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Collective Wisdom for Endurance Riding

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Tips and Hints for Endurance Riding

I like this distance - do I have to move up?

The AERC recognizes that riders like to have a choice of distances, and the freedom to choose whatever rides they want to enter. If you like the distance you are riding, you are free to stay at that distance for as long as you want, for as many rides as you want, for as many years as you want. There is no rule in the AERC rulebook to force you to move up, or prevent you from moving up and down through any of the distances from ride to ride. There is also no requirement mandating what distance a rider may start at -- if a rider wishes to start with a 100 mile/one day ride, they can do so as long as their horse is at, or exceeds, the minimum age per AERC rules.

AERC offers many year end regional and national awards for highest mileage and BC's in a number of divisions. It also honors the long-term relationship of horse & rider with badge and achievement certificates to every rider and every horse that reaches 250, 500, 750, and 1,000 miles in AERC rides. Verbal recognition for the 1,000 mile recipients are given at the annual AERC National Convention. Horse and rider team that reach 3,000 miles together are honored with a photograph and a story of the partnership in that year's AERC Yearbook. The AERC Decade Team, recognizing a horse/rider team that have completed 10 or more years of Endurance (50 miles and up) was instituted in 2012 to celebrate the longevity of a team throughout a decade of rides.

When am I ready to move up to longer distances?

In a nutshell - you are ready to move up to the next distance when both you and your horse become bored at your present distance, or want to continue on down the trail even when the distance you are currently doing has come to an end. Moving up to longer distances is a personal decision, and you should never be shamed or coerced into going to a higher distance before you are ready. Same goes for dropping down to lesser distances. It is important to always feel comfortable in your ability, and your horse's ability, to determine the distance you wish to ride.

Making the Leap from Limited Distance to Endurance

The nervous feeling of "can I really do this?" is common to many riders getting ready to step up their distances. However, there are a number of things one can do to alleviate one's nerves, and look forward confidently to stepping up in the distance:

  • Instead of thinking of the distance as one whole continuous 50 miles, break it up into sections of miles based upon the vet checks. Then you can ride it mentally in small portions. Most new endurance riders find this far more do-able, and easier to rate their horses adequately for the distance rather than going too slowly. To do this you should plan how long it will take you, at 7.5 miles per hour, to complete each stage. Then you ride to the clock, making up time on the flat when there are hills where you need to go slower. Doing the ride this way makes the miles fly by, and gives you target goals to complete for each stage.

  • Plan ahead for each vet check. There are more vet checks in a 50 than in an LD, so you need to have at least 2-3 times more food and hay allocated, electrolytes mixed, and food prepared for yourself.

  • Have extra equipment ready - a clean girth and saddle pad - to swap mid-way through the ride, and maybe some clean dry socks for yourself. Psychologically, this will make it feel like you are just starting the ride with only half the distance to go. Your horse will also appreciate the clean, dry feel of the replacement equipment, and will go out on the trail refreshed and renewed.

  • Have something special to eat mid-way through the ride. If you have something hot in a thermos, or a special candy bar you like, it will brighten your spirits and leave you with a smile to start the 2nd half of the trail.

  • Don't allow yourself to get sore or tired. Get off and walk when you can to stretch your muscles and give the horse a break. Some riders like to take an anti-inflammatory (aspirin) before heading out on the trail to ensure they don't get muscle sore and start riding poorly midway through the ride. Just remember: AERC rules state that your horse must compete under it's own abilities and many not compete under the influence of any drugs. For more information on forbidden substances, please check the AERC drug rules at www.aerc.org

  • Many riders like to have an extra set of hands to help when they step up to the 50 mile distance. If you can find someone experienced in endurance to crew for you, it will make the ride easier for you in many ways. Having someone to hold your horse, prepare it's food, fetch and carry for you, and even to see you up into the saddle with a happy wave and a "have a good ride!" and "I'll see you at the next check" can be very uplifting and energizing.

The one-day 75 or 100 - what do I need to be successful?

  1. Have a crew to help you. A crew at a 50 is nice, but having a crew at a 75 or 100 mile ride can be the make-or-break for a rider to complete without being exhausted at the end. The longer the distance the more effort it takes for the rider to care for the horse, and themselves. Find someone to help you, someone who knows endurance rules, and can take care of you and your horse without constant instruction.

  2. Have a plan in place. Develop your strategy and stick with it from start to finish if you can. Know the speed you want to go, and ride the miles in stages. Be consistent and conservative. Don't run for the front until you know the strengths of your horse after doing one or more longer distances.

  3. Don't overtrain. A 100-mile horse needs to be in shape, but not run off it's feet even before the ride takes place.

  4. Teach your horse to eat. The longer distance horse must take better care of himself by eating and drinking at every opportunity, even along the trail. You will have problems if your horse is inclined to turn up it's nose at whatever is offered. It would be good to carry carrots, apples, or grain along with you on the trail to keep the level of fuel consumed constant, and the horse's energy level high.

  5. Get yourself in shape. The better fitness you get yourself in, the better you can sit in the saddle, walk or run with your horse, and survive when day turns to night on the trail.

  6. Take a practice ride at night. Choose familiar trails near your home so you don't have to worry about getting lost in the dark. You can test out the type of lights you want, how your horse will handle the darkness, and what to wear to keep yourself warm.

  7. Consider riding with a friend. If you have an experienced longer distance rider, hitch up with them and ride as a pair. The companionship will be so much more welcome when it turns dark and cold, and you are tired and sleepy.

  8. Be prepared for when you "hit the wall". If you find your horse flagging at a certain point during the ride, give it a break with a bit of grazing, or get off and walk for a bit. "Hitting the Wall" during the longer distance is pretty common. It comes when the horse reaches the bottom of the ready reserves and it's body must turn to the stored reserves. A short break to graze, or eat some carrots, will do wonders to refresh and revive the horse. The rider will usually start flagging come evening as dark descends. A hot meal is great as a pick-me-up and will refresh the rider immediately.

I want to do multi-days - what do I need to know about them?

If your horse can do a 50 mile ride, eat and drink freely, and finish with plenty of energy left, you can do a multi-day. The most critical aspect is

  • a saddle that is extremely comfortable to both horse and rider, and lots of clean, dry pads.
  • shoes that can withstand the extended distance (you may want to consider hoof boots which will take the brunt of the wear without you having to reset shoes every 100-200 miles)
  • plenty of food to keep you and your horse fueled for the whole distance
  • If the multi-day is a point to point, you will want to hire a crew to move your trailer and equipment from camp site to camp site. Even if the miles come back to the same camp it is nice to have a crew to take care of the little things for you so that you can rest and relax.

    Most multi-days are also run as one day 50's, so you will have riders there only riding that day. Try not to get caught up in the race -- if you are going for several days you will not want to burn out your horse to keep up with the one-day front runners. Pick a conservative pace, and stick to it. You want to finish the ride with plenty of energy left in your horse so that it starts out the next day happy and ready.

    Have plenty of redundant equipment -- girths, saddle pads, reins, horse shoes, riding tights -- so that if something breaks you won't have to panic trying to find or borrow another one.

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