Endurance Rookies

Endurance Rookie FAQ

Contact us to find a mentor – we may know someone in your area who is actively competing in endurance who can help you to get started. On the AERC website, look under Education for the Rider’s Handbook. Reading that is a great place to start. Then, read What to Expect on Your First Ride and 25 Tips on How to Have Fun at Your First Ride because this is all about fun after all.

Endurance is a distance race, like a runner’s marathon for the horse and rider. The first horse across the finish line wins. Most riders are not racing to win but are aiming to finish to meet personal goals. Endurance races are 50 miles or more. Limited Distance Endurance is for new horses and riders. These races are 25-50 miles and moderate riding for good recoveries at the end are encouraged.

In endurance, there is a maximum completion time that riders must meet in order to complete successfully. For a 25 mile ride, it is 6 hours. For a 50 mile ride it is 12 hours and for a 100 mile ride it is 24 hours. The maximum completion time equals about a 5mph pace, but riders can, and often do, go much faster.

Both competitive trail and endurance have mandatory vet checks where horses are examined by a veterinarian to ensure that they are safely recovering and sound during the competition, but otherwise the two disciplines are quite different.

Competitive trail is not a race. It is a challenge to complete a course and remain unchanged. In competitive trail, the horse is carefully scored before the ride on condition, hydration and soundness. Then it completes a course of 15 to 40 miles in one day depending on the event within a specified time window. That time window equals out to about a 6 mph pace. At the end, recovery, condition, hydration and soundness are checked and scored again. The horse that changes the least wins.

Any Breed – endurance is open to all breeds of horses, mules and ponies. Distance horses need to be strong and healthy. They don’t need to be beautiful, but they must have a conformation free from major faults that might lead to injury or lameness when stressed. Because the sport is stressful, to compete in limited distance the horse must be at least 48 months old and for a 50-mile endurance a horse must be at least 60 months old. Horses of all breeds have been successful in distance riding as long as they are well conditioned and sound.

One of the great things about riding distance is that riders use any and all types of equipment. While a lot of riders will eventually purchase a saddle made specifically for distance riding there is no reason to run out and buy a bunch of new equipment to start out. Stick with what is working for you and your horse for now.

There are many endurance related products, including saddles, that you will see at the rides. Some of these items you will eventually want and some you won’t. You must wear a helmet. You will want to think through how you will carry certain things with you on the ride, such as a sponge, electrolytes, a snack and water for yourself, and your cell phone for safety.

Electrolytes in short are a horse’s Gatorade. You will see riders dosing electrolytes to their horses with 60cc dosing syringes throughout ride camp. Most have their own special way of mixing them but two of the most common bases are yogurt and applesauce.

Electrolytes are commonly given before, during and after the competition. Especially in hot, humid weather, significant amounts of electrolytes are lost in the sweat. Sodium, chloride and potassium are the primary ions lost, along with smaller amounts of calcium, magnesium and other trace minerals. Increasing scientific data indicates that supplementing during exercise, and thereby minimizing depletion is beneficial in possibly averting metabolic problems such as thumps, tying-up, poor gut sounds and other symptoms associated with “exhausted horse syndrome.”

The body does not store excess electrolytes against future need, therefore “pre-loading” several days before a ride will not replace supplementation during the ride itself. However, orally syringing a day or two before the ride (especially before and during transport) may help trigger a “thirst response” to encourage drinking. Likewise, supplementing throughout the day may encourage drinking as well as replacing electrolytes lost through sweating.

As with every other feed supplied throughout an endurance ride, small and frequent amounts are usually preferable to large and infrequent amounts. Electrolytes are often added to feed or water, but some horses may refuse the too salty flavor, and therefore also refuse much needed food and water. Although horses do develop an appetite for needed salt to replace depleted storage, this is not an instantaneous response. Don’t rely on this mechanism during a ride! Oral syringing is a good alternative that has worked well for many horses and riders.

Be sure to review the ride flyer first for pre-entry, camping and horse requirements. At all rides your horse will need a current Negative Coggins (GMHA requires a Rabies Certificate as well), so bring the original and a copy to leave with the ride manager. The ride flyer will also indicate if a dinner meal is provided or if there is a potluck.

We believe that as you start riding more distance rides and camping longer nights with your horse your list will grow, and grow but these items are a few essentials that we wouldn’t want to be caught without:

For the Rider:

  • Bottled Water
  • Electrolyte such as Gatorade
  • Your riding attire and helmet
  • Bring a variety of Sweatshirts, T-shirts and Tank Tops. You never know when the weather will turn, and its better to be prepared than standing freezing in the rain!
  • Snacks – Fruit, Nuts, etc… 9 Advil – Tylenol – Aleve
  • Rain Gear
  • Personal Items
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Chapstick
  • Bug Spray
  • Lantern and/or Flashlight

For the Horse:

  • Hay, Grain other horse feeds and supplements (whatever is typically fed at home; don’t try any new feeds at the ride)
  • Water and Feed Buckets – if you have a way to haul water that is great; otherwise, there is water provided at all rides.
  • Blankets, Coolers and Fly sheets/masks.
  • Saddle, Bridle and, if used, Breastcollar, Martingale, Crupper, Leg boots (allowed in CDR but not CTR), Hoof boots (allowed in all distances)
  • Electrolytes and Syringes

A crew is a person or group of people who assist you at the start, finish, holds, and along the trail. This kind of help is allowed in endurance, but not in competitive trail. Your crew can hold your horse for you so that you can rest, eat, or visit the bathroom. They can take your horse through the vetting process for you. They can meet you along the trail to give your horse or you some food, drink or support. They are NOT necessary, especially for a limited distance ride. As long as you set up your supplies ahead of time and carry what you need on trail with you, a limited distance ride and even a 50-mile ride can easily be completed without a crew.

