All posts by ashleytomaszewski

Calabogie Boogie

 

I’m always excited to see new distance rides pop up in Ontario. Not only does this mean new trail to ride, but it means the sport is growing.  Last year I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Madawaska Highland Pioneer Ride and Lopin Larose (unfortunately scheduling did not allow for me to attend either of these rides this year).  Now, new trail is enough to get me out to a new ride but ride manager Pauline went above and beyond to attract riders.

This ride location was about 6 hours from me but having driven to the Eastern Ontario rides before, having a traveling buddy, and the enticement of a chocolate fountain all made it worthwhile. Something else that made this ride fun was that both mine and Sarah’s significant others agreed to come.  The area surrounding Calabogie had enough to keep the two of them occupied while we rode; golfing for Lee and off-roading trails for Clayton.

Friday morning we picked up Sarah and Bentley on our way to ride site and Bentley was very happy to see his girlfriend, even though he had just seen her the weekend previously when we went up to visit for a ride in the Dufferin Forest.

calabogie

The plan was to ride 25 miles each day but due to Splash’s headshaking rearing its ugly head again, we opted to ride in the 10 mile training ride and help with the clinic and play it by ear for the second day.

The weather for the first day of riding was lovely and ride started out great. The trail for the 10 mile ride was a mix of field, bush, road, and a bit alongside a golf course. We were told at the pre-ride talk that there was going to be a pasture to ride through (with people manning the gates at the entrance and exit) that was home to cows and a donkey. I didn’t think too much of it since we’ve ridden through cow pasture before and Splash’s best buddy at our previous barn was a mini donkey.

When we got to the first gate into the pasture, said donkey was there and kept trying to rush the gate so we waited for someone to arrive to hold the donkey. Unfortunately donkey escaped the hold on its halter and proceeded to find us in the pasture and follow the horses, spooking some of them in the process.  I will use this as a reminder to riders to request or take a picture of the important phone numbers (ride manager, trail master, farrier) in case something happens out on trail. Thanks to quick action on part of the ride manager and trail master, the trail had been rerouted around the pasture.

donkey
PC: Wendy Webb

We finished the first 5 mile loop by ourselves with Splash’s heart rate almost at resting (probably due to slow traveling speed and the break in the middle to donkey wrangle, even though it was a warm day and she was tossing her head quite frequently).  On the second loop (same as the first), we rode with a rider on her first distance ride. We received completion for the day.

calabogie
I had no idea what the background was behind me until I saw this picture! PC: Wendy Webb

Pauline did not disappoint with the awards thanks to so many generous sponsors, even volunteers received something.  Something fun that was added to the ride courtesy of Rick Fleming and Highlands Golf Course, the VIP use of a golf cart each day was awarded to two lucky people, for which I won on Saturday night for 24 hours.

calabogie

Day 2 was rainy and while I have no problem riding in the rain (see every other ride this season!), with the slippery conditions and the head tossing, it may not be the safest so we rider optioned and volunteered to vet scribe instead (as much as I wanted to see the other trails that boasted water to take the horses in and galloping across the gold course, but I guess that means I have to come back next year!)   It is often suggested that you volunteer before your first ride but I’m of the thinking that it’s good to volunteer periodically throughout your distance riding career, not only to give back to the sport, but to keep you in touch with everything the vets are looking at.

Again, the awards/dinner was well done. It seemed like everyone walked away with something.

calabogie
This is just the prizes for ONE DAY!

Dinner provided by the onsite food truck was delicious and of course, the infamous chocolate fountain was in attendance. The festivities were held in a beautiful done up barn with a stage, sound system, bar, and games. It was a nice place just to hang out to warm up and get out of the weather.

calabogie
PC: Wendy Webb

Thank you to everyone who made this ride happen and the Jastremski family for their hospitality in hosting us and letting us ride on your land. It was an absolute blast and well worth the drive.  This ride is already on the list for next year.

calabogie
PC: Wendy Webb
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5 Ways Distance Riding is the Best Horse Sport for your Money

It’s no secret that the number of participants in the horse industry has been dwindling.  Recently in Ontario, it was announced that the Cornerstone Dressage shows held at Caledon Equestrian Park are no longer going to be running due to low entries and increasing costs.  The Ontario Horse Trials Association had a sad number of entries in all divisions at their championship show this year.  Local saddle clubs are disappearing because of the lack of attendees.

