Monday, January 6, 2014

Thoughts on moving up

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!


  1. Also, of course, every horse is unique. When I started the Dragon in competitions, her body could've gone straight to 50s, but her brain would have fried and fizzled. As much as I longed to return to the longer distances I love, I knew I had to ride the horse I *had* instead of the horse she was*going to be.*

    A season of LD let her learn the game and get ready for 50s.

    1. Good, good point!

      Did any of my points cover Fiddle? Was she too busy gawking to eat, or did she just not ~feel~ ready? Just curious if there's some big category I'm missing!

    2. I had to adjust my vetchexk expectations for Fiddle--she likes to eat for 15 mins and then sleep. Story did that too, but the Toad would only stop eating if he was sick (it happened once, and I pulled him).

      I also think that it's important to begin as you mean to continue. If your goal is winning 50s, then train that way and pray your horse won't break under the strain. I made the mistake of starting the Toad so slowly that he *couldn't* go faster later without blowing a mental gasket. Fee could physically and mentally handle faster speeds from the beginning, so I started training her at 8-9mph and have pretty much stayed there unless the terrain is particularly easy.

  2. Standardbreds who raced are unique animals I think... My good STB who had 60 starts was SOO legged up before he hit the endurance trials, he could probably have gone almost straight to 50s. Instead, we worked up VEEERY slowly as I was also learning. I think we did 3 x 25 miles, a 30 mile, and a 40 mile before we tried 50! Joe got 2 x 25 miles then straight to our first 50, and even that meant he had a minot paddy about going back out again after he thought he was "done".
    I think you missed one thing: have your endurance mates kicked you in the proverbial butt and told you to get out there and just do it already? Everyone needs one of those!
    Now I just have to move up again to 100 miles... Someone wanna kick me?

  3. I think Standardbreds are a whole category of their own when it comes to this: my Standardbred Prycie could probably have gone straight to 50s as he was SOO legged up when I got him from 60 race starts over 7 seasons! As it was, we went VERY slowly as I was also learning: luckily he has a huge work ethic and it would never occur to him to OBJECT to going back out. Joe did 2 LDs then went up to 50 miles: we have built our pace over that distance slowly (last 50 last year was done in 6 1/2 hours). Even 2 LDs was enough to make him protest at going back out when he thought he was "done".
    I think you missed one thing: have any of your new endurance buddies kicked you in the proverbial butt and told you "the horse is ready: just go and do it"? That's what it took for me to get Prycie out there. Now I need someone to kick me in the butt again and tell me to get out there and have a crack at 100..

  4. Anna, I usually delete double-comments but I didn't know which one you preferred, so you get both! ;)

    One of the things that intrigues me about .au endurance is all the extra distances. Our LDs are 90% 25 miles, maybe 8% 30 miles, and just a handful of 35 mile LDs. I don't think I've ever seen a 40 mile distance!

    All of my mentors (but especially poor C, who got me started in this insanity) have had to yell until I moved up! I can't wait to see you and Joe tackle a 100, THIS YEAR, RIGHT??

  5. This has nothing little to do with your post...well maybe it does.

    Just last week I had one of the "top" cutting horse trainers in the country tell me that endurance horses are not athletes, or at least that they are not athletic like a "real" cutting horse. I have not been able to let this comment go. Endurance horses may not be the same type of athlete, but just as a marathon runner is an athlete so are the horses I see here on your blog. Said trainer just went to the bottom of my list of people I want to meet.

  6. I don't know about other CTR organizations, but ECTRA three-day hundreds are broken up 40/40/20. Philosophically, endurance appeals to me more than CTR, but ECRA CTR is a different animal than what the rest of the country seems to have (no obstacles, and the only judging is on horse condition) and I see a lot of crossover usefulness, in part because of the intermediate distances. (I really wish one of those multi-days was scheduled this spring so I could slice out t as a 40 or two-day 60!)

  7. Endurance people arguing if LDs are "real endurance" is just stupid. In eventing, is Beginner Novice NOT eventing? Or in the jumpers, is the 2' class NOT jumpers? Of COURSE they are, they're just the lower levels of it. Maybe some Queen of Prelim thinks they are 'just' BN and therefore 'just' too wimpy or easy and not worth it, but it doesn't make them not what they are.

  8. Good post. I agree with Aarene on mental points. Desire was taken straight into 50s and raced to Top 10 which meant I got to deal with trying to slow down the freight train. She had the physical ability easy peasy--and the mental game was allowed to go out the window.

    I'm strategizing for her daughter now of course, and I think Sheza will definitely need a handful of LDs for the brain experience but not too many because she'll figure the game out quickly and LDs won't be enough for either of us. I hope she'll be endlessly in love with devouring trail like her mom, and those first conservative paced 50s will be a big deal..overall I think I'll definitely spend less LD time on her and have to speed up my own comfort zone (she won't be doing a 6 mph Scrappy jog I think!). Time will tell! Every darn critter is different.

