I will admit, I had a ton of preconceived notions about distance/endurance riding before I got into the sport, which is the reason I think it took me so long to try it out. I had done research online, read everything I could get my hands on and talked to people currently participating in the sport and even though they pretty much all said the same thing, for some reason, I still didn’t believe it until I actually got out there and tried it. I highly encourage anyone interested to come out and volunteer at a ride (or come be my pit crew for the day!) and experience the world of endurance/distance riding first hand.
For those of you still on the fence about trying it, see below for some common myths and misconceptions about endurance that I once thought to be true before I got into this sport:
Myth 1 – You need an Arab to compete.
You absolutely do not NEED an Arab to compete. If you attend an OCTRA ride (like you should!), you will see a variety of breeds represented from Arabs, Morgans, Standardbreds, Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Paints, to ponies and drafts! While riding a horse bred for this sport makes it easier (sometimes), you can ride the horse you already own and still do well. Heck, I’m doing 50’s on my stocky bulldog-built mare! You just may have to spend a little more time conditioning your horse and cooling him out before presenting to the vet. Pretty much any sound horse can compete in distance riding. In fact, the current record for highest number of completions of one of the world’s toughest endurance races is a quarter horse!
Which leads me to my next point:
Myth 2 – “X” number of miles is a lot
Distance riding is not all about the 50, 75 and 100 mile rides. There are short rides available (you may already be riding some of these distances and not even know it!). Ride N Ties start at 6 miles and most training rides start at 12 or 14 miles. For comparison, an average horse’s trot is 5-6 miles an hour. I have worn my GPS watch in my jumping lessons and have easily gone 6-7 miles during the course of my lesson.
Myth 3 – Endurance/distance riding is all about speed and racing
Unfortunately, the current media hype surrounding endurance riding in the Middle East is giving the wrong impression to people about this sport. Horse welfare is key at these events in North America and horses are not run into the ground. The slogan of distance riding/endurance is “To Finish is To Win”. In this sport, winning comes in many forms. The majority of the time, winning means completing your ride with a sound, healthy and happy horse. In OCTRA, there is even a discipline called “Set Speed”. This is a great introduction to distance riding as it is not a race; riders have a range of speed they can travel and if they are too fast, they are disqualified. Horses and riders compete against themselves, with riders receiving a grade at the end of the ride, based on a calculation involving their average speed and horse’s final heart rate. The goal is to travel to as close to the maximum speed allowed while still having the lowest heart rate.
Myth 4 – I’m going to have to buy new tack
You can use whatever tack you currently have (as long as it’s safe and fits properly). There are no rules regarding the type of tack you can use (provided it is humane) or what clothing you have to wear. You will find riders competing in endurance saddles, western saddles, and various types of endurance saddles. Distance riding is a great way to cross train your horse and to condition him to excel in your current discipline of choice. There are many times at rides I have seen eventers come out in the same gear they would use on course and complete a distance ride.
Myth 5 – Endurance riders are crazy
This one I can’t really argue. We purposely spend our time and money so that we can spend hours with our horses crossing all sorts of terrain, seeing new places that most people never get to experience, camping under the stars with our equine friends, and meeting new people and making friends who share our same interests. If this is considered being crazy, I don’t mind the label!
There is so much information out there but nothing compares to actually getting out and going to a ride to experience it for yourself. Check out the OCTRA website (http://www.octra.on.ca/) for upcoming events near you.