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Collective Wisdom for Endurance Riding

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Tips and Hints for Endurance Riding

Choosing clothing and tack for distance.


A rider and horse getting ready to head out to condition for an LD
It is critical that your tack fit your horse well, and fit comfortably. Small issues like rubbing, pressure points, or poor adjustment often is tolerated by horses for ring work or short rides. However, tack issues will present big problems when the ride is an LD or endurance length, and may result in back issues that will lame a horse, or cause it to be judged "not fit to continue".

  • Saddles -- you should make sure your saddle fits your horse and does not cause pressure along the back or any other part of the horse's anatomy. Have a saddle fitter check it over carefully to ensure the flocking is correct, and the saddle fits the horse's back with the pads you wish to use. This is most important because your horse will be going distances where tiny problems will explode into major problems that may cause the soring horse to alter it's gaits or way of going. A sore back may become so painful that you will be pulled from the competition, or the horse will be unusable for days afterward. Most endurance riders prefer the treeless saddle -- they are much softer for the rider, easily fit most horses with a greater degree of comfort and do not produce pressure points on the horse like a treed saddle. The drawbacks are they are limited to the lightweight and middleweight riders so that all the rider's weight is not resting in one small area of the horse's back. They are also designed to fit round barreled horses with low to medium withers. Most treeless use special pads to lift the rider's weight off the horse's backbone and provide a free, open channel down the backbone.

  • Pads -- be sure you have a pad that breathes and wicks away sweat so that your horse's back stays cool. Natural fleece is the preferred choice, but there are many synthetic pads out there that claim to be comfortable and sweat-wicking. Find a pad that fits your horse, your saddle, and does the job without rubbing or rankling the horse. Make sure it is kept clean, and in good repair. Tattered pads are tired pads, and are best replaced before they harm your horse by not doing the job they are required to do.

  • Reins - use one long closed rein, not buckled reins. Make sure the reins are long enough to act as a long lead rope for when you get off and run/walk alongside your horse. Get no-slip reins like nylon, or use reins with leather "stops" along the length, to prevent them from running through your hands during wet weather. Put alligator-jaw quick snaps on the end so that you can detach/re-attach them quickly to the bit/bridle for jogging out your horse at the vet checks, etc. Endurance reins come in a variety of colors and fabrics, so you can select all different types to match your ensemble.

  • Stirrups - the best type are the 4' wide platform, lightweight plastic or aluminum endurance stirrups. These provide the best support for the rider's legs, feet, and back, and hips. Most come with a soft, springy foam foot pad, and spring support system for the highest comfort. Caged stirrups are often used for safety purposes when stirrup leathers are attached to closed-ring supports. Western and English stirrups can be used but provide less surface area for the foot and, over the miles, may contribute to fatiguing the rider's body.

  • Breastplates and cruppers - both are used for security on rides that have hills. Breastplates should be used at all times to prevent the saddle from slipping backwards, and to help keep it from drifting to the side. Cruppers can be used for "downhill" horses whose saddles tend to creep up on the shoulders. Make sure your horse will accept the crupper happily without problem before you bring it to the endurance ride.

  • Protective leg gear - if your horse requires boots make sure they stay clean and don't rub. You may wish to have an additional pair to exchange during a mid-way stop, so that your horse is wearing clean, dry equipment for the 2nd half of the ride. Do remember -- leg gear may be requested to be removed for some of the vet checks.
  • Camping with your horse corrals and containment

    Camping with your horse is a big part of endurance riding. Most rides do not have permanent facilities, so riders are expected to contain their own horses next to their own trailers throughout the ride and overnight.

    Two of the most popular types of temporary containments are portable corrals, and hi-ties.

  • Hi-ties - these are overhead tie-to-the-trailer apparatus that give an amazing amount of freedom, allowing the horse to lie down, eat, move around, and rest without getting tangled. Their benefits are easy storage -- they fold right against the horse trailer, and are immediately available to the rider without the need to set up. Their main drawback is that they are attached to the trailer, and may transmit movement of the horse into the frame of the trailer, disturbing a rider's sleep. Some hi-ties come with dampeners to prevent this issue.

