Photo of Toni Wolf and her mare, Huggy, are “in the pink” and proving that of COURSE you are ready!
It concerns me sometimes that we’ve made success in our sport seem like some unattainable thing, requiring hours and hours of ceaseless daily conditioning over mountains at a gallop with a heart rate monitor and reverse splits and seven gazillion supplements.
It’s just not that complicated.
- One sound horse (this is a deal breaker — our veterinarian judges will not let you start a ride with a horse with a “hitch in his giddyup”)
- Saddle and tack and clothes that fit both you and the horse well (doesn’t have to be fancy or endurance tack — whatever works!)
- Some time to do some “legging up” of your horse, some short rides, some longer rides, so that you and the horse can happily do a 15 or so mile ride a few weekends before the competition in about 2 and a half hours and both feel pretty happy and comfortable at the end (no swollen legs, no hang dog look, no sore back)
- A little effort to TRAIN your horse so that it can pass and be passed on the trail, be around other horses on the same trail without going totally bananas, stop without being run into a tree, able to deal with reasonable trail obstacles safely, to eat and drink and rest when he is given an opportunity to do so, and to pace at the pace that YOU would like to go (since he’s a herd animal and will likely try to run as fast as the rest of the escaping herd unless you TRAIN him that you pick the pace and he won’t die as a result),
- Practice time learning to camp safely, and
- Getting familiar with AERC rules, which can be found, along with a plethora of other “getting started” information at www.aerc.org
Them’s the basics. Let’s Keep It Simple, Silly, shall we?
Things that will exponentially increase your chance of success:
- Hooking up with a mentor, either close by or via email, who can meet you to ride, or answer your questions or help you get on track when you feel you’re falling off of it
- Going to a ride and VOLUNTEERING, especially if you can be a veterinary control judge scribe (i.e. write the vetting scores on the riders’ vet cards) or take pulses in the pulse box. Both of these jobs give you GOBS of observational experience, seeing successful riders do things well, seeing less successful riders doing things you decide you will not emulate, seeing tack and feed and “stuff” and methods that you may want to try. Plus you will meet people and become a part of our little endurance family — that’s the best.
- Finding an Endurance 101/201 Clinic to attend — we are doing more and more of these around the US and Canada. If you are looking for a clinic, contact your regional director (listed under Board of Directors at www.aerc.org) or contact me or the AERC office and we will do our best to help you find an event to attend. These clinics give you an opportunity to learn more about the sport, helpful hints, important dos and don’ts, and another chance to meet people with whom you can condition, share trailer rides, share the trailer ride to competitions, etc.
- Read, read, read and then read some more. There are some amazing websites out there, and great books as well. I’ll be linking some here on my webpage, when I can chase down my tech guy to teach me how to do so without swearing a lot and pounding on the keyboard. (I found that didn’t work well at all, despite doing it twice!)
But don’t make it overly complicated– you just need a horse, some tack and a little bit of sweat equity to make it to your first ride.
Times have changed and I think many of the new riders in our sport are not life-long horse people — many of them are middle aged women (not that there is anything wrong with that — being one myself!) who perhaps come from a different riding discipline or have finally found the time and the disposable income to live their horse-owning dream. But they either never experienced a lot of what our sport requires — camping out with horses and lots and lots of miles on sometimes challenging terrain, or they experienced it so long ago that they’ve lost some of their courage and are worried about hurting their horses doing an extreme sport.
It’s true and valid that you will need to get out and ride quite regularly, perhaps more than you do right now, and that depending on how fast and how long you ride now, you MAY need to ride a bit longer at a slightly snappier pace, and modify your tack and your clothing and your horse’s hoof care and nutrition so that you can do so — you don’t get to your first endurance ride of any distance by sitting on the couch or reading inspirational how-to books or watching YouTube videos of other riders riding at endurance rides.
There IS a bit of work and likely a fairly steep learning curve involved — but hey, that’s what’s really cool about our sport!
In my experience, the biggest rookie mistake is “over-conditioning and under-training.” That means you spend too much time worrying about your horse’s conditioning schedule and heart rates, etc., and not nearly enough time worrying about what is going on between his ears. Or yours. Or lack thereof on both of your parts.
Safety first, if you can’t ride in a group safely, be passed safely, have your horse stand quietly to be vetted safely, trot out in a reasonable fashion safely or camp safely — indeed, you have some homework to do. But those are fixable things that don’t require fancy tack, or expensive gear, or a professional trainer. They just require you to raise the bar with regard to your level of horsemanship.
Come on, you can do it. We are here to help!