Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Endurance riding is not for all horses

Posting things here on occassion with a picture so I can add to my Endurance - The Ride of a Lifetime Pinterest board, which is where I'm also compiling some Endurance 101 Clinic ideas.  Original article source will be linked.

Endurance riding is not for all horses 
By Kim Fuess

"You come to the table with such hopes and goals. You are taught to persevere, which makes it much more difficult to know when it is time to stop -- when to give up. It seems like everyone around you is happily going to rides with little to no problem, racking up those miles. What people don't tend to tell you about on public forums such as Ridecamp is failure. You never get told about horses that "didn't" work out. You only hear about success stories." -Lucy, AERC Members Forum (December 2007)

This month's education column is about not reaching the goals we set in endurance riding. I am going to touch on the subject of giving up on your endurance prospect.

This is not an easy subject to talk about or to write about. Endurance riding is all about perseverance. It is about being able to successfully complete a ride that usually includes negotiating many natural obstacles found in the back country and riding in inclement weather. Endurance riding is not supposed to be easy. It is not uncommon to hear riders proudly telling ride stories about how they were able to successfully finish a ride in a blinding snowstorm or how their horses looked great after climbing out of canyons where the temperature reached 115¡. As endurance riders, we are immersed in a culture that places a high value on not giving up. Endurance riders are not supposed to give up out on the trail or give up on their horse when the going gets tough.

It is not uncommon in our sport to hear about a horse rescued at the "killer" auction that goes on to become a great 100-mile horse. It is also not uncommon to go to a ride and see horses that have such poor conformation it is hard to imagine they can even complete five miles, much less go on to complete 50 miles. On the Internet discussion lists, we read about horses that can be taken out of pasture with little or no conditioning and complete 25- or 50-mile rides with ease.

It is easy to understand why some endurance riders may feel like failures if they are not able to complete rides with a horse that was carefully chosen for endurance and patiently conditioned for endurance. In this sport, we rarely hear about the horses that just are not cut out for distance riding.

Distance riding is an extreme sport which includes many different distances and levels in which to compete. Because of this, many riders are able to successfully attain goals that match their horse's ability. But the fact remains that distance riding, even at the shortest distance, is not something that all horses can do. Not every horse is capable of successfully competing in endurance type events regardless of the quality of the conditioning, training, care, and attention to detail given to that horse by a dedicated owner/rider.

I have competed in distance riding events since the late 1980s. I have owned three horses that were just not cut out for distance riding. Coming to this conclusion with each of these horses was an expensive and painful process. Each of these horses had a different issue that kept him/her from becoming a "successful" endurance horse.

The dilemma for me was this: Each was talented and more than capable of competing successfully if I could just resolve what seemed like one small problem. Being an endurance rider, I thought if I would just stick with it, keep trying, and find a solution to the issue, I would eventually be successful with that horse.

The first horse competed for more than two years and had completed Tevis. During this time she developed an intermittent, slight lameness at around 35 miles that would be obvious at some rides and not noticeable at others.

I consulted with the most knowledgeable professionals to help resolve the issue. After several extensive lameness exams, X-rays, ultrasounds, and even a nuclear scan (which was quite new in the early 1990s), the overall conclusion by all I consulted was that a small corn on the left front hoof was causing the lameness. I followed all the advice given by those I consulted. Like clockwork, every four weeks, I even hauled my horse three hours one way so she could be shod by one of the most respected farriers on the West Coast.

But, even after all of my efforts, this mare could not consistently finish 50-mile rides sound. She was retired to light work and to live life as a brood mare.

I came away from that experience feeling that I was the only one around who couldn't get her horse through a ride. It seemed it was so easy for everyone else to consistently complete ride after ride. Nobody ever seemed like they were having these kinds of issues with their horses. It never crossed my mind that perhaps this mare was not really suitable as an endurance horse and there was nothing I could do to make her one.

Lameness is only one issue that can keep an otherwise "perfect" endurance prospect from becoming an endurance horse. Some horses that may have correct conformation and physically be well-suited for endurance may lack the drive and desire to "go the distance." I invested four years of conditioning to try to make an endurance horse out of a "perfect" prospect that hated leaving the barn and working out on the trail. She wanted to be a pampered pet. I found the perfect home for her with a woman who treated her like a princess and did a little pleasure riding every once in while.

I ran into the opposite problem with the third horse. This horse had the talent and desire to do distance work but did not take care of himself out on trail. After several seasons of trying to find ways to make endurance riding less stressful for this horse, I finally concluded that he would probably be much better off doing another job. I could not continue to compete on a horse that refused to eat or drink at vet checks regardless of how many different ways I tried to manage him.

It wasn't easy giving up on any of these horses.

In conclusion, there really are no set rules, time lines, or answers on when to "give up" on an endurance prospect. When the chronic issues that keep a horse from being successful are subtle or seem extremely minor, the decision on when to move on can be very difficult. When faced with this decision, it is important to realize that some horses are not capable of competing in endurance. If you are not able to reach the goal you have set for your horse, it does not mean you have failed. Not every horse is able to successfully work cattle, compete in the show ring, or jump fences regardless of how much they train or practice. The same holds true for distance riding.

Most AERC members participate in endurance events as a hobby. We compete to have fun and enjoy beautiful trails with our horses and other like-minded riders. We also take great pride in bringing along endurance prospects and working through the highs and lows of making a prospect into a successful endurance horse. But, when feelings like disappointment and frustration take the place of the enjoyment we feel when we endurance ride, it may be time to evaluate if our equine partner is really suited to distance work. Our failure would not be finding a more appropriate career for that horse but to continue trying to mold this horse into something he is not capable of being.
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