endurance riding

Teagan Endurance riding may conjure up an image of wiry ladies, sporting anoraks and map cases and mounted on equally wiry Arabs. While there may be an element of truth in that I have spent 3 hugely enjoyable years of novice and intermediate competition without owning an Arab.

Perhaps it is useful to say what Endurance Riding isn't. It isn't a long pony trek, ambling through lanes because the speeds required are pretty fast, it isn't for the faint hearted, and it isn't for the rider who doesn't enjoy being in the saddle for long!

Slightly bizarrely I got into endurance riding because my horses are barefoot. I was doing a lot of work to condition the feet and found myself going on longer and longer rides and then found that my feet were getting stronger and stronger. The upshot of this was that both my grey mare, Teagan are my Icelandic horse, Hug were getting pretty fit. So we gave a 33km ride a go and really enjoyed it. It poured with rain, we got lost, my water bottles fell overboard and I was pretty surprised at how fast we were meant to go but we both had fun. The heart rate and vetting constraints all seems a bit complicated to start with but we did what we needed to do in order to successfully complete the ride.

HugEndurance riding is only going to appeal to a certain type of rider, that's for sure. You need to enjoy riding and the company of your horse, for hours and hours and hours! You also need to really enjoy the countryside, enjoy the challenge of being on your own and sorting out any problems that may arise from getting lost, having your horse go lame or meeting another competitor who has got into difficulties. While it isn't suitable to do an endurance ride at a flat out gallop you do have to average a good speed and it does help if you really enjoy opening things up from time to time as well.

I also enjoy the health and fitness issues that are brought to the forefront. Saddling becomes utterly crucial, you are not going to last long with a misfitting saddle. You need to learn about anatomy, physiology and fitness to work out the best training schedule. You need to get into electronics as a heart rate monitor and GPS are pretty handy both in training and in competitions. Your maths needs to be petty good to work out your expected timings at each checkpoint. You also need to think about nutrition and hydration both for the horse and yourself. All these factors give you a huge amount to think about and I find that its all a bit more diverse than doing a dressage test or jumping a round of show jumps.

Pair ridingI also got interested in Endurance riding from a training stand point. I think that getting horse to reliably hack out in unfamiliar terrain, in all weathers, in company or alone, behind or in front, to open gates reliably, face farm machinery, traffic and just about any other obstacle that you could care to think of is part of the essential basic training for any horse. While competitive riders from other disciplines are very quick to dismiss "happy hackers" there are a phenomenal number of competition and even event horses that don't have the basic foundation training to be able to go for a hack without coming unglued at some point or another. I can't help thinking that lots of competition horses from other disciplines should be able do an short endurance ride and cope with all the changes in gait and terrain required before being expected to cope with jumps as well. (Sorry I'll get off my soap box now!)

Teagan 1Another training aspect is that we don't really have jobs for our horses to do. Things are a bit better in the US where there is plenty of cattle and ranch work to do with a horse but we don't have a culture of that over there. My grey mare understands her "Endurance job" and she loves it. I use this "work" as a place to check out any training issues that we may have and need to work out back at home. For example if she is putting weight on the rein when we are opening gates then I could do with lightening up the lateral work, if she is getting a bit spooky about strange objects in deserted farmyards then we need to think about how to get her more confident and so on.

You can start out doing a Pleasure Ride, these are usually a bit shorter than competitive rides (at 18 - 26km on average) and the vetting and heart rate requirements are much more relaxed. Competitive rides, which count towards your graduation to more advanced levels of the sport, usually start at 33km and go up to 160km. Don't ask me why they are measured in km not miles! The beauty of Endurance Riding is that you can take part in a competitive sport yet not compete against your fellow riders as everyone is competing against themselves and the clock rather than another rider. In other words you simply complete the ride or you don't . Only at advanced levels can riders take part in race rides where everyone starts together and the winner takes all.

Teagan 3

You can find lots more about endurance riding on

www.endurancegb.com

An especially good book about endurance and all aspects of the sport is:

Endurance Start to Finish by Marcy Pavord

Hug 2