  • Portable corrals are by far the most popular containment seen at rides, and can either be electric fencing with a portable charger, or pipe corrals. The benefits are you can parcel off extensive space for your horse to relax, and create more than one paddock for multiple horses.
  • Electric corrals use easy push-in poles and lightweight ribbon tape with a portable electric charger. The charger can be solar, or battery. Ease of use, lightweight, and portability are the most distinguishing factors for choosing electric. Most horses will not touch an electric fence after being shocked, and will not lean or push against them. It is best to use a wide, white tape that is easy for the horse to see at night, and run 2-3 strands through the electric poles to build a solid looking corral. It is also important to make sure the electric charger is ON, and working. The main problem with electric corrals is the ease in which horses can escape if they are not sufficiently trained to respect the fence. Once free, these horses tend to charge through camp and can take out other electric fences as well, releasing even more horses.

  • Pipe corrals are solid containment that work well for extended stays in one local. Their drawback is they are heavy to transport, and often unwieldy to set up. Horses have been known to stick their legs through the panels while pawing or rolling, or push on the panel, and result in a disastrous collapse that can cause major cuts and injuries. Putting up a plastic mesh inside the corral will prevent the horse from sticking it's leg through. Or the pipe can be replaced with PCV piping which is durable, lightweight, and just as solid looking.
  • Whatever type of containment you choose to use, make sure it is in good shape and working order.

    But, before you go to your first endurance ride it is important to teach your horse at home all about staying in a temporary corral or standing on a hi-tie. Set up the corral in a comfortable spot near your barn, and leave your horse in it for several hours with a supply of hay. Stay close so you can watch that the horse doesn't get too frightened from the electric, or too pushy against the pipe corral and knock it down. Once your horse becomes relaxed and used to the temporary containment, you can be fairly sure it will work well at a ride. If you choose to employ a hi-tie, make sure your horse already ties well and isn't the type to panic and pull back.

    Shoeing the endurance horse

    Riding distance takes it's biggest toll one of the most important factors protecting your horse -- the horse shoe. Endurance riders are constantly up on the latest developments of shoes that will go the distance, and yet provide support and protection to the horse over all types of terrain. Some terrain will demand the use of pads, others will be fine with no shoes at all. Endurance ride rules do not specify use of shoes, but leave that up to the individual rider. Some rides, however, will require use of shoes or boots if the terrain is severe. It is best to make sure you read the requirements for each ride and pay close attention to the description of terrain listed.

    The most popular types of shoes are as follows:

  • Aluminum shoes -- are extremely lightweight and is the closest to being barefoot and for allowing the natural movement of the horse to come through while still protecting the foot. Aluminum is preferred by those riders who are serious about endurance, who run for the top-ten, and who are very weight conscious those who ride a lot of endurance rides. The benefits to the horse are unparalled -- the foot does not have to lift any weight, and the horse does not get as fatigued as when wearing heavy steel shoes for extended miles. Aluminum also grips surfaces, and will not slip on rock or pavement, so it is unnecessary to use caulks or borium. The drawback is the softness of the metal causes it to shave away very quickly, and worn aluminum shoes rarely are useful for a reset. Aluminum is also very expensive -- about 2x the cost of steel -- and you will only last about 100 miles on rough rocky terrain or on abrasive sand, and about 200 miles on dirt. You may find yourself having your farrier out at least 2x more often to put on new shoes. However, for the reduction in weight being lifted by each hoof on a 50 to 100 mile ride, the aluminum shoe is a real saver of your horse's muscles, ligaments, and legs.