    And then there's Blaze, who will never do anything but an LD! And he counts just as much as the the 50+ milers too :-)

  9. Love this post! Great thoughts and I agree. My newest "project" has been to start to hustle up Mr. Digs since I think we were (both) getting too comfortable in the 5 mph avg land and it would be nice to be able to finish a *bit* sooner. He's done enough LSD (long slow distance for any newbies, not the drug) and we took the time to ensure his brain is in the right place. Now it will be about getting him more peaked and comfortable going at the faster pace. As I've been told by mentors, "It's way easier to speed them up later, than to try to slow them down."

  10. I am almost sort of starting to think Fetti may be able to do a 50 in a year or two. When she quit on me at Ride Bear, I figured 25s were it. She was *done* after Fireworks, most tired I've ever seen her. And the crazy-hot Quicksilver ride? I had horse left and I knew it. If I get the chance, I'd like to take her to a 30 or 35; failing that, a few more LDs where she's ready to go again at the end, and I may see if a 50 is in our (eventual) future.

  11. Sorting out the physical/mental stuff for horse AND rider is one of the big challenges of endurance. Things that worked just fine for 25 or 30 miles might chafe or blister at 40. Food and drink you couldn't even think about at 10 miles seems like manna and nectar at 45.

    And of course, each horse is different. Strategies and equipment that worked (or didn't) for an Arab gelding don't (or do) work for a Standardbred mare.

    I think that we as distance riders are always looking for the next challenge. A longer distance, and different type of trail, a faster speed are the most common challenges I see. With Fiddle (after surviving 8 years and 2,000 miles with the Toad) my biggest personal challenge was to learn *enjoy* my time with her in training and in competition. With the Toad, I was often afraid because he was such a yabbo. I am not afraid when I ride the Dragon, and with the goal of "having fun" in mind, I've taught her a bunch of stuff I wasn't free to teach the Toad (he wasn't my horse). And we DO have fun, no matter what distance we're doing. I consider that a win.

    (and I can't wait until I can ride 75's and 100's with's all dependent on getting my hip replaced now. Bah! When did I get so old???)

  12. Good job Funder! You covered it! With my first mare - we did 50 miles in the mountains - then a 50 mile ride that ended up being 60! :-) Next mare too - started in 50's. Khari - one 25 & right into 50's. With Farah, LDs are "fun"! :-) I'm lucky - have never had Farah not want to continue on & never want to see her that tired.

  13. I think your benchmarks for moving up make sense, but because I haven't actually ever done anything besides one Intro endurance ride, I feel totally qualified to weigh in here:) While there is a lot of physical stuff to endurance riding, I think the bigger issue is mental, and that's why experienced riders can start horses at 50s or at least get to 50s faster than new riders. I struggle all the time with the sheer enormity of what I'm trying to do, and as I plan for my first LD (hopefully this spring), I realize that I still need tack upgrades, some sort of camping equipment, a containment system for my horse, and probably 100 other things that I just can't keep track of. (And yes, I realize that I don't need anything fancy, but the thought of winging it makes me freak out. I have enough problems when I actually plan for something, I can't imagine the hell I would be in if I didn't plan...) Then, there's the thought of training for the trot-outs and just figuring out how I want to handle vet checks. None of those things is a big deal on its own, but all together, it feels like a lot. But I think once I get the logistics down, then everything will seem much easier, because all I will have to focus on is conditioning. And I think you're right about not staying at one distance too long unless you have no intention of moving up. Horses do figure out what their jobs are, and just randomly (from the horse's point of view) extending the day by, say 25 plus miles, seems unfair.

    1. We did remember to tell you that there's a book, didn't we Gail?


  14. I loved your Dixie based impression of what vet check was about. I'm giggling even now at the bottom of the article still about it.

    I honestly think I love doing both LD and 50s. I don't want to go higher and frankly a really tough 50 is no fun for me. I'd rather have a hard LD and a cruising 50 and frankly I think that is what is best for Rose and I. I don't feel less of a rider for not going hard-core LD as after battling the hip injury with Rose I'll just be happy to have a long happy career with Rose. I fully support riders keeping their options open and frankly, if I can do two LD's back to back rather than one 50... I'll do it. I'd double my riding time for the same cost in gas. Anyways, my two cents. I am too new to this sport to think that 50s are the only way and I have to respect my horse's abilities. Maybe someday I'll get a cool giant gaited thing like Dixie and then I will want to ride 50s all the the time. ;)

  15. Yes, the Endurance 101 book is highly recommended! (I'm just rehashing stuff Aarene's already covered while I wait for 20 Mule Team Time to roll around.)

    And yeah, it's largely mental. Making the jump to 50s was terrifying for me, and it took several experienced people "gently nudging" me for several months before I went for it. I just didn't know if my horse was ready, or could ever be ready, or what ready looked like, or even if the concept of ready truly existed! So this is my best guess at some readiness criteria ;)


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