There has also been commentary recently (especially with the issues surrounding Equestrian Canada), about costs to enter shows. Horseback riding is an expensive sport, unfortunately, but we need to support our local shows and associations or else they are going to disappear.   If you are looking for a cost-friendly discipline to do with your horse, look to distance riding!  I have shown at schooling shows for almost every discipline, and nothing gets you a better bang for your buck than distance riding.

 

  1. Free entry! Yes you heard that right. This year OCTRA ran a “first ride free” promotion (with some restrictions). http://www.octra.on.ca/docs/OCTRAPROMOTIONS-FirstTimeFreeRide.pdf  What other riding association gives its lower level riders a free entry fee?????

 

  1. Cheap entry fees in general. Let me break down some numbers for you.  Assuming that you don’t qualify for the free entry, here is what a normal distance ride will cost you.  Entry fees roughly run between $40-150 depending on what distance you enter. What is included in that fee?  Aside from your riding time (could be anywhere from 1 hour to 12 hours), you get a minimum of two to three times where a vet checks over your horse, your camping (you provide the horse containment. Sometimes there may be a nominal fee on top of your entry to cover camping but rarely does that happen), usually a meal of some sort (I’ve had everything from potluck, to chili, to chicken parm to stir fry), a certificate of completion, a ribbon or other prize for completing (yes, just for completing you get something! I’ve received t-shirts, camping chairs, beer, candy, stickers), water provided for your horse, and getting to ride on some awesome territory that no one else may have access to!

 

  1. Low cost paperwork requirements. To attend any OCTRA ride, the bare minimum that you need to ride is proof of insurance (it doesn’t have to be OEF, as long as you have $1,000,000 coverage), a negative EIA/coggins test, and an OCTRA membership ($45) or pay the day membership of $20.

 

  1. You can use the equipment you already have! No need to go out and buy all new clothing or tack. If it fits you and your horse and is in good repair, you can use it! The minimum requirements are a helmet, appropriate footwear, a saddle and some sort of bridle (be it traditional, bitless, or a halter). A stethoscope, stop watch with seconds (or your phone), a sponge and a bucket are all you need to crew your horse at the vet   Yes, there is technology and fancy equipment out there but you don’t have to make the investment when you are just starting out. Find out if you and your horse enjoy the sport first.

 

  1. You can grow with the sport. The thing I love most about distance riding is that there are many options to be involved depending on your goals. Want to ride for team Canada at the World Equestrian Games? You can do that. Want to spend time with your family? You can do that (either compete with them in ride n tie or have them crew for you!) Want to stay at the lower levels and just enjoy time on your horse? Do that. Want to compete for year-end awards? Do that. Want to use this sport as cross-training for your other disciplines? Do that. Unable to ride but want to learn more and help out? You can do that too (and our volunteers get awards as well!)  The possibilities are endless.

 

There are only a few rides left in the Ontario ride season but now is the perfect time to put this on your radar for next year.  Visit the OCTRA website  or join the OCTRA Facebook page  and find a mentor in your area to answer your questions, and help you plan and prepare for your first ride.  You’ll wonder why you didn’t try this sooner!

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These are few of my favourite things

Wine, horses, food, and friends. It doesn’t get much better than that.

peller estates

Now in its 3rd year, the Waterloo-Wellington Hunt Club Peller Estates Wine Ride is one of the club’s most popular fundraising events, with all money raised going to support the club’s hounds.  Despite having such a wet summer in Ontario this year, the sun shone down on 40 horses and riders as they enjoyed good company, beautiful scenery, outstanding wines and a spectacular meal, while raising over $3,500 for the hounds.

peller estates
Photo credit to Alison Gittens

Riders were treated to a stirrup cup and toast to hosts Jeff Peller and family on the Peller Estates Winery lawn. After a photo shoot commemorate the occasion, the ride took participants down lovely scenic trails, past Fort George National Historic Site, down the Niagara Parkway trail along the Niagara River to Riverview Cellars Estate Winery where riders were treated to taste a variety of wines, paired with meats and cheeses.

niagara trail

Next on the tour was a stop at Frogpond Farm Organic Winery, where the hospitality continued, with riders being presented with various wines to taste, and snacks to keep rider’s appetites at bay until the next meal.