  • Steel shoes -- are very hearty and will withstand numerous miles without appreciable wear. Lightweight steel is inexpensive, very common (found just about anywhere, even in tack shops), easy to bend and apply, and come in a variety of styles and patterns to fit any horse or pony. They can often be re-set, resulting in financial savings. Steel is preferred for multiday rides where the horse is going anywhere from 155 to 500 miles. Their drawback is they are slippery on rocks or slick paved surfaces. Tipping shoes with borium helps prevent slipping, but may be hard on the legs and muscles because of the severe grab effect of the borium. They are also 2-3x heavier than aluminum and require more of a horse to lift it's leg. While not much of a problem in the ring, takes a bigger toll as the miles add up.

  • Boots -- are often considered an alternative to shoes. They are used mostly by people who prefer to keep their horses barefoot but desire protection for a limited time on rough terrain. They can be used over shoes to save on wear and tear. The main benefit is that they can be applied or removed whenever and wherever the rider wishes, and can be carried on horseback for emergency situations. Their drawbacks are they are apt to fall off unless they are equipped with ankle gators. They are also heavy -- weighing somewhat more than a typical steel shoe. The preferred boot for endurance riding is the easy-boot which functions as a quick slip-on shoe held on by side cables with a ski-binding. Most boots will give 300 miles of wear on a bare hoof; slightly less when worn over a shod hoof.
  • Feeding the endurance horse

    The speed at which the exercise is performed will influence the ability of diet to modify performance. In the case of short, intense anaerobic) bouts of exercise, the animal is forced to generate energy for muscle contraction as fast as possible. This limits the type of fuel a muscle can utilize and the method by which the fuel is burned. The endurance horse, on the other hand, performs an extended exercise bout at a much slower (anaerobic) speed. This provides an opportunity for the muscles to select a fuel and obtain the maximum energy production from that fuel. In endurance situations, fuel (feed) can actually be ingested, absorbed and circulated to the muscle for conversion to energy while the exercise is still being performed.

    Energy

    Energy will directly influence whether an endurance horse can go the distance, and is a measure of a feed's potential to fuel the body during exercise. The endurance horse takes in, via the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), a variety of feed types (fiber, starch, fat, protein) which can be used as fuel. Since horses are not able to eat continuously during a ride, feed must be digested and stored within the body to be used later as fuel during exercise. Stored energy in the form of glycogen (sugar) and triglycerides (fat), plus feed taken in during the ride will provide energy. For an endurance horse fuel must be replenished at the same rate at which it is being used. Glycogen (glucose) can be metabolized twice as fast as fat, and as speed increases, fat becomes simply too slow a fuel for energy generation. As the horse increases speed to a fast gallop energy generation no longer remains purely aerobic ("uses oxygen") but becomes anaerobic ("no oxygen"). which results in lactic acid accumulation, and fatigue soon develops if the body isn't returned to aerobic exercise.

    The speed at which endurance horses typically travel is within the range which can be maintained almost entirely aerobic. Thus, fatigue in an endurance horse is much more likely to result from depletion of glycogen and/or triglyceride stores than lactic acid accumulation.

    Starch

    Starch, a carbohydrate composed of a large number of glucose (sugar) molecules, is the primary component of cereal grains, making up 50 to 70% of the grain's dry matter. Of the grains commonly fed to endurance horses, corn has the highest starch content, followed by oats. Horses break down starch into glucose units in the small intestine where it is absorbed into the blood. Once in the blood, these glucose units can be used for a number of different purposes including being used to make glycogen, liver glycogen or body fat. Starch is the dietary energy source of choice for glycogen synthesis. Maintaining blood glucose levels during exercise is of primary importance since glucose is the only fuel that is available to the central nervous system. In endurance horses hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) as a result of prolonged exercise can be a cause of fatigue.

