Going the Distance: Starting an endurance horse

When it comes to introducing a horse to endurance, there are two schools of thought. Sharalyn Hay explains the pros and cons of each.

From Sharalyn:

There’s a debate going on. And since I’m always one to jump right in the middle of everything, I thought I would throw my opinion out there.

The question: Is it better to start a horse out with Limited Distance rides (25, 30) or wait a few more years and go right into 50 mile rides.

Good question. And pros and cons on both sides.

To me, the bottom line comes down to the horse. Simple as that. If you’re listening to what your horse is telling you, you’ll know what to do. But, since that isn’t the point of the article, let me flesh out what both sides are saying…

Those who are all for going straight into 50s use the argument that it’s better to start out at that distance because if you do LDs then your horse comes to expect that distance and “hits a wall” when you move up.

The fact of the matter is that horses do hit a wall when moving up in distance. But that’s true for moving up to any distance. If you start with 50s with the goal of doing 100s then you can make the same argument. Why not just start out with a 100? Well, because horses need time to get mentally fit to do a 100. Getting them physically fit isn’t the issue. It takes a mentally fit horse to do the grueling distance of a 100 mile race… to come into vet checks and leave over and over again. That takes time and training.

The key, in my opinion, to moving up in distance is management of the horse by the rider. You know how far your horse has to go and you know how to pace him. Since you can’t explain that they’ll be doing a longer race, the key is to slow down and pace your horse through the first go at a new distance. Sure, there are horses that have no problems moving up. They have always come in with plenty left in the tank and are ready to do more. And then there are horses that need a lot of help moving up. The key is to know your horse, know the terrain, know the conditions and ride accordingly.

My personal opinion is that LD rides are a good way to introduce your horse to the crazy sport of Endurance Riding. They allow you to get out there and experience what race day is all about without the pressure of a longer distance. In fact, I would recommend starting out with the 10 to 15 mile trail rides that a lot of ride managers offer. But if you don’t have that option, an LD is a good place to start.

Another recommendation for those just getting into the sport is to volunteer at a ride. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn by being a scribe for a vet and just listening to what they have to say about the different horse and rider teams being presented to them.

As always, endurance comes down to one thing… what are you and your horse ready for? No one else’s opinion matters. So stop and listen to what your partner is trying to tell you and you’ll never wonder what distance is the right distance.

So, get out there and ride. And remember… to finish is to win!!

Sharalyn is owned by three horses–Flash (the Arab), Storm (the Mustang) and Goodwin (the NSHxTB)–and two dogs, Daisy and Noelle. They do their best to make the most out of every day. You can follow their adventures at 36andsingle.blogspot.com

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