And what a feast it was!  Back at Peller Estates, riders were treated to a delicious 3 course gourmet meal created by Chef Jason Parsons, which consisted of a pickled beetroot, goat cheese and arugula salad and potato and black kale soup for the starter, choice of either spring salmon or angus beef striploin for an entrée, and a bittersweet ganache bar for dessert (with all courses being paired with an appropriate wine from Peller Estates, of course!)

peller estates
Photo credit to Alison Gittens

Many thanks to the wineries for their hospitality, Alison Gittens for capturing the day in beautiful photographs, and Jeff Peller and family for being such wonderful hosts and for putting this event on.  It’s already on my calendar for next year!

 

It’s like barrel racing, but with guns

It sounds pretty redneck but it is one of the fastest growing equestrian disciplines.  A horse, guns, balloons, and a stopwatch and BANG! You have cowboy mounted shooting.

I have been wanting to try this sport for a few years now.  While I was participating in the St. Tite Rodeo in St. Tite, Quebec with the Canadian Cowgirls drill team, the cowboy mounted shooting  association in Quebec gave a little demo.  If you’ve never seen it before, it is thrilling! The general gist of the event is to race around a pattern, shooting balloons in a certain order with the best precision and fastest time.  Seconds are added for missing balloons, going off course, knocking over any barrels, etc.

Why haven’t I tried this before? Well Ontario has much stricter gun laws than the US and most of the other provinces so there is a lot of red tape to cut through. Arenas need to be licensed as shooting ranges and many venues are not willing to put the time or effort in.  Thanks to Britt Needham, a cowboy mounted shooter from Saskatchewan who now calls Ontario home, this sport is getting its start in this province!  I attended a 2 day clinic just north of Orangeville to get a feel for what the sport is like and to learn more about it.  (Side note: one of the rules for Ontario is going to be that you have participated as a rider in one of these clinics before you are allowed to compete in Ontario. I highly suggest giving the Ontario Cowboy Mounted Shooting Facebook page a like so that you can keep up to date on upcoming clinics and events. https://www.facebook.com/ontariocmsa/)

cowboy mounted shooting

 

Day one of the clinic focussed on rules, regulations, and just getting a feel for the guns.  You might be interested to know that Mounted Shooters use .45 caliber single action revolvers like those used in the late 1800’s. Single action revolvers must be cocked each time before firing by drawing the hammer back.  They also shoot brass cartridges filled with black powder that can break a balloon up to about 15 feet.  No live rounds are used and are prohibited at competitions. Any one and any horse can compete.  There are men’s and women’s divisions from levels 1-6. There is also a youth division.  They ride the same pattern that the grown-ups do, but they may shoot Hollywood cap pistols, engaging each target as if they were shooting real blanks. They then shoot the real McCoy (.45’s with blanks) at balloons, from the ground while standing stationary with mom or dad at their side.

Day two got participants learning about patterns and getting to ride a mock one. Even though Splash was having a bad day (it started off with a rodeo as soon as I put the saddle on so you can imagine how the rest of the day went), I had a ton of fun, learned a lot, and met some great people.  Even if you don’t think you will ever compete in a mounted shooting event, it is really neat to try out a different discipline, especially one like this, in a safe environment with knowledgable instructors to help set you and your horse up for success.

Civilian Service Horse Sensory Program

As you may remember from a previous post, Splash and I joined the Ontario Mounted Special Services Unit (OMSSU). From July 14-16 , we participated in the first clinic of its kind in Ontario: the Civilian Service Horse Sensory Program.  While this clinic was open to anyone, it was mandatory training for members of the OMSSU and we had equitation and obstacle/sensory testing that we needed to pass in order to become full members of the unit.