At GMHA, we provide stalls to all riders and they must be used for overnight containment. For riders who don’t need to stable overnight, we provide stalls for use during the day. Riders may camp overnight in their trailers or stay elsewhere off the grounds. We provide a night check service as part of your entry. At other rides, the setup is usually a bit more rustic. Options range from swing-out trailer ties to various portable corrals, both electric and pipe or PVC. There is no foolproof way to contain a horse, especially in a strange environment. Sleep in your clothes and have your boots and a flashlight near the bed! It is a good idea to make an anklet, neck collar or halter tag with your contact information just in case your horse escapes.

For an excellent summary of endurance horse conditioning, read this article by Genie Stewart Spears.

There are several ways to take your horse’s pulse. The most basic way is with a stethoscope. Position the ear pieces of your stethoscope so they point slightly towards the front of your head. Position the diaphragm of the stethoscope on the left side of the horse just behind the elbow where the girth rests. Move it around in that area until you can hear the beating of the heart. At rest, the horse’s heart has a slow, regular rhythm that sounds like “ker-plunk, ker-plunk”. Each “ker-plunk” is counted as one beat, not two. Once you have established the rhythm, look at your watch. You can count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 or take the pulse for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. A quick way to get a general idea of the pulse is to take it for 6 seconds and add a zero. However you take it, your intent is to establish how many times your horse’s heart beats in one minute. Take his pulse often. Learn what his resting heart rate is. Take it directly after a work out. Take it 10 minutes after a work out. Take it at different times of the day. Take it in different situations/locations. Your horse’s heart rate will fluctuate under different conditions. Both physical and emotional stress can elevate the heart rate. Find out what is normal for your horse. If you don’t have a stethoscope it is possible to take the pulse with your fingers. Find a vein, feel the pulse and start counting. I have even seen people place their hand in the girth area near the heart and count the pulse that way. Experiment and find out what works best for you. While a horse may come into the vet check with a high heart rate, the rider can lower the heart rate in a number of ways. A conditioned horse’s heart rate will lower on its own with little help of the rider. The rider can facilitate the lowering of the heart rate by cooling the horse, through water on the neck and legs of the horse, or even by icing the horse down. As the temperature of the horse declines, the heart rate will also decline. However, if the horse has been over stressed, even after the heart rate has come down, if the horse is stressed again, the heart rate will jump up again. When the horse is presented to the vet, the heart rate should be lower than pulse criteria set by the Vet before the ride (e.g., 60, 64). If the heart rate is above criteria, you will have to return to the crewing area to get his heart rate down and re-present to the vet when he has reached criteria. He will be eliminated if he doesn’t reach criteria within the time specified by the rules. As always, there are some tricks you can play to lower the heart rate even while the vet is checking.

  • First, if another horse walks by, particularly a best buddy, then the horse’s rate is sure to go up. Stand such that you block the horse’s view of whatever might excite him.
  • Do not let the horse eat while the vet is taking the pulse.
  • Do not let the horse throw his head way up. Preferably, have the horse hold his head in a “neutral” position.
  • If you have a calming technique, such as gently rubbing the horse, do so.
  • For yourself, take a deep breath and try to relax to show your horse that the excitement is over, no more trotting right now.

Here is a very thorough video that illustrates the process, courtesy of the AERC. Essentially, a vet will evaluate your horse at the beginning, end, and during each mandatory hold for hydration, soundness, metabolic factors and overall health and well-being. These results will be marked on your card. Here is a further explanation of the vet check process and the reasoning behind it.

The sounds of the intestinal system (random gurgling noises). Often diminishing with fatigue, their total absence can indicate a serious metabolic problem with the horse. The vet will check them before and after your ride.

A test for dehydration; pinch a fold of skin between your fingers and note the number of seconds it takes to flatten back out. The longer the time, the greater the dehydration of the horse. Over three to four seconds indicates potentially serious dehydration. This test should be applied at the point of the shoulder, not up on the neck. It will be part of the judging process.

The muscle tone of the anus; loss of anal tone is a sign of fatigue and will be noted on your card.

Another indicator of dehydration, the vet presses a finder onto the horse’s gums and notes the amount of time it takes for the pink color to return.

During the initial exam (vet in), the safety check at the midpoint hold and the final exam (vet out), the horse is trotted (or gaited) in hand so that the judges can evaluate soundness and fatigue factors. Usually, the horse is trotted straight away from the judges, and then trotted (or gaited) straight back. It makes sense to practice trotting out before the ride, making sure your horse is consistent, obedient, and steady on a loose lead so that his gait can be presented in its best light.

Endurance rides award completion recognition to all riders who complete. Beyond that, there are usually awards for the Top 10 finishers in each distance. Horses who finish in the Top Ten can opt to participate in the Best Condition judging process. This is an additional set of judging parameters that the horse undergoes after the final exam and is factored with the rider’s weight to produce a score that reflects the horse that finished in the best condition. For more details, consult the AERC Rider’s Handbook.

Endurance trails are well-marked and maps are usually provided. This video from the AERC explains a lot of the precautions you can take to avoid getting lost and what to do if you find yourself lost.

New riders should definitely check out the Greenbeans website! Greenbeans is a term for new riders. This site is full of information and ways to meet other rookie riders. There is also a local group on Facebook called Northeast Distance Greenbeans and be sure to join AERC Northeast Region Members also on Facebook.