So y’all know that I’m from the south, and that Dixie was a former show horse. To be a padded show TWH in the South is to suffer, pretty much all the time until your career is over. Here’s a World Grand Champion at work:
All that action comes from the enormous, heavy shoes on his feet. Padded horses can’t be turned out in anything bigger than a stall-sized paddock, and they can’t be ridden on trails that are the slightest bit muddy or trappy. They live in their stalls, only getting out to be ridden. It’s a tragic, shitty life and they break down fast.
Here’s a happier video. This is what it’s supposed to look like! (thanks for putting this together, LCT!)
This one goes out to Andrea, who just did her first LD (on the first Selle Francais in the database, no less!) I’m super happy for her! She hasn’t finished posting her ride story, so no spoilers, but let’s just say O kicked ass at the LD.
This is going to be an American-centric post. Most of the rest of the world requires horses to move up through the levels in some sort of organized fashion, but not us! As usual, we do what we want, so you can in fact start out with 50s (or even hundreds, other than Tevis.)
The first question I’d ask is Is that enough for you? Like it or not, LD is getting more popular and competitive on its own merits, so some horse and rider teams are going to be perfectly happy riding LD for their entire careers. Endurance riders love to get online and argue about stuff just as much as any other subsection of the population, and there’s a hornet’s nest of debate about whether or not LDs are “real” endurance. You’re welcome to have at it in the comments, but I’m not gonna get into the absolute merits of riding 25 miles competitively. If the answer is no, I’d like to go further! then…
How’s your tack working out? If your horse can eat and drink well enough with your choice of headgear, and you’re not seeing tack rubs, and you’re getting good back scores, awesome! Keep going, you won’t know if it works at 50s until you try it at 50s.
How’s your comfort level? Did you fall down when you got off your horse at the finish? Can you trot her out for the vets, or do you need to beg a volunteer for help? Do you have any “tack rubs or galls”? Is your saddle raping you? Did you heatstroke out? No? Awesome! Did you drink a lot of water, and did you eat? Yes? Yay!
Is the horse drinking well by the end of your ride? Dixie doesn’t usually drink until she’s been out for 12-18 miles. I start worrying at 12 miles and I worry for an hour and a half until we hit the water stop somewhere in the 18 mile range. But she always starts tanking up before 20 miles, and she always drinks well. If she’s not, we pull (or we will be pulled!) I don’t care how good your horse looks at the finish, if she’s still not drinking you’ve got a problem.
Is the horse eating? If your horse is too amped up to eat, or too tired to eat, you’ve got a problem brewing. A lot of experienced horses seem to like a power nap during their holds, so it’s ok if your horse isn’t eating literally nonstop, but she should have a generally good appetite most of the day.
How’s the horse feel? That’s something I couldn’t answer before I started conditioning Dixie, and honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure about until we’d finished a 50. If I’d volunteered at more rides, and watched more horses finish, I might have had a better idea about it. If your horse is very tired after 25-30 miles, you should consider doing more LDs (or more conditioning, but actual rides are very different from training.) If she’s more perky than tired, but not maniacally obsessed with the other horses leaving camp, you’re probably ok to keep going.
But it’s twice as far! No! It’s not! Stop thinking like that or you’ll scare yourself silly. It’s one more vet check. It’s two or three more hours in the saddle. (Or thereabouts. Look, it’s ok to lie to yourself sometimes. Two more hours, you can do it.)
Why shouldn’t I take it slow, so to speak, and keep doing LDs til we’re top-tenning them? I want to build a good base, right? Yeah, you want a good base, but there’s a drawback to doing LD after LD. Horses aren’t dumb – wait, they kinda are. Let’s try this: horses are extremely good at recognizing patterns and performing to meet those patterns. Your horse will figure out this new game! And if she thinks the game is “eat a lot, trot for 10 miles, do that stupid vet thing for that stupid human, trot for 15 more, do the stupid vet thing again, done,” the horse is gonna be unhappy when you ask her to go back out. She’s done her job!
A lot of experienced riders who’ve been in the sport decades longer than me don’t start new horses in LD; they just go straight to 50s. The thing is, they’ve got the experience to know when a horse is ready. Me, I’ll probably do a few LDs on my next horse, but not nearly as many as I did with Dixie.
Bottom line: use your LD miles to get your tack right, your rider care and nutrition sorted, and to teach your horse that endurance is fun even if she can’t pass everybody on the trail. But when the horse looks good and you feel good, move on up!
One of the things I was really obsessed about as an aspiring endurance rider, and as a total newbie, was “but how far should I be riding?” I asked everybody I knew, and I got answers all over the board – from set-in-stone monthly mileage plans to “I don’t know, on the weekends when I’m not at rides I’ll get the horse out sometimes?” The answer, like the answer to all endurance questions, is an infinitely frustrating “it varies.”
I’ve got pretty meticulous records of my 2010-2012 ride statistics – in 2010 and 2011, I GPS’d 95% of my saddle time. (I’m truly, deeply impressed by the Distance Derby year-end totals!) But then I kinda quit caring enough to take the Garmin every ride, and the Garmin (a truly ancient 205) started to lose battery life, and I just quit tracking miles. I haven’t even brought the Garmin to my last couple of endurance rides!
This year I got a big desk calendar and hung it in the bedroom. (There wasn’t anything else on that particular wall, and I like to wake up, sit up, see the calendar, and have a panic attack about my next ride in X weeks.) I marked off all the rides I might do, and when I committed to one I’d do a weekly countdown (the better to have early-morning hysterics – my husband is not the world’s biggest fan of the Bedroom Calendar idea). And since it was there, I started writing down rides again.
This month, I remembered to snap a picture. Here’s all the work I did with Dixie in December. You should be able to click to embiggen it.
The times/distances are approximate – I use the park’s trail maps to add up my mileage, and if I thought to look at my watch at the start and finish I added the time.
As always: I’m not a very experienced rider, on an off-breed mare, bringing up the rear of the pack. I’m not saying this kind of conditioning schedule will work for you – lots of people ride more miles than I do, some people ride fewer. But here’s what I rode in December (we did a lot of jogging together, but I didn’t mark much of it down.)