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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.