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January 2008

What's the right pace for your horse?

By Mike Maul, AERC President

Ideas for my columns often come from things I see while conditioning or at rides. For this column I was struck by how sometimes riders are surprised when they get pulled and how pacing can affect this.

In one recent case, the rider's horse had been vetted with all or mostly As at the first and second vet checks but was doing poorly metabolically at the third check and was pulled.

My thought was, “What makes this ride different from previous rides that might have caused this?" I also thought of something that took me a long time to learn: getting all As or mostly As on your horse's vet card is nice but it doesn't always mean your horse is really doing well.

When I first started endurance riding, I depended totally on the vet judge to determine how my horse was doing because I didn't know how to do it. If the card looked OK and the vet smiled when he or she finished the check, I assumed everything was great and what I was doing that day was fine.

Over time I've learned that while it's nice to get good scores on the card, knowing how your horse feels and whether it's behaving differently at this ride than others is what you really need to know.

You should also ask, “Is my pace different at this ride?" Sometimes the answer is, “Yes, it's faster," and that might be part of the reason for a metabolic pull.

Pacing could mean any of the following:

-- The pace the horse wants to go on his own

-- The pace you think you need to maintain to beat a competitor

-- The pace that's right to finish under the conditions of the day

-- Riding at a faster pace than you have done at previous rides.

At one ride, I was passed by a rider on a horse that was trying to speed up all the time. Her comment on passing was, “She's a horse on a mission." My response: “Who's the mission commander?"

My experience has been that letting my horse do what it felt like doing didn't produce the best results even when the horse felt great. I've also gotten too competitive at times and let other riders set the pace for us. Often that has resulted in a pull. Riding my own pace, which tends to be consistent, has always produced better results for my team.

I've also looked at the conditions for the day -- wet or slick or hot or very humid, and so on -- to see what we need to do to just finish. Somewhere between just finishing and how your horse looks at different points in the ride can tell you what to do on a given day.

For me, pacing is one of the most important parts of success in a ride. Don't depend entirely on the vet judge to tell you how your horse is doing. Knowing your horse really comes with time and paying close attention to how your horse does in training and in all the other rides you have done together. Mike

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