By Patty Wilber
I have always wanted to do an endurance ride, and now thanks to JD and Marcia, I have!
Endurance rides are races (on horse back!) over long distance (25, 50, 75, and 100 milers are the common distances). There are mandatory vet checks and “holds” (required rest periods) to help ensure safe conditions for the horse.
The most popular breed for this kind of event is the Arabian. They are metabolically well suited for long distance, having the flat endurance type muscle fiber rather than the bulky sprint sort.
I think you can see the difference in the two bodies–the leaner Arabian and the blockier quarter horse–built for explosive short-distance races (Uh, say, a quarter mile!).
Marcia enjoys endurance rides and wanted me to bring her horse JD, so what the heck! I said, “Sure!”
JD is big (over 16 hands–I swear I am going to measure him one day) and he is not lean muscled at all, so I was kind of worried about trying to do a long distance race on him, but Marcia assured me that we were not going to race to win. (What? We are not going to try to win??!) No. We were just going to meet the minimum required pace of five miles per hour, and see some new country while having a marked trail with water provided and all the trappings of an organized event–such as a place to camp.
And we would only have to “endure” 25 (well the course was a bit short, so more like 22) miles, (but other riders went 50 or 75 miles. Yow.)
Luxury! Marcia hauled the horses there on Friday and I showed up on Saturday afternoon to prepare for our ride on Sunday. Marcia provided all the food and paid me, too. I think JD needs to be in training with me for about two more years. Just sayin’.
When I arrived on Saturday afternoon, the wind was blowing in gusts of 60? miles per hour and the camper felt like a boat on rough seas. I thought I might have to take a Dramamine to make it through the night!
People still competed in this wind, but we hunkered down inside, hoping Sunday would be better. (It was-lots!)
Here’s how it worked for me.
Vet check on Saturday. He recorded JD’s pulse, respiration, gut sounds, and made us trot around some cones to check for signs of lameness. He checked other things too, but I forgot to look at that sheet, so don’t actually know what all was measured! The vet wrote JD’s number on his hip.
The vet commented on JD’s size. He was easily the biggest horse there. JD, Top and Tabooli (yes! Tabooli, now known in some circles as Christopher Robin because…drat…I forget…but there is some literary reason…that now we may never know…) were the only stock-type horses (ok non-Arabs) I saw except for two mules.
So, we ate dinner Saturday night and went to bed. Except we didn’t really sleep. JD was busy bawling his lungs out because Top was on the OTHER SIDE of the trailer, out of sight. JD had been perfectly happy all day in the wind when Top was 50 yards away but visible. Some people have barking dogs and some have bawling horses.
Since JD was right next to our camp, we cursed him frequently.
Then he stopped.
I thought,”ah, silence,” but Marcia found it suspicious, so she went out to check and…Top had escaped. Really. But apparently JD could see him, so JD was fine with it.
The good news is that when a horse goes off for a mid-night excursion in a camp full of other equines, it is a solid bet that they will not go far. Top probably had had enough of JD and just wanted to find some place where he could get some rest! T’s– I mean CR’s– mom located Top with in a few minutes and Top was back at home.
JD stayed quiet (or maybe he just went hoarse) and we got to sleep for a few hours.
The departure time for the 25 mile ride (all 8 of us) was 8 am. So up at 6 to feed the horses and us.
I decided to wear my English gear because the breeches are stretchy and I thought that would be the most comfortable for a long ride. (Got a chapped crotch for my efforts but let’s not go into that…)
So, we tacked up, got to the starting line on time, and took off.
At a walk.
Pretty soon, though, we started trotting, and because we needed to cover some ground, we did a posting trot, not a soft jog-trot. We wanted to complete the race in the slowest allowable time, so, like I mentioned before, we needed to cover five miles per hour. Turns out that is a pretty steady long trot–nothing out of JD’s fitness range, but not dogging it.
The scene of the ride was the Binn’s Ranch between Socorro and Truth or Consequences, and the first part consisted of a 14 mile lollipop shaped route to the west, into the foothills of the San Mateo Mountains. Unfortunately, we had to ride out and back on the same stem of forest road, but the loop portion was on trail and in a really interesting wash.
JD handled the trail and the trotting really well. His two main issues were 1) other horses and 2) Top.
1) Other competitors passed us from behind (the nerve) and came at us head on along the forest road (scary)! JD then seemed to think maybe we should be with them and was tense until they got out of earshot (JD’s earshot, not mine).
2) JD, had, of course, bonded with Top, so even though JD wanted to lead and he wanted to trot faster than Top, he did not want to get more than about 100 yards ahead. So, we’d trot off and then when we reached the Designated Distance, JD would just quit!
Truthfully, that was ok, because I was happy to ride with Marcia and Top, too.
We completed the first loop, passed our That is a Big Horse! Vet Check. (Yep–riding 14 miles doesn’t make ‘em shrink!) and hung out for our 45 minute hold. We pulled the saddles, ate lunch and poof the time was gone! We actually left for the second part (8 miles) a few minutes late! The starting line guy was aghast!
Only four of the original eight rode out for the second leg. Christopher Robin had cut his leg so Kate and her riding partner pulled. Another pair had a horse that fell in the arroyo, so they pulled out, too.
This 8 mile section was balloon-on-a-string shaped, down Forest Road 225 again, but the other way. Then we looped off to the South and came back. This ride was on more open ground and the views were nice, but I liked the hilly nature of the other loop.
Eight miles seemed so much shorter than 14 and we were back in a flash (about two hours) and off to the vet check!
We passed! JD was definitely tired (plus he had done 25 miles on his own during the night while crying about not being able to see Top!) So, my “fitness program” of riding him for an hour 5-6 days a week, worked.
We broke camp (Marcia has a really sweet set up), loaded up, and headed home, without staying for the awards.
But you know what? I think we probably tied for 3rd, since 4 of the 8 dropped out!
I’m not at all competitive.