Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What I Have Learned From Endurance Rides

Midsouthhorsereview.com - Full Story

"It helps to use food, treats, and verbal praise during the rides"

by Monica Rawson

Endurance riding is not for the weak at heart. Endurance riding has challenged me more than any other equine sport, from show jumping, dressage, foxhunts to cross country. Endurance riding has made me a stronger rider and taught me the importance of planning ahead, the value of consistency and how to set long range goals and have the patience to accomplish them one step at a time. I turned sixteen years old this past October and therefore "aged out" of the junior division. Zoie Starlite, my 17 year old Anglo- Arab mare and I have trained for endurance rides for over a year. We live outside Memphis, Tennessee and have been to many rides in most of the surrounding states competing in 25 mile, 50 mile and multi day rides.

Zoie has taught me that to be successful on endurance rides we both need to be mentally and physically ready. I discovered how much preparation is required to build up one's strength to persevere during the longer and more difficult and challenging rides. I learned not to think one race at a time, or even one season at a time. I think about how many races Zoie and I will be able to do over the next 20 years! While most other equine sports place winning, looks, or bloodlines as the number one priority, endurance riding puts the long-term health of the horse and rider as the first priority. Since I want to be an equine vet I agree with this mind-set and hate to see the long-term health of a horse or rider sacrificed for a short-term win. Slow and steady is better than going too fast too soon and suffering a physical or psychological set-back for the horse and/or rider.

To prepare for an endurance ride, my horse and I started slowly to build up our strength, even though we were not particularly weak. I began to ride Zoie for short distances at a slow speed until her muscles grew big and powerful. Her recovery time decreased after every ride and her heart rate would come down quickly as well. Zoie also had to learn how to drink out of mud puddles. I had to remember to carry a full water bottle with me so we would stay hydrated while we were on the trail. Zoie and I would warm up before every ride at the walk and the trot in order to prevent pulling muscles. This taught me about the importance of good conditioning which is necessary for a successful ride. I also learned the importance of preparing for different and ever changing terrains and weather. The safety of the horse and rider depends on proper preparation so you don’t freeze, over heat or get into a bad situation that could result in a pulled muscle, lameness, dehydration, or colic.

Endurance riding also taught me to be aware of the emotional needs of the horse before going out on an endurance ride. An emotionally unstable horse that has not built a trusting relationship with its rider could be very dangerous on an endurance ride. A horse will thrive when they have a consistent training program with the same handlers to keep their mind focused on the rider and the task at hand. When the horse has trust in the rider, he or she will cross streams, bridges, logs, and ditches without a problem. I have also found it helps to use food, treats, and verbal praise during the rides to keep my horse motivated.

Endurance riding also taught me to take care of myself. Before a ride I make sure that I get plenty of sleep, eat nutritious food and mentally plan ahead for the ride. This helps to build my patience and endurance under the stress of a long distance ride. Endurance riding has strengthened the relationship and trust between Zoie and I and we are both physically stronger and mentally confident. . I was aided in this learning experience by my endurance mentor. Jennifer Whittaker, of Mystic Rose Arabians, was my teacher and sponsor for most of my endurance rides, riding her stallion, Summer Saga. This coming year I will likely be riding endurance on a borrowed horse. Zoie is now in foal to Saga for 2008 n we have embarked on yet another new adventure!


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