To Finish Is To Win

American Endurance
Ride Conference

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What to Expect at Your First Ride

Although you may be new to endurance riding, you may not be new to distance riding and may have lots of experienced with horses. This information is geared for those experienced riders on their first endurance ride.

There is no way to cover all the circumstances, because every horse, rider, trail and day is different. The purpose here is to help address a couple of the most often asked questions and concerns. For more detail check the AERC's Riders Handbook.

AERC's philosophy is "To Finish is to Win." That is a wise goal of your first rides. When in doubt, the welfare of the horse comes first. The veterinarians are at the ride to be your teammates to keep your horse happy and healthy through the ride. Ask questions and share your worries with them. Remember, the single most important thing about ride day is welfare of the horse. The rider has the ultimate responsibility for his/her horse, because no one knows your horse better than you do.

Ride management is working so you can have a good time. They are volunteers who deserve a "thanks" for making the ride possible.

One of the most important things for every rider to do is to attend the pre-ride briefing. If you don't know when or where it is going to be held, ask management or another rider. Tell them you are a "newbie" and you may get some extra special attention! The ride manager may be able to put you in touch with an experienced rider to answer your questions.

There are always three groups of riders at any endurance ride, all on the same trail at the same time:

1. Those that are concerned with finish time and placement

2. Those that consider "to finish is to win"

3. Those that are just praying to get through it

Unfortunately, there is generally only one type of horse at any endurance ride: the herd animal. That means you need to be smarter than the horse, and use your bigger brain to prevent injury.

Some Tips for Your First Ride:

  • Be sure you understand how trails are marked and the order of the loops. Some people write it down and carry either a map or the loop order with them.

  • Start time is the same for everyone, but you can wait till the fast starters leave. (Note: If you want to see what a start is like, go up for the start of a ride that precedes your start time, but be sure your horse is well secured at your trailer.)

  • Riding with another horse can be fun for everyone, if the horses travel easily together. Pay extra attention to trail markers when talking with another rider!

  • If you do get off trail, retrace your steps to the last marker.

  • Pull off the trail to get out of a bad situation with other horses. Competitive or upset horses waste the energy they may need later in the ride.

  • Let other riders know when you want to pass them and keep yourself safe by not crowding or tailgating.

  • Come in to veterinary holds slowly to calm the horse and slow the heart rate. You may get off and walk on foot any time you want.

Ride Details:

Start: Check in with the out-timer 15 minutes prior to ride start. You don't have to be mounted or leave, but you need to let the timer you are planning to ride.

Ride Card: Have your ride card out for the arrival timer when coming into vet check. A ziplock bag will keep the card dry. Take it out of the bag for the timer and keep the ride card with you throughout the ride. The veterinarians will record your horse's parameters on the card, and you may have it after the ride is over.

Gate into a Hold Procedure:

  • You have 30 minutes after checking in with the arrival timer for your horse's pulse to be checked and considered recovered to pulse criteria to be allowed to continue. Hold time starts after the heart rate is officially down to criteria (typically 64 pulse) in the pulse box.

  • The veterinarian will check your horse's metabolic status and soundness.

  • You may not go back on trail until the hold time has elapsed, and with the veterinarian's approval, but you may stay longer if you need more time.

  • Check with the out-timer before going back on trail.

Finish Criteria: The finish for an endurance ride (50+ miles) is different than for limited distance rides (25-35 miles):

  • Endurance: The first horse over the finish line wins. Horses have one hour to meet pulse criteria.

  • Limited Distance: A horse "finishes" when the pulse is 60 bpm or less. The maximum recovery time is 30 minutes.

  • Horses must stand for veterinary inspection and be considered "fit to continue" according to AERC rules. See AERC Rules & Regulations for details.

  • The "best condition" horse is selected by the veterinarians, based on metabolic and soundness criteria.

  • There is a maximum completion time, which includes hold time or "total elapsed time." Check AERC rules for the distance you are riding.

Taking Care of Your Horse and Yourself:

Check the other articles available, and the AERC Rider's Handbook, to learn about how to care for your horse during and after a ride. Here are a couple of tips to get you started:

  • Learn to take a pulse at home. Ask your veterinarian or an experienced rider to teach you.

  • If something is wrong, stop and analyze. If you're on the trail:

    • Send word with passing rider.

    • Your horse doesn't want to move? Don't! Get help from a veterinarian.

    • Carry a cell phone if practical, and have the necessary numbers.

    • Make sure the messenger has your name and the horse number/letter to give to ride management.

  • In camp:

    • Use water to cool a hot horse.

    • EDPP -- Is your horse eating, drinking, peeing and pooping normally? If not, talk to the veterinarian.

    • Take care of yourself so you can take care of your horse!

  • Post-ride:

    • Keep an eye on your horse, making sure he has plenty to eat and drink.

    • Don't travel if you have concerns about your horse's health. Find a veterinarian.

Finally, be sure to join AERC! You can join right at a ride; just ask the ride manager for the membership form. The AERC office will send a wealth of information with your membership card, and the miles you and your horse completed at your first ride will count towards your first mileage medallion (horse) and patch (rider).