I was reading an article earlier, which set off the lightbulb for me: 10 Tips All Runners Can Learn from Ultra Marathoners. If you have ever met me at a trade show or tack swap, chances are I told you that you should try distance riding – if only for the sake of cross training, learning new skills, and because its just so darn fun. So here we have it, some of the things that you can learn from us crazy distance riding folk whether or not you ever get out to a distance ride!
1. Find your motivation – Winning ribbons and medals are nice for decorating your bare walls and impressing your friends, but is that why you want to ride? I am going to guess not. Find your personal motivation for what you do. You hear it enough, set your goals and interpret the why – and its gotta be real personal!
Medals are great, but how much do you want to bet that the Mongolian boy who rides this champ just loves to feel the wind in his hair!
2. Build a solid base – before I got into endurance riding, “training” solely related to the mind and discipline specific skills. If you look at a human athletes, they don’t just train skills. Think of how useless a soccer player would be if they just practiced their kicking without doing anything to build up their strength and stamina. They may get the ball to the goal every time, but its unlikely they would last long enough to see the second half of the game. Same goes with your horse, in addition to training the mind, if you want to condition the body in order to be able to advance. Take the time to address imbalances and weaknesses before they develop into a problem.
3. Increase slowly – Endurance riders train their horses using LSD. Not the chemical… though I am sure that would make those long grinding rides a helluva lot of fun, but Long Slow Distance. Start small… can you trot for 5 minutes straight? Next ride try 6 minutes. Increase distance or increase speed, by a fraction of a fraction each time, and never together. Remember, bricks take longer to lay, but it will be harder to blow your piggy house down 🙂
4. Train for the course – One of the questions I hear a lot in both the clinics I attend as an auditor to those I get at our promo events follows the trend of “all the rides are hilly but I don’t have hills, what can I do to train for this?” you can sub the word hills in for really any type of terrain, skill, course etc, but the answer is always that there ARE ways to cross train and the first step is to set your goal, then research the skills and muscling you need to get there. And if you don’t have the facilities at your disposal, ask your coach or other riders in your sport what they do for cross-training.Whether you hit the trails stick to the perimeter of an arena, there are lots of things to be learned from other horse sports that will help build the body while keeping the mind from saying “another 20m circle? Screw you!”
5. Find people to train with – self explanatory I would think. Grinding through the conditioning work can be a real bore, so bring a friend along! People always ask me how I can trot for 8+ hours straight. No biggie, I have some pretty cool and crazy people to share the trail with and the time flies. And what if nobody is around? I just bring along my friends The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. Dre, or really anyone who will coo me down the trail for a few hours. (remember to leave one earphone out so you can listen for other trail users or hazards)
6. Look at the big picture – I have never met people so happy to come in last place than an endurance rider. Sometimes things don’t go the way you planned and you need to change the plan. Most of us just have one or two horses to campaign. It takes a ton of time and energy to prepare ourselves and our horses for the sport and your eggs are all in one basket. If your goals include anything to do with having a healthy happy horse (they should!) consider the long term benefits vs the short term payoff when things get sticky. Have a horse to ride another day.
7. Train yourself – How sick are you of hearing, as a rider “Riding isn’t a sport, the horse does all the work and you just sit there.” While everyone will generally shut up after you challenge them to a ride (and their cowboy strut the day following), I’m going to say something you don’t like here: DON’T just sit there. If you are tired and sore, you become a lumpy sack of potatoes, and your horse shouldn’t have to put up with that burden. Seriously. Get fit, flexible and strong off the horse too. You will be surprised how much even a marginal improvement in your fitness will improve your riding skills and as a result help your horse. Even the weekend pleasure rider. Scratch that, ESPECIALLY the weekend pleasure rider- because better riding fitness means you will have less of that “owie” after your once a week fun. Fun is more fun that way (in my opinion at least!). It doesn’t mean you have to hit the treadmill and weights, try a weekly yoga class, or go for a hike. Find something else that can compliment your riding and isn’t a chore.
8. Involve yourself in your horses nutrition – take a course in nutrition from a reputable source (read, not me!). Find out from professionals in your sport what works for them and why. Prepare yourself to make educated decisions about what your horse gets to eat based on the science, rather than going on the fad “I hear XYZ food will make my horse calm, cure cancer, and make us Olympians.” I guarantee, the only thing that latest greatest trend in food or supplement that you heard about on the internet will do for sure, is to cause extreme eye rolling and exasperated sighs in your barn manager. Learn the science, and work with your professional to pick the correct fuel to meet your horses needs and your goals.
9. Do the leg work – literally! Feel your horse’s legs before and after every ride. Get to know what is normal for your horse (temperature, lumps and bumps, windpuffs etc) so you catch potential problems before they balloon into thousands of dollars of vet bills and months of stall rest.
10. Learn the other signs – As an endurance rider working in a jumper barn for a little bit, I was astonished to learn there was not a stethoscope anywhere on the property, and apparently this is not uncommon outside the endurance world?! What?!? Its a cheap and valuable tool for any horse owner, rider, trainer or groom. Every so often, listen to your horses heartbeat and gut sounds to learn what is normal (just as you would do the legs). Then when your horse is not looking quite right (maybe dinner didn’t get finished or they just aren’t as perky as usual) you already know how to check these indicators, and what sounds normal for your horse. It won’t replace a good complete vet check, but it will help you decide when to call the vet, and give you cold hard facts to relay on to your vet when you do pick up the phone.
The mountains aren’t as high as they look. Get out there and live your passion!
What else can all riders learn from Endurance riders? What can Endurance riders learn from other disciplines? Post in the comments below!