    Fat

    Corn oil, rice bran, flax, and sunflower seeds are the most common sources of fat people can add to a horse's diet. These fat products contain roughly 2.25 times as much digestible energy as an equal weight of corn or oats. Fatty acids, derived from fat metabolism,can not be converted to glucose or be used to synthesize glycogen, but it is an extremely useful dietary energy source. Research studies have concluded that feeding fat to horses resulted in a steady decrease in body condition and an increase the energy density of the diet so that less feed is required to maintain body weight. HOWEVER, it is important to remember only to feed fat between endurance rides, NOT during an endurance ride because the body metabolizes fat too slowly, the fats don't provide a ready source of energy and somewhat slow down gastric emptying.

    Fiber

    Fiber (grass/hay) is an energy source that is actually one of the best source of horse nutrition. It is sweet, full of sugar, full of fiber, and idealy suited for the equine's highly developed hindgut which houses billions of bacteria designed specifically for fermenting large quantities of plant fiber. Of the feeds grass forage is by far the best, and most important. Horses have evolved as grazing animals and have a unique ability to take in large amounts of forage (up to 3.5 % of body weight). The horse, in concert with the bacteria in the hindgut, utilize grass forage primarily for energy production. An endurance horse's intestinal health is critical to success. Normally, the digestive system of the horse is active, moving feed ingredients through the length of the tract. Excercise tends to slow the digestive system, so a diet high in fiber is excellent because it increases critical water intake. More importantly, the water and natural electrolytes found in forage can be used to combat dehydration and electrolyte imbalances which derail so many endurance horses. Fiber, therefore, can be used as an energy source throughout the endurance ride since fermentation and absorption in the hindgut continues long after a meal has been eaten. Finally, the presence of fiber in the digestive system can help insure that blood is being distributed to the digestive system during the ride. This maintenance of blood flow to the digestive system will aid in the ability of gut tissue to remain active and could help prevent colic. So if your horse wants to snatch up some grass along the trail, by all means let it!!

    In addition to forage sources, there are fiber feeds such as beet pulp and rice bran that offer some of the same beneficial aspects of forage for maintaining gut health and fluid and electrolyte balance, but contain more energy. The additional energy is the result of both high fiber content and a low lignin (non-digestible fiber) component. Therefore, these ingredients have more fiber which is available for microbial digestion. These fibers contain energy equivalent to oats, but they would be safer to feed because they do not produce the symptoms of grain overload. The problem with these feeds are -- often the horse will refuse to eat them during an endurance ride. If this is the case, then grass or alfalfa hay is the best choice since a horse will rarely turn up it's nose at fresh grass or alfalfa hay. Since chronic over-supplementation with calcium (found in alfalfa) can cause problems with endurance horses, avoid high calcium hays as a regular feed and only give DURING an endurance ride.

    Electrolytes for the endurance horse
    Choosing the right electrolytes for your endurance horse can be confusing at best, and often ends up being a "trial and error" type of search. There is much controvery in the endurance world as to whether electrolytes are really necessary, and some countries have spent many hours in time and research into finding out if this supplement is really needed.

    Suffice to say -- it is an individual choice. Some horses DO need it, some don't. The best advice is to try endurance first without using electolytes. If the horse does fine, then perhaps you don't need it. However, if the horse begins to struggle with lack of desire to eat, or metabolic issues, you might try some electrolytes in the smallest dose possible and see if your horse "picks up" and does better over the distance.

    If you want to use electrolytes it is important to know that most electrolytes you find on the shelf at the tack and feed stores are NOT designed for the endurance horse. They are designed for racehorses and event horses that engage in short, fast work which builds up acidic blood. The endurance horse doing long miles will build up alkaline blood, so under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you ever give bicarbonate to an endurance horse -- EVER!! Also do NOT give your horse electrolytes on a daily basis. Use only when your horse is in competition or otherwise under stress; daily extra calcium can actually impair the ability to mobilize calcium from a horse's reserves when necessary.

    Why Use Electrolytes?