Many topics were covered throughout the weekend.  Friday evening, Wendy Swackhammer of Wellington County Livestock Emergency Response gave us a crash course into what goes into livestock rescue, from seeing all of the various tools used, to learning different techniques to putting strapping on a horse to help it move, to how to contain a loose horse safely.

omssu

Saturday and Sunday were both mounted portions.  First thing Saturday morning, we had formation riding instruction with Toronto Mounted Police officers Constable Houston and Constable McCarthy. Luckily Splash remembered her drill riding training however, I did initially find it difficult to learn the new commands as police drill training had different names for things than we did on the Canadian Cowgirls but once I understood what was being asked and I could translate back into what I knew, we were good to go! An excellent way to start the day!

omssu
Photo credit to Happy Hoof Photography

Next was an equitation session with retired RCMP Jerry Mayo, which we had both days. While I had initially expected these sessions to be basically a demonstration of what he wanted us to do, then to us go practice it and to have him assist if we were having difficulty, they ran more like a question and answer period.  While there was not as much riding and practicing in these sessions as I had hoped for, it was interesting to watch people work through specific issues they were having and to watch their progression as they utilized the instruction Jerry was giving them.

After this, Captain Lisa Rakes of the Kentucky Horse Park Mounted Police walked us through self defense on horseback, particularly useful to me as I often ride alone. We learned what to do to keep us as safe as possible and what to do if someone tries to attack.  One thing I found interesting about this was if someone grabs your leg to push you off your horse, stay flexible and don’t stiffen up. The more you stiffen and try to brace yourself, the less balance you have and are able to be pushed off easier.

After lunch we had an obstacle course ride/test. While the pattern was relatively simple, the end goal was to test how calm and maneuverable your horse is. Last session of the day was fire prevention. One of the exercises on Friday as part of the large animal rescue session was to walk around the barn at the REACH Centre and pick out the good, the bad, and the ugly (an excellent practice to do in your own barn!)  While the REACH Centre is fairly new, it was shocking to all of us that although they have a state of the art sprinkler system installed, there wasn’t a fire extinguisher to be seen! In the light of recent barn fires in the area, there were many good takeaways from this session and the one on Sunday, including having a fire extinguisher within arm’s reach of every exit and to have a plan established and practised should there ever be an emergency.

A dinner reception was held Saturday evening to swear all of the new OMSSU members in. The dinner was delicious and catered by a member of our own team (thanks Dee!). A professional chef on the team is a great asset as we know we will never starve!

omssu
Photo credit to Happy Hoof Photography

Sunday was one of my favourite days as we participated in a search and rescue training session and an advanced obstacle/sensory class.  Search and rescue was one of my main reasons for wanting to join the OMSSU and we will be partaking in Canadian and National certification in the spring.  For this particular session, we were given an in-class debriefing on the different type of search techniques that can be implemented and what sort of things to consider when participating in a search, then we set out to do a mock run. It was amazing how much ground we could cover in such a short period of time and we did find our missing target! Horses can be such an asset to searches as they can cover ground faster and can go many places that people, vehicles, or atvs can go!

The last sensory session of the day proved to be interesting as Splash decided that she didn’t want to have any part of anything, even though she had done almost all of the obstacles previously.  While it can be quite frustrating, we just took it as another training opportunity. Horses can have off days too and it is good to know what tools and tactics you have and are useful if this ever happens again. Once she decided that life wasn’t so bad, she happily tried her best at the various obstacles in the ring.  She really surprised me when she quickly understood what was being asked of her when she was presented with the riot cart (designed to simulate having to push through a crowd), considering her initial mood and that she had never seen one of these before. With only a little bit of coaxing, she quickly figured out that all she had to do was push it with her chest and the cart moved.

omssu

This weekend was not only fantastic for training but to get to work more together with the team as a whole (as we are spread out all over the province) and to see what we need to work on before Kentucky.

Thank you to all of the incredible instructors and to Cindy Fuerth for having this vision. I’m super excited to see where this takes us and lots of things are already in the works.

