-271-2372
I admit that I am a slow study, and that it has taken me some time to figure out precisely what “ride your own ride” means, and to develop the self-discipline to actually make it happen.
I have ridden my riding companion’s ride (slower), my riding companion’s ride (faster), the herd-of-nearly-out-of-control front-running-horses’ ride (dangerously faster) as well as the ride of my older horse when I was riding my younger horse, and vice versa.
With age and miles (and plenty of mistakes) comes a little wisdom.
What is your ultimate goal?
One can ride one’s ride in an existential sense. To me, this is a critical one. I consider life to be one big ride, and I have a keen sense of living it to the fullest. That means that I am not terribly interested in riding in the worst weather, nor on the toughest trail, nor with broken bones, and certainly not on a horse that seems in the least bit “iffy.”
A friend of mine, Kathy, a combined training competitor, described this concept to me as the Ultimate Goal. (See sidebar.)
My Ultimate Goal is less about completion times, or regional rankings, or even my completion rate, and a whole lot more about simply having a good time. My friend Mary Coleman talks about her “fun meter.” Let’s just say that I have a sensitive fun meter, and that I’ve learned to tune in to the fun meters of my horses, and that if we’re not both running on the positive end of the meter, I’m likely to call it a day.
I realize that my Ultimate Goal is just that. It’s mine. Your Ultimate Goal might be different; you may have a higher pain threshold. You may have a very specific goal in mind, or want to be challenged by the most humbling of trails, or be in the sport for an entirely different reason altogether; perhaps you just can’t get enough silk-screened t-shirts!
Something that is amazing about the sport of endurance riding, and distance riding in general, is that there is a huge umbrella out there to accommodate us all.
So get to know, to really define, your Ultimate Goal. You will find it helps you make the day-to-day decisions with far less angst.
What are your long-term goals?
Winters in western New York are blessedly or cursedly long and cold, depending upon your perspective. Riding can be nearly impossible, or just plain dangerous, so it allows one to have the down time to ruminate about long-term goals.
With three horses competing, my husband and I often chat—or rather I blather and he nods absently—about what we’re hoping to achieve in the upcoming season. Can we get the younger horse through a 100? Is it possible to improve my husband’s horse’s eating at rides? Will dressage help the veteran horse improve his topline?
Setting up the long-term goals makes it easier to set up our conditioning plan and to pick and choose the rides we hope to attend. This is done, of course, with the ever-present understanding that horses have a wick¬ed sense of humor, as do hauling vehicles, so that every scheme needs a back-up plan.
And on ride day . . .
The actual day of the ride is where we often abandon all of the above in the heat of the moment, or with the best of intentions—and we’ve all heard the destination at the end of the road paved with good intentions.
I find that the drive to the ride is the best time and place for me to reconfirm my own plans, and to imagine the scenarios that might get me off track. What is my Ultimate Goal? What are my long-term goals? What is my goal for this ride?
Rather than make plans for things that are dependent on others’ performance or the ride conditions (e.g., “achieve Top Ten” or “complete under seven hours”), I prefer to focus on things that are, with a mindful nod to Murphy’s Law, within my control.
My plan might include my intentions for warming up, where within “the pack” I will start with my horse, the pace I hope to keep, which equitation foibles I will focus on as the miles pass, how frequently I will electrolyte my horse or how I might encourage eating in the horse that is reluctant to eat, or how I will take care of myself with regard to my own eating and drinking.
The critical question is how we keep to that plan. What if someone, a dear friend, wants to ride with us, when we know their pace is unlikely to match our own?
Learning to Ride My Own Ride . . .
This is one that I’ve learned to handle over the years. I’m owned by one horse that has very strong opinions about the company he considers worth keeping on trail; I’m owned by another that functions best on his own, or paired up with one of his barnmates. Their foibles win out over my own preferences.
So I just say that I’m sorry, but I have a plan on how to ride this ride and that I want to stick with it.
That said, I will sometimes tell someone that if they are willing to ride “my ride” they are welcome to tag along.
Sometimes, however, we all know that riders don’t ask if they can tag along. Perhaps they have difficulty establishing a sane pace so tuck their own beast behind yours such that you can hear the fire-breathing and snorting behind you, aware that the tail¬gating horse is close enough that he is viewing your horse’s colon from the posterior exit.
In these circumstances, I simply raise my hand, pull my horse safely off to the side of the trail and politely insist, “No, please, you go on ahead.”
Much of this is about self-discipline, and keeping one’s eye on the long-term goal or ultimate prize. If you want to ride your own ride, you have to fiercely protect your plan, in the most polite way that the circumstances will allow. I comfort myself about what might seem like rather antisocial actions by realizing that it is all about giving my horse the best possible ride that I can, free from distractions or stressors that I have the power to control.
For example, this year I made a goal of getting my younger horse, Ace, through his first 100 mile ride. We’d attempted it last year, but not completed, and I’d made some changes that I hoped left him better prepared to get around the course this year.
As the season started, our friend Rachel, a lovely featherweight rider and an excellent horsewoman, found herself with two lame horses. She started conditioning Ned, my veteran 100-mile horse, rode an LD with him to get to know him, and I started envisioning the four of us completing a 100-mile ride together.
The Ultimate Goal was clear; for me, it’s about having a barnful of 100-mile horses, if possible, all with long endurance careers.
Having my veteran horse’s calm company worked well with my long-term goals for my young horse, so we set a number of short-term goals to fulfill the plan of an early July 100-mile completion. All of our plans had escape routes and alternate schemes, but the plan came together with two sound, fit and well-rested horses, a perfect early summer forecast, a last-minute crew, and a trail that I knew well enough to know that it was ideal.
We agreed that we would pace the ride for my more veteran horse, who is a solid 100-mile horse, but no speed demon. We planned to keep the horses on the trail together, going at their own sustainable pace, knowing how and when we would electrolyte, and that we might take extra time at some of the shorter 30-minute holds that were announced dur¬ing the pre-ride briefing.
As always, especially on a 100-mile ride, things go wrong. I slammed my finger in the truck door on the way to the ride, leaving me with a purple and throbbing finger. Ned torqued a shoe at 75 miles. Rachel, in a case of cosmic timing, started to get sick at about the same time. Ace tested my patience by being seemingly unable to be still, a perpetual mo¬tion machine, even at the end of 100 miles.
A friend whose horse needed a buddy on trail rode with us for more than half of the miles, but we told her, and she cheerfully understood, that she would be riding our ride.
This was a high-profile ride, with most of the 100-mile horses there to achieve their FEI COC, so we got lots of ribbing about the pace we kept and how utterly we were not stressing our horses, as evidenced by CRIs in the 52/48 region all day long.
This was just fine; we were not swayed. We were working our plan and adjusting as we needed to, based on our horses’ needs and our own, but our goals did not change.
Shortly after midnight, both of our horses completed, happily accompanied by our friend’s horse, also completing his first 100, with all As and only darkness slowing our pace.
We rode our own ride. And it worked.