    In order for the core body temperature of a horse to remain healthy and at the optimum degrees during exercise, the horse will remove heat via sweat glands. Fluids (water and electrolytes) from the interior are expelled outside the body to release heat into the atmosphere. The horse also uses cooling air across the surface of the body to help cool the core interior - much like a radiator in a car fans cooling air over a series of pipes in which are pumped a circulating flow of engine-heated coolant. Unfortunately, unlike a car which takes a long time to "lose" coolant to evaporation, a horse's sweat will carry bodily minerals (electrolytes) out of it's system very quickly. With intense exercise, water loss through sweat can become extreme and the horse must re-hydrate frequently, as well as replace the lost minerals, to prevent it's system from shutting down. Replacing the horse's electrolytes during an endurance ride play a critical role in maintaining fluid balance and returning sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium lost through sweat back to proper levels for the horse to function at optimum.

    Which Electrolytes To Give

    There are many electrolyte products on the market; HOWEVER most found on the tack and feed store shelves are NOT appropriate for endurance use. If an electrolyte contains "Bicarbonate," it is BAD for endurance horses. Don't use them!! You may have to go on-line, or directly to an endurance-related company to get the endurance-formulated electrolytes.

    A soft, sweet electrolyte like Perform N Win is formulated with sugar to taste good (some horses will lick it out of your hand) and also to provide quick absorption without the heavy salts. However, there are many different brands and formulations out there, and it is personal opinion as to which type will be best for your horse's needs. Some electrolytes were formulated for different areas of the county and with different breeds/types of horses in mind. Some are formulated for extreme sweat loss, others less so.

    Keep in mind that if an electrolyte is too heavy in salt it can actually cause problems -- such as aggravating stomach ulcers, causing chemical burn on the tongue and esophagus, or actually causing colic. When in doubt, taste it. If you cringe the minute it hits your tongue, imagine how your horse feels! If your horse doesn't like it, trust his opinion that it's the WRONG type.

    So be careful what you buy, and always use the minimum amount possible.Remember, a bit less electrolyte is better than too much, and you can always give your horse a salt lick later so that it can replenish lost salt on it's own in a slower, more moderate pace.

    Preparing Electrolytes

    If you use the paste endurance electrolytes, you merely dial the appropriate amount on the pre-filled syringe and squeeze the contents into the horse's mouth. Easy, and no messy mixing involved. However, be prepared to fork over a lot of money per syringe since paste is far more expensive than mixing your own.

    For dry electrolytes you can try sprinking it on the horse's feed, but chances are the horse won't eat it. Best to mix it with applesauce or apple juice or yogurt and syringe directly into the horse's mouth with a dosing syringe that has a blunt tip. Always follow up with a full syringe of pure applesauce or water to cleanse the horse's palate.

    If you want to make your own electrolytes, you can use Morton's "lite" salt (an excellent source of potassium and chloride) along with Tums tablets to provide calcium and magnesium, and some sugar for quick absorption.

    One Dose:

  • 2 teaspoons Morton Light salt
  • 2 ground up Tums
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

    If you want to give "natural" electrolytes, offer the horse carrots -- as many as it would like to eat -- and grass.

    When To Give Electrolytes

    Electrolyte usage during a ride should be a planned. Remember, you are giving it to prevent problems, not treat problems. Also keep in mind what works for YOUR horse can change with the conditions of the ride, time of the season, and fitness level.

  • 1 dose - the night before the ride. This can be skipped if you don't feel it is necessary, but many riders like to have the horse "pre-loaded" before the excitment of the next morning.
  • 1 dose - the morning of the ride just before you mount up
  • 1 dose - at the end of every vet check after the horse is finished eating and just before you head out on trail again.
  • 1 dose - after the ride to helps cover any depletion and to help the horse recover more quickly.

    Never give electrolytes until AFTER the horse has finished eating and drinking. Also, it is a good idea to bring along a salt lick to keep at your trailer so that your horse can "administer" to itself if it feels the need.

    It is always ALWAYS important to give electrolytes in the presence of water, or some type of fluid. The horse's system needs fluid to transport the minerals across the cell membranes of the upper GI tract. Electrolytes start working immediately and have a maximum effect 2-4 hours after you give them.

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