If you are interested in participating in this one of a kind workshop next year, the dates have already been set for June 22-24, 2018 at the REACH Centre in Clinton, Ontario.

The (New) Greatest Show on Earth

Thanks to a contest run by Horse Canada magazine, I found myself to be the lucky recipient of two Gold VIP tickets to Cavalia’s Odysseo.  I had the opportunity to see the show a few years back, the last time it came to Ontario. This time, however, I was going to be treated to a gourmet buffet before the show (with open bar!), desserts and coffee at intermission, VIP lounge access, meet and greet with some of the performers, a stable tour after the show, souvenir program, and VIP seating.

cavalia

If you’ve never seen Cavalia before, the best way to describe it is like Cirque de Soleil with horses.  Along with high energy acrobatics and aerial stunts, and stunning high-tech theatrics, audience members are also treated to liberty acts, trick riding,  and beautiful displays of horsemanship.

cavalia
La Grande Aventure / Credits : Dan Harper

As all horse people know, horses have a mind of their own and don’t always follow the script.  There were a few times some of the liberty horses tried to steal the show but the cast never once reprimanded them; only incorporating it into the act, letting the horse’s personalities come through.

cavalia
LIBERTÉ / CREDITS : JAK WONDERLY

 

Having been an equestrian performer myself with the Canadian Cowgirls, it takes a lot to impress me now, having seen many acts from all over the world. Cavalia kept me captivated the entire time and my heart was in my throat for a few of the trick riding moves.  (Skip to about 2:12 in the video to see a tease of why!)

After showing this video to my very non-horsie boyfriend, I was surprised at his reaction that it was something he would enjoy going to see.  Whether you are a horse person or just a lover of horses, I can’t recommend this show enough.  The show is on until July 16th. You can purchase tickets here: https://cavalia.com/mississauga/#anchor-calendar.

cavalia
VIP Lounge

Fun facts: Cavalia travels with 65 horses (16 of which are stallions!)and they are rotated throughout the touring schedule.  When travelling, they eat the same Quebec hay they would get at home and the team has the same farrier which they fly in when needed.

10K tons of stone, dirt and sand are required to build the massive 17,000 square foot stage. An underground drain system creates an impressive 40k gallon lake. At the end of the tour, the sand is often donated to a local equine charity.

cavalia
CAROSELLO / CREDITS : DAN HARPER

The iconic white Big Top ten is the equivalent size of an NFL football field!

cavalia

13 breeds are represented in the show, including the Appaloosa, Arabian, Quarter Horse, Canadian Horse, Canadian Warmblood, Holsteiner, Lusitano, Paint Horse, Percheron Hanoverian Cross, Selle Français and Spanish Purebred

Ecogold CoolFit Pad Review

When you think of the brand “Ecogold”, eventing is usually what comes to mind. But these pads are versatile enough for any discipline.

I’ve been using Ecogold pads since first starting in distance riding as I enjoyed having something that was non-slip (especially while moving quickly over varied terrain, while still being breathable). Something that is high quality is key as endurance riders put their equipment through a lot and we need it to hold up. The cheap stuff just doesn’t cut it, and that goes for all equipment I use.

 

Last year I found out that Ecogold makes a CoolFit pad.  From the Ecogold website: “ECOGOLD has integrated smart textiles in its CoolFit™ Saddle Pad to create an intelligent saddle pad. Smart textiles are materials that can sense and react to environmental conditions or stimuli from mechanical, thermal, chemical, electric or magnetic sources. Thanks to the innovative smart textiles, the CoolFit™ saddle pad senses the sweat of the horse and reacts by reducing its temperature, providing a healthier and more comfortable ride.”

