To Finish Is To Win

American Endurance
Ride Conference

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Safety Considerations Come First for Junior Riders

By Shannon Loomis, DVM

My goal in riding with juniors is to make it as safe as I can without making them feel afraid to be on the horse. I do not spend thousands of dollars on fancy equipment, but I do spend where it is needed for safety.

Helmet. For instance, I ordered a helmet for Morgan last spring but after looking at photos from a couple rides, I realized that it was too big and listed to one side. Instead of adding padding to make do, my husband and I decided the safest thing was to take her to a large trade show and try on helmets until we found one that fit perfectly. The way she is growing, it won't take her long until she is in the larger helmet anyway!

Safety vest, boots, half chaps. Both Morgan and her little brother, Christopher, ride in safety vests. They have Ariat Terrain boots (hard to find in kid's sizes but I lucked out and found them at a clearance sale -- I bought this year's size and the next year's as well!) and lightweight half chaps.

Saddle. Morgan used to ride in a cheap Western saddle that we tweaked and adjusted for endurance. She pretty much outgrew it last year, so Christopher is riding in it now. Now she has an Australian stock saddle that was fitted for her and Star. My only problem is that it is too heavy for her to untack herself, though she can carry it to the tack room once it is off.

Stirrups. Both saddles have peacock safety stirrups. I carry an extra set of rubber bands in my pack, as every once in a while one decides to "ping!" off to who-knows-where.

Water storage. We attach small Camelbaks to their saddles cantles. Water bottles are difficult for young juniors to manage while on a moving horse (and I am the one who has to get off and pick them up) and the backpacks can get very heavy. But youngsters can get dehydrated easily, so I feel better knowing the water is easily accessible without weighing them down.

Horse. Finally, and to me the most important, Morgan is on the most experienced horse possible -- Star is in his 21st year of distance riding. If he hasn't seen it, chances are, it isn't out there. And even though he is very very willing and listens to his rider, he will occasionally put his foot down and refuse to go through something. When he does that, we know that the trail isn't safe and we need to find another way.

Star always has one eye on the trail and is very careful about where he puts his feet. Once at a competitive ride, Quest and I were leading the way around a guard rail at the side of a road crossing. At the base of the last post was a large hole that the ride manager was kind enough to mark extensively with orange spray paint. Quest and I walked around it. Morgan was singing and watching the road instead of the ground. The ride manager, who was watching the scene, said just before the hole Star paused, tilted his head so he could look at the ground and he very carefully rounded the hole and continued across the road behind his buddy.

I also try to make the competitions as fun as possible. We sing and talk. Morgan is usually in the lead and enjoys the trail, making up games and stories as she goes. Since she is still so young, I am in charge of her ride card and map, and keep track of time. That way we avoid the panic and problems that can ensue when small children are left in charge of water-soluble pieces of paper! She cools down and vets in her own horse.

While she can be stubborn and head-strong at times on the trail, Morgan is truly a joy to ride with. She doesn't argue about pace, though she does occasionally chime in with requests. She doesn't complain about long hours in the saddle in the rain or hot sun, though I have had to occasionally donate my rain jacket to the cause. She has enough miles under her belt to know what to expect on a ride and is very tolerant of my idiot horse, Quest, even when it means she gets foisted off on another sponsor (thank you, Mary and Kim). Morgan truly is the best trail buddy ever.


2012-08-31 10:36:35