Endurance riding offers a wide variety of participation. As long as you cover the miles, pass the checks and finish sound, you are considered an athlete in an extreme sport. A sport that makes the average citizen, or even the average rider, question your sanity and revere your constitution.
Whether your goal is to finish first in the WEG, top ten a local ride, or cross the finish line having enjoyed the trail at a leisurely pace, there is a place for you in this sport. There is also a place for your sound and fit horse of any breed, age (over 5 for endurance; 5 for limited distance) or gender.
One common point that all of us share, turtles and hot shoes alike, is the distance. The other is the obligation to our horses to do our very best by them.
Internet chat rooms and ride camp bonfire chatter are full of ideas of how to do it better -- better supplements, better feed, better systems for achieving the goal of crossing the finish line. One person's successful cookbook method can become a huge fad in no time, and not always a success for every rider.
Lots if riders are looking for the one thing or combination of things that will get their horse to that finish line more often, or faster, or in better condition. I'm here to tell you that there are no shortcuts.
Riders who do their homework, chose their equine partners well, and put in the time, are the "successful" riders, no matter what your measure of success might be.
Improve your horsemanship
One area that many of us can improve upon is horsemanship -- our riding in general. Sure, we can ride 50 or 100 miles in a day, but are we doing it as well as we are able, or is our hero the horse going those miles despite our less-than-perfect seats? Many of us could benefit from a few riding lessons, some arena work, and an objective eye to remind us to remain balanced.
Many of the very successful horses in our sport have been schooled in dressage and the proper way to carry themselves. Our partners need riders who know how to remind them to round or collect and use their bodies correctly. If you and your horse don't know how to do that, you need to run, not walk, to the best dressage instructor in your area and spend some of your horse dollars on lessons.
Improve your fitness
Another area of personal achievement that would behoove us as riders is fitness. Not just for our horses, who have to meet pulse requirements and pass veterinary exams, but us as riders.
We're susceptible to becoming tired during the hours on the trail and can't help our superstar horses as well as we should.
Every rider, unless truly handicapped, should be able to get off and walk, if not jog, with his or her horse for a mile or two if necessary. It may be critical if he ever becomes injured or ill on the trail, loses a shoe, or a myriad of other reasons.
Another benefit of becoming more fit is the realization of what you are asking your horse to do. Make it a habit to walk, on foot, the longest hill on your training route. It will become a not-so-subtle reminder of how hard your horse works for you and give you a better understanding of what you should ask of him. There is nothing so humbling as becoming out of breath and winded on a hill you routinely ask your horse to trot.
It was interesting to see the control judge comment in a recent issue of Endurance News that the number one thing you can do to help vets during exams is to have taught your horse to trot out in a straight line. A simple exercise that shows you have done your homework and are the best you can be.
So you can keep looking for the supercharged rocket fuel supplement and the best and lightest saddle and all the things you can buy to make you and your horse faster or more hardy, but nothing will serve you better than becoming a better horseman, riding within your horse's abilities and becoming more fit.
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How far will you ride this year? Join AERC and we'll help you count the miles!