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In no other sport does a rider need to know their horse so well as Endurance riding. The level of attention and care we devote to our horses in preparing for rides and at competitions will show when riding in competition. We demand a lot from our horses, riding mile after mile over sometimes difficult (well certainly not ideal) terrain in every form of weather, and we want our horses to pass the vetting at the end of the day.
In the last 10 years, I have had the good fortune to ride along with several top level and very experienced riders. These same riders have then tolerated me using each opportunity to question, cross-examine and interrogate them on tactics, tips and advice to glean as much information as possible. Riding at Novice level with Mimi nine years ago, I noticed a large number of riders making all the mistakes I previously made when I was learning about endurance with my first horse Justice, so here are the ten top tips I learnt which will help others on their endurance rides
Work out your times to each checkpoint, at the minimum speed and maximum speed as least. Decide on an ideal speed (probably 10kph at Novice and 12kph for Intermediate) and work out those times as well. If you know what time you should reach each checkpoint you can alter your riding speed round a course and this will discourage you from going too fast at the start and running out of steam at the end!
Get into a rhythm! This is probably the most common piece of advice I have heard and yet seems the most neglected by many riders. Don't be pulled along by riders going too fast, or held back by slower riders. Certainly for graded rides, try to find another rider who's horse matches your horse's stride and speed and take turns riding in front of one another. This will help both horses and you as riders complete the course in time and with plenty of energy left.
Alter your speed to the conditions. Set out to ride at a steady trot and canter and save the walking work for slippery roads, downhill slopes and extremely rough going, (unless you are really getting round the course too fast!) Fast cantering or galloping, then walking for a while, then charging on again is not helpful to the horses. Slow down for deep muddy going rather than lose a shoe and try to pick stone-free easy going for your horse.
Keep sloshing. Wash your horse's neck down at regular intervals and wash the insides of the hindlegs, (taking care not to be kicked). If the weather is hot and your horse is not likely to suffer from azoturia, the hindquarters can be sloshed as well.
Use sugar beet water and electrolytes/table salt at home after longer training rides at least a couple of times. This will get your horse used to drinking sugar beet water or water with electrolytes/table salt in before you need him/her to drink at a competition. Always offer clean water as well as sugar beet and/or electrolyted/salted water. Most electrolyte formulations will tell you how much to put into the water.
Get off if your horse is walking downhill (unless of course you would not be able to remount at the bottom!). It saves your horse's legs and back even at the lower distance rides. Think of your horse as similar to a car in that each car has a set mileage it will cover before it breaks down - save the miles on your horse's clock by getting off at any convenient opportunities.
RED RIBBONS MEAN 'THINK QUICK', THE HORSE IS FRONT IS KNOWN TO KICK! Always look out for horses with red ribbons or red bands on the tail and avoid coming up fast behind them. They are likely to kick, and some will even stop and lash out with both barrels. Green ribbons are used for young novice horses, so treat those with consideration as well, and blue ribbons are used in the tails of stallions.
Keep looking for markers all the time. Endurance is such a friendly sport and we are nearly all guilty of chatting away and losing our way as a result at some time. Read the route description beforehand and keep note in your mind of where each marker is as you ride. It is much easier (and quicker) to get back on track if you can remember where the last marker was.
Ask questions if you are lucky enough to ride with someone more experienced than you. Everyone has different opinions and suggestions, and some of those may help you in the future. Most experienced riders have done the same at some time and are always happy to help.
Be aware of the weather at the end of the ride. If the weather is hot stand in the shade and keep washing your horse down from when you get into the venue until you are ready to present to the vet. If the vetting is out in the sun take two sloshes with you as you walk over and slosh your horse again just before you get to the vet steward to present. This will keep the heart rate down as much as possible and increase your chances of passing the vetting. If the weather is cold, a lightweight rug thrown over the hindquarters will help prevent your horse stiffening up while he/she cools down. If your horse is likely to get stiff, alternate washing the neck and saddle area down with periods of 'power walking' to keep the hindquarter muscles working correctly.