Yes, you read that right.  This pad reacts to your horse’s sweat and helps to cool it.  Now I know you are probably saying that this is what sweat does. Sweating is a cooling mechanism. But have you ever taken your saddle pad off of your horse after a hard ride or one in the heat and you can feel the heat coming off of your horse’s back?  Endurance riders want to keep their horse cool as that means lower heart rates at the vet checks (among other things). Like many things geared to the horse market, I was a little skeptical at first as to if this pad does what it claims to do. Endurance is one of the most grueling equestrian disciplines which made it perfect for testing the performance of this pad. If it worked, this would be my go-to saddle pad for distance rides.

pad1
Photo credit: Teresa Finnerty

My first endurance ride using the CoolFit pad was last October at  Lopin Larose in the gorgeous Larose Forest. With it being late October, Splash was just beginning to grow her winter woollies and the temperature was warmer than average for October.  Perfect testing conditions! The terrain on this ride is flatter than some of the others I’ve been to so I couldn’t really put  the non-slip properties to the ultimate test, but overall, my saddle did not move. Upon coming into the first vet check, my crew made the comment while removing my saddle and tack that the saddle pad felt really cold.  Perfect!  I took my horse’s heart rate and could immediately tell that it was way below the maximum threshold so we walked on over the vet minutes after getting there. I’ve used this pad on a few rides since then and every time, I am able to pretty much walk right into the vet check after coming in and removing tack.

Not only are these pads cooling, they also come with shock absorbing, removable foam inserts. The inserts are 100% breathable, allowing your horse to continue experiencing the benefits of the CoolMax layer on the underside of the saddle pad even while the shock-absorbing inserts are in place. The inserts come out and the whole pad is machine washable (bonus!) They also come in different styles and a wide variety of colours to match your flashy endurance colours of course!

ecogold cool fit

Cooling has always been a struggle for us since Splash is a very non-typical endurance type horse.  Arabians are bred to have the leaner muscles and thinner skin to allow for faster, more efficient cooling. My “built like a bulldog” stock horse just can’t compare! For anyone out there doing endurance with a thicker built horse, I highly recommend getting your hands on one of these pads.  It will make your cooling efforts much easier.

It is coming up to prime hot and humid riding season up here in Ontario and I’m actually looking forward to riding in the heat since I know I’ve got extra help in keeping her cool.

Grand River Raceway Open House

I’ve attended the races at Grand River Raceway in Elora before and while I have an idea of how the races work, I’ve never been behind the scenes at a race track before.

Grand River Raceway hosted its ninth annual backstretch Open House on May 28 and had their highest attendance yet! More than 500 people of all ages came for a rare glimpse of horse racing behind-the-scenes.

 

A full tour of the Open House stations included: a tour of the judges’ stand and announcer’s booth; a tour of the paddock, testing areas, starting car and track maintenance vehicles; a blacksmith station which included free horseshoes for kids compliments of System Fencing, Stalls & Equipment; a booth hosted by the Canadian Horse Racing Hall Of Fame; kids’ crafts and facepainting, and local reinsman Bob McClure hosted a station explaining the role of a racehorse driver.

Click on the picture below and hold and drag your cursor to get a 360 degree view of the paddock where the horses get tacked up and ready to race!

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The most popular activity of the day was the unique opportunity to drive a racehorse with the Hands On Horses Program and the Ontario Harness Horse Association.  If you’ve never done this before, I highly recommend it (and it’s free!!)

Grand River Raceway’s 2017 live racing season kicks off on June 2 at 6:35.  Even if you’re not into horse racing, Grand River Raceway has a ton of other fun activities like their popular weiner dog races (coming July 7, 2017) and Industry Day (August 7, 2017).

Visit http://grandriverraceway.com/ for more information on these events and many more.

How Endurance Cross Training Can Help Your Performance Horse

Reposted from On The Horse Magazine 

Cross training has proven its benefits in human athletics but did you know it’s good for your horse too?! Like a human, horses need cardiovascular and muscular endurance to be able to perform, especially in equestrian sports like eventing, jumping, and dressage. Although, every horse benefits from a good exercise program! Endurance riders seem to have this down to a science and it’s not uncommon to hear of horses competing well into their 20’s.By incorporating endurance training into your program, your performance horse will benefit in a number of ways.

Longevity

Time is something we all seem to lack but need in endless amounts. Most Endurance riders have time to condition and campaign only one horse, which means we want to do whatever it takes to keep a sound, happy horse working for a lifetime.

