Beautiful Trails and Competition
By Gayle Ecker (reprinted from Equine Canada's HorseLife Magazine)
If you like the thought of riding through beautiful trails, sharing time with your horse, getting to know other people and adding a dash of competition, then it sounds like the sport of endurance riding just might be for you. With rides offered from East Coast to West Coast and everywhere in between, this is a sport that offers many opportunities for fun, friendship and competition.
But the biggest challenge for many is getting started. Newcomers often are asking about what horse is best, what type of saddle should be used, other necessary equipment and many other questions. However, for many people, the best place to get started is without your horse! That’s right, without your horse.
The first ride an be very stressful for both horse and rider, so those with many years of experience have advice for newcomers. “The best way to start would be to volunteer at a ride, to record for a vet or just to observe closely. Ask tons of questions and read the latest articles about the sport,” recommends Wendy Benns, a successful international rider from Ontario.
Longtime endurance rider Christy Janzen, from Alberta, also recommends reading books and articles on endurance so that you can learn from their experiences. Many of today’s top riders started by volunteering at a ride and meeting new people who have helped them move up the competition ladder.
There are many positions for volunteers at endurance rides. In fact, the sport of endurance depends on its volunteers much more than many other equine disciplines. So this means that you have many opportunities for volunteering in many different positions and each one has its learning opportunities. Try attending two to three rides and volunteer to help in a different position each time. You will b e very impressed at how much you have learned in a very short period of time. Then you will be in a better position to get started with your own horse.
What horse do I need?
This is a common question from many newcomers to the sport. Terre O’Brennan, an experienced rider from British Columbia, says, “The horse you have! Any sound, healthy horse can manage to complete at least a 25-mile ride.”
There are many horses of all breeds and ages that enjoy a day on the trails, but good health and soundness are prerequisites. If in doubt, ask your veterinarian to perform a soundness and health check examination on your horse before going on your first ride.
Once you go to your first ride, introduce yourself to other riders and management of the ride, and they can help you identify people with experience who may be willing to help you begin to learn more. The next step is to enlist the help of a friend or two and attend your first ride. Alternatively you may be able to arrange to meet with someone at the ride who will work with you during the competition.
There are some other important opportunities for newcomers to learn more about this sport.
Training rides and seminars: Many regional, state, provincial and local associations offer educational events that include training or mileage rides or seminars for those new to the sport. For example, in Ontario, the Ontario Competitive Trail Riders Association generally offers several educational events each year. These may include “classroom-type” presentations on the types of competitions offered, the best ways of monitoring your horse, and then this may be followed by a hand-on training ride with mentors and other volunteers to help you learn how to manage your horse during the ride including cooling techniques, feeding during the ride, and monitoring heart rates. Check with your association or talk to a local endurance rider to find out what events might be offered in your area. This will help you learn about the sport, give you a supportive forum where many of your questions can be answered, and also give you a chance to find mentors who will help you get into the sport of endurance riding.
Meeting mentors and other helpful people. An important aspect of volunteering is that it gets you “in the middle of things.” You will quickly learn about the riders, the officials and have the opportunity to meet many of these people and have good discussions with each of them. Endurance riding is one of those “hurry up and wait” type of sports as horses do 10- to 18-mile loops (or point to point), then enter the vet check. So, depending on the distances and the number of horses competing, there will often be “down times” between horses where you can have a great conversation with some of the other people in the sport.
Formal educational opportunities
Annual meetings. Many of the regional, provincial, state or local riding groups and associations may hold educational presentations at their annual or monthly meetings. Local veterinarians, riders or other professionals may be invited to give their members an introduction to competition or management issues. (And don’t forget the AERC annual convention, held each winter, which includes educational seminars and an extensive trade show.)
Equine Canada is based in Ottowa, Ontario. Their website address is www.equinecanada.ca.