Many of you might think this little Hunter/Jumper woman with occasional confidence issues would be a fish out of water at an endurance conference. But the opposite couldn’t be truer.
As a team member for The Gobi Desert Cup, the official endurance horse race of the Mongolian Horse and Nomad Foundation, my first foray into the world of long-distance riding was exceptional. Never in my life did I imagine a world where equestrians would travel 25, 50, or 100 miles in a day on horseback and have fun doing it yet I saw and experienced it myself. More, I now have good friends in the endurance community.
All disciplines are competitive and can have negative components. However, I was blown away by attending the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) in Reno, Nevada. Endurance riders, whom I am now involved with because of the GDC come in all sizes, ages, and styles; however, the overwhelming impression was that of fun and passion for horses. I definitely have learned a few things from spending time with endurance riders.
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
Many endurance riders that I met were on the older side. In fact, there was a large group that started riding as adults. To me, that says a lot about the sport encouraging new horsemen and helping to improve their confidence. I don’t know many seniors that don’t have a fear of falling and breaking something. They don’t necessarily heal like they used to and yet there they are on the trails day after day and loving their lives.
Awards are given for riding in husband/wife or parent/child teams and horsemanship and horse welfare are prized above everything else. Living legends were friendly, approachable and encouraging. For example, Dave Rabe, who has a career of over 71,000 miles riding horses in competition and was awarded at AERC, was happy to chat and learn about our event and ask me questions about my own riding. This older man is famous for riding long distance in his shorts!
Often established endurance riders offer their own horses and mentorship to new riders. An international endurance exchange group was created on Facebook for barns to invite new and young riders to learn and train at their facilities. Within a month it had over 1,000 members and many successful exchanges. I have trouble imagining a top Hunter would lend their expensive horse to a virtual stranger. I’m not sure I would do it with Ferrous. Would you?
In the hunter/jumper world, style and substance are everything. This can often create unreasonable expectations from ourselves and others to be the best, look the best, and have the best horse around. Horse Twitter is a small microcosm but can be both incredibly supportive and downright brutal to other horse lovers, ripping apart their equitation or choice of clothing. Take the recent barrage of comments against showjumper Dani Goldstein, a woman with impressive skill in the arena but a style that is all her own. The pressure to be perfect is sometimes unbearable and can be a big source of confidence issues in riders.
How many of you have felt that others at your barn were judging you or talking about you behind your back? Click To Tweet
Endurance riders have their own style, which often involves comfort as the priority and at AERC, a Western flare. However, the focus is on comfort for horse and rider over long distances rather than a polished appearance. These are the marathon runners of the equestrian world.
Some of the favorite items are cushioned shoes, half chaps, bitless bridles or bridles with removable bits, and lightweight breathable clothing and helmets. Is anyone interested in a full post on this to follow? We don’t have to be endurance riders to be comfortable in the saddle and out, but we can definitely learn a few things from them.
Endurance riders are the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of the equestrian world. Sure, there are checkpoints. But while on trail or conditioning rides, they are often alone. It is necessary to bring water, electrolytes, and snacks for themselves and their horses at a bare minimum. Still, items like a pocket knife, duct tape, and first aid kit are also recommended. If you don’t need these things, chances are someone else will!
Many of us take this to heart. My truck is prepared for almost any eventuality with horses, kids, or dogs and must be highly organized as a result. When I take a short trail ride on the barn property I often have only my cell phone on me, after all, I’m close to home. However, in endurance, great distances are traveled without access to basic necessities. Often riders are in the middle of nowhere. Question, do they bring rolls of toilet paper? Inquiring minds would like to know. Men have it so much easier…
Less is More
I was blown away by the number of people in endurance that ride with bitless bridles and barefoot horses. Yes, many endurance bridles have an optional bit hook attachment that once removed turns into a halter to make it easy to tie up the horse or entice to eat and drink.
More, there are a variety of boots on the market for rough terrains like the boots and pads from Easycare Inc. or Scoot Boots. Horses must be fit and conditioned for optimum performance over long distances and sandy, grassy, or rocky terrains. I find it fascinating that the longer distance rides over natural terrains result in less tack and more natural methods for the horse. Of course, there are always exceptions depending on the horse.
Expect the Unexpected
One thing I learned in Mongolia is that anything can happen with horses or in life. Tack malfunctions, deep streams and rivers, traffic, wandering dogs, rock slides, etc. Trails are well kept but this is life, and life keeps you guessing. Endurance riders really know this and can go with the flow in an impressive manner. In many ways, they are troubleshooters that can pick themselves up, figure out a solution, and get where they need to go. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as you finish.
Support is Everything
Riders support each other on the trail and off. While riders tend to compete individually or in small teams, on the trail you may find someone stuck in the mud with one group helping that rider/ horse and another directing people the other way to safer terrain. Horse and rider welfare is a priority. Of course, this is a broad generalization and there are some riders that don’t necessarily share the same views. That being said, the vast majority of riders support each other and each other’s horses in a way that completely impressed my jaded soul.
I firmly believe in supporting and helping others in any way that I can so this really drew me in.
Some of the top riders may charge for their mentorship and use of their horses, which is completely understandable. However, many have a large number of horses that need training and conditioning. For example, I told one of the massage clients that I have a rider looking to train for the 2019 Gobi Desert Cup. She immediately suggested her friend, who has three endurance horses and had helped someone prepare for the arduous and dangerous Mongol Derby n 2012. With two weeks, this woman introduced herself, offered her horses, and came up with a training plan. Oh, and she offered to have me ride as well! Now that the weather is finally warming we are excited to get in the saddle and out on the trails!
Find Your Tribe
Finding your tribe is important. You do not have to be an endurance rider to take away some of these life lessons. Choose a barn that has the same goals and disciplines as you do. If you want a highly competitive environment, great. But if you want a laid-back barn, that’s okay too. Choose a trainer that really “gets” you rather than makes you feel you aren’t pushing hard enough. Lastly, connect with a few people at your barn that you can be yourself with and who will help to motivate you. These are all things that will help you rise above the drama and increase your confidence, and the fun you have!
I met amazing endurance riders at the 2018 race in Mongolia. Our winning team, Team USA, attended the AERC conference, a few just to support us. These men put in a lot of time and effort telling their stories and experiences. While they are only a small microcosm of this discipline, the others I met were very much the same. One of my friends started riding only a few years ago and learned to ride from his friend telling him to just “follow him” and mentoring him on the trail. If this is a representation of the sport of endurance then I definitely want to become part of it.
Endurance riders are some of the most welcoming and supportive people that I’ve ever met. While I never thought I would consider riding trails for 25 miles and up, I would love to become part of this group of amazing people where passion for horses trumps looking pretty in the saddle. Let’s take the pressure off ourselves and experience the world on horseback!