A bonus second post today! I thought it was a good time to describe this sport for any non horse/non endurance readers before I get to my ride stories. My son is taking a rare morning nap, I vacuumed the house yesterday and so I have time on my hands.
Basically endurance is fast paced trail riding. Of course in reality nothing is that simple, but thats it in a nutshell.
There are various lengths of courses to participate in depending on rider and horse fitness and what you feel like putting yourself through. The shortest distances are considered "limited distance (LD)" riding and technically are up to 49 miles. LD is usually 25 miles, but I have seen 30 and 35 mile rides offered as well. In general the rides are figured on a conservative average pace to complete and 25 mile rides have a completion time of 6 hours. True endurance starts at 50 miles in 12 hours and ends at the ultimate 100 miles in 24 hours. Various events will fill in the gap with other distances (75 miles seems popular) as well. If that wasn't confusing enough, you can always do a multi day ride in which you do 50 miles in 2 days (two 25 mile rides) or a 2 day 100 or..or..or.... Don't forget the pioneer rides which are over 5 days with either 25 or 50 miles each day to accumulate at the end. And last, but not least, is the pony express ride over the course of 3 months following the original trail. But since I don't have unlimited funds and time, lets just ignore the pioneer and pony express rides.
How it All Works
Rides take place on Saturday and Sunday. A base camp is set up where everyone camps, the vets are stationed and the ride managers work. You need to arrive the day before (why I did Sunday rides to avoid taking time off of work) and check in. The horse gets presented to the ride vet who looks over the horse for lameness, sore back, cuts, hydration level, and overall attitude. If all is ok, they give you a ride card and a rider number. The ride card goes with you during the ride and gets presented throughout. Then you chill. Or rather you get super nervous and worry about every tiny detail and eventually fall sort of asleep for a bit overnight. The night before is a riders meeting as well as a potluck dinner. The meeting covers (or at least should in theory cover) the next days events...start times, completion times, location of vet check and length of holds and any confusing parts of the trail.
The trails are always open, so you can ride parts if you want to and in the 100 mile distance this seems to be super important to do. The morning of the ride, most people wake up insanely early to feed, then go back to bed, then up again to tack up and warm up a bit. The trail will be announced as open at the correct time and off everyone goes in one big pack, or so I was led to believe from articles, books and my talks with the endurance rider. Technically you can start anytime you want to after it is opened up, but the completion time is based off of the time the trail opens, so waiting an hour so you can sleep in isn't very smart (