Longevity is one of the greatest honours in competitive distance sports with many local and national organizations giving special awards for Decade Teams, and some riders have even reached the rare, but possible achievement of a Double Decade Team. So how do these distance riders do it? The secret, is LSD.

Yup, you read it right. Ok, well you interpreted it wrong. Long Slow Distance is the greatest building block in young horse development and continuing trail success. Take a look at the below chart.

From “Is Your Horse Fit? The physiology of Conditioning”, Lori Warren, PhD, PAS

As you can see, it takes a significantly longer period of time from when your horse becomes “cardio fit” to when the muscles, bones and tendons develop.   So while your horse may be raring to run, their legs are not ready! By taking a conservative approach early in your horses’ career like a good Endurance rider, you are building solid structures that will help them stay sounder in their later years. Competing in lower level distance events can set a good foundation for your youngster.

Fitness

Does your horse lose a bit of pizzazz after your second dressage test of the day? Does your jumper lack that little extra “vroom” in the jump-off? One of the main reasons that humans utilize cross-training is to increase strength and aerobic fitness so that they can maintain athletic performance over a longer period of time. Endurance horses benefit from cross-training in dressage as it improves their coordination, increases suppleness, and improves their ability to carry themselves properly over miles so that risk of injury is reduced. A show horse that trail rides regularly or does the occasional distance ride will build up its aerobic capacity and endurance which help them last over the long show weekends.

Horses that are at a good fitness level will fit up better and faster after time off as well, giving you a head start on show season preparation. By using the same “long, slow distance” conditioning that endurance riders use, muscles are worked in a different way slowly over time which reduces overworking and overloading the structures of the horse. Cardiovascular fitness and musculoskeletal strength are also enhanced. Just hacking out benefits the performance horse by assisting in avoiding injury resulting in a longer career, and the mental break helps prevent “ring sour” behaviour.

Mental Health

Training at any level is stressful, and prolonged mental fatigue can lead to an increase in evasive behaviour. Imagine if you were only allowed to run on a treadmill. Not only would it get boring after a while, you’d probably start to resent it. If you were allowed to run outside occasionally, you’d probably look forward to running and where you were going to go that day. Taking your horse out of the ring will not only prevent arena sourness, but it can rejuvenate your horses work ethic.

Trail riding is a great way to still give your horse a workout, just in a different mental environment. Hacking is a great way to expose your horse to new things and get them used to being in unfamiliar situations. This can carry over to show day as your horse will be more confident and relaxed and your warm up can be better spent on warming up muscles and preparing your horse, rather than just trying to relax them. Getting out of the groomed footing of the ring and on to varied terrain also teaches a horse to think about where he is putting his feet, which will come in handy if your horse gets a tricky distance coming into a jump.

Horsemanship

The more you ride, the better you get to know your horse. You get to know what is normal for him and you become a better judge of his fitness.

You can also take those hours spent on trail and use it to improve your riding. Set a focus for the ride. It could be an improvement on equitation, or perhaps a skill you would like to master. You have hours on the trail to keep coming back to it and work on bettering yourself as a rider.

Then you add in the competition element, which adds more dimension. Get out to an OCTRA ride this year and you will learn so much so fast – electrolytes, cooling, nutrition, pacing. The list is truly endless. There are millions of techniques competitive riders and vets have studied and developed because they want to be better – better than their competition, but mostly better than they were last time; and Endurance is the perfect testing grounds.

On that note, taking on a distance challenge is a great way for you to take responsibility for your horses’ care. This is not a sport for the lazy or closed-minded and adding some pressure will give you a chance to rise to the occasion. Your success in this sport has nothing to do with the price tag of your horse or the colour of your jodhpurs, but the sweat equity and education you put into making it happen.

Whether you think Endurance might be your “Thing” or are just looking to add a little extra to your training program, the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association (OCTRA) hosts several events across the province in a wide range of distances. As a novice rider dabbling in the sport, you can enjoy “Set Speed” rides of 10km to 40km with maximum and minimum speeds to help gauge your training progress, and veterinary judges to help ensure your horse’s safety and that you are well equipped to achieve your goal.

