Written by Janet Tipton
Well… Wikipedia defines it as “an equestrian sport based on controlled long-distance races. It is one of the international competitions recognized by the International Federation of Equestrian Sports (FEI).” Another web site defines it as, “a timed test against the clock of an individual horse/rider team’s ability to traverse a marked, measured cross-country “trail” over natural terrain consisting of a distance of 50 to 100 miles in a day. American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) offers a Limited Distance (LD) program. LD rides are anywhere from 25 to 35 miles in length. AERC rules allow 12 hours to complete a 50 mile ride, and 24 hours for a 100 mile ride. Limited Distance is allowed 6 hours for 25 miles. Ride time is pre-determined incrementally by the ride distance. The ride time includes time on the trail, and time spent in the vet check.
For me the sport of endurance has enabled me to spend some wonderful time on the trail with my favorite horse (and a few others) and meet some wonderful new people. I am actually often considered a “distance rider” because my main focus over my career has been the LD mileages but Ladybug and I have done a few 50’s and even a 60. I can go out and enjoy the ride, see some beautiful country, take care of my horse and still be done before I get too sore or hurt my horse. Ladybug and I have seen the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the beautiful canyons of Bryce Canyon, chased Buffalo on Antelope Island, ridden the wind swept prairies and high Uintah Mountains of Wyoming, ridden through history at Ft. Meade in South Dakota, ridden through the Redwood National Forest in California, and the desert of Death Valley, and the wide open skies of Montana. We have ridden over slick rock in Moab, the vast deserts and a City of Rocks and even found pink flamingos on the trail in Idaho, and we have ridden through sunflower covered hills in Nebraska. And we continue to strive to see what is around the next bend in the trail or over the next hill.
We began our distance career together in 2004 at a ride in Southern Utah called Color Country. We began slowly, the first few years we barely made it in to the finish on time, but who could blame us for all the pretty country we were seeing. We also only did about 150 miles a year. Both of us trying to get our muscles built up for this kind of work. We gradually increased the number of rides we went to each year and as we both got more fit our speed also increased. For me, however, it has never been about racing. To Finish is to Win is the AERC moto and I totally agree.
So to take you through our typical ride. We first always try to either pre-register or at least notify the ride manager we are coming so as to get any last minute changes or cancelations and clarification on how to get to ride camp if we haven’t attended the ride before. I typically always attend multi-day rides. We pull into ride camp and find a spot to set up. Then the process of unloading and setting up our camp begins. I always try to set up Ladybug (and Bella when she goes with) pen and get her food and water put out so she can relax and rehydrate and eat. I usually try to arrive several hours before we are expected to vet in so the horse has time to recover from the ride.
Once the horse part is all set up then I will finish setting up my “living space”. Then I start to get my saddle and tack ready for the next day. And I also prepare my crew bag if we are going to have out vet checks. And then I also go and check in with the ride secretary and get my vet card. Then it’s time to relax and maybe go visit friends until the vets arrive and begin the vetting in process.
Once the vet has started vetting in horses, we make our way to the area and stand in line waiting our turn. The vet will call you forward and introduce themselves to the horse, especially if they haven’t seen the horse before. If you have a horse that doesn’t like something done, now is a good time to let the vets know so they can figure out how best to address the issue and not keep everyone safe. They will want to look in the horse’s mouth (for capillary refill), they will want to pinch the skin on their neck to check for skin tenting (dehydration), they will check jugular refill, then they will generally put on their stethoscope and listen to their heart rate and watch their respiration, then they move back and listen to gut sounds and finally check their back, muscle and anal tone. Once the vet says that you are fit to start the ride then you head back to your trailer. Always make sure to attend ride meeting so as to get your ride map and any special notices about the trail (ie color trail ribbon, any dangerous points in the trail, hold times and what your pulse criteria will be for the following day, also what the start time is).
Depending on the distance you are riding you will have one to two vet checks and since your total time allowed to finish the ride includes your hold times at vet checks make sure to plan accordingly with your pace. At the vet check your horse will need to reach pulse criteria (often 60 bpm) in order for your vet/hold to start so make sure you don’t run/trot into vet check unless your horse pulses down quickly. You only typically have 30 minutes for your horse to pulse down or you will not be allowed to continue. Once your horse has reached criteria you can go see the vet for another check. Some vets prefer to see you right away and others prefer to see you just before you head back out on trail. Make sure you ask in the ride meeting when the vet wants to see the horse for the check. Once the vet says your horse is fit to continue then you either let your horse rest and eat or head back out depending on when you are seeing the vet.
At the finish for an LD rider you are not finished until your horse reaches criteria. If you are riding 50 or more miles than you are finished when you cross the finish line. However all distance still have to pass a vet check at the end in order to get a completion. And then you are all done and can relax and take care of your horse and begin planning for the next day.
Due to the many places I ride, footing and shear number of miles I ride each year, I made the decision a number of years ago to use Renegade Hoof Boots for Ladybug at competitions. Ladybug has never had a pair of metal shoes on her hooves. We trail ride year round and she doesn’t have a problem with soreness in any kind of footing, however when we are at competitive rides I am asking her to do a lot of miles and she is not always able to slow down and pick her footing so the hoof boots provide the protection she needs to be able to maneuver the trail without hurting herself. There are many options available to those who choose to boot rather than put metal shoes on their horses. You just have to find which option works best for you and your horse.