April showers bring…soggy endurance riders??

The plan for the first ride of the season was to do the 10km ride n tie on Saturday and 40km LD on Sunday.  We would have liked to do the 80km endurance ride but boyfriend and I moving into new house and my truck and trailer were needed to move the larger furniture.

Saturday was chilly but fortunately no rain; perfect running weather! Clayton was determined to beat Splash as he did at the last ride n tie we did together at the Summer’s End ride last year in the Ganaraska Forest. It was going to be interesting because he’s been training on flat roads and the Dufferin Forest is sandy and full of hills.

I love a horse that knows its job.  Splash knows the ride n tie course at the Dufferin and even when I’m not competing in ride n tie, any time I’m on the part of the trail that the ride n tie uses, she tries to GO!  She was nice and quick to our trade off point and stood still while Clayton mounted up. She walked into the vet check calmly for him and was quiet while he dismounted and ran off.  Pulsing down pretty quickly (and Splash knowing the course) allowed us to catch up to the team that had passed us during the vet check.  I caught up to Clayton who was still trucking right along a great pace, although starting to feel those hills.  I passed him but slowed down as we were coming out of the forest as I could see Wendy (the ride photographer) ahead and wanted a picture of the two of us.

ride n tie
Photo credit: Wendy Webb

Not far from the finish line, Clayton broke into a sprint to try and beat Splash so we cantered alongside him for a bit (just to get his hopes up) before we pulled away and crossed the finish line before him. Next time, Clay! I will update this once I unpack my truck and find my scorecard, but we finished in roughly 55 minutes, which is a personal record!

Sunday was a miserable day.  Cold and wet weather is no fun for anything, especially riding.  However, we are distance riders and unlike many other horse events, ours are not cancelled for rain. Days like these have their own sets of challenges.  While the cooler weather helps with bringing the horse’s temperature down, you also have to be cautious of horses stiffening up, much like humans can when exercising in cold, wet weather.  The ground is also slicker, especially with all the fallen leaves still in the forest.

The only goal we had for today was to finish (which is always a goal, but sometimes I will have others such as better heart rates, faster speeds, etc.)  as I haven’t been able to ride as often as I wanted to and was just using this as a training ride.  We ended up riding with Dominic and Liza the whole way as the two paints seemed to get along and match each other’s pace well. It was nice to have someone to talk to as it makes the ride go by a lot quicker and it keeps morale up, especially with the weather!

paint
Paint power! Blurry because we were moving so fast haha.

Although Splash drank well at every opportunity, she was still receiving B’s for her hydration levels at the vet checks.  She didn’t pee all day until the end of the ride which means although she was drinking, her body was using everything she was taking in.  Even though it was a cool day, I should have kept upped her electrolytes to encourage her to drink even more. Electrolytes are almost always a bit of experimenting and this is where knowing your horse and what is their “normal” comes into play. Lesson learned and we have something to work with for the next race to improve that hydration score!

 

The neat thing about this ride is that it is the first time an LD (limited distance) ride was offered in Ontario.  Although I do find the set speed discipline great for teaching pacing, especially for those new to the sport,  I really enjoyed the LD format for where I am now in my distance riding career. For the days I don’t quite feel like riding 80km, the LD provides a great alternative without having to really alter our 80km routine. We can go our pace without having to worry whether we are too fast or too slow for the set speed time (the 6 hours to complete the LD is more than enough time), plus we get the AERC miles in addition to the OCTRA ones.

 

Again, I’ll have to pull my scorecard to see what the actual final results were but we did finish somewhere in the top ten as we stood for BC (best condition) for the practice more than anything.

 

While everything is drying out, planning for the next event is taking place, the first of two Coates Creek rides. The plan is to do the 40km set speed ride on the Saturday and the 80km endurance ride on the Sunday, making this the most miles we’ve ever completed in one weekend.  If we manage to complete both of these rides successfully, it will also put us over our lifetime distance mileage of 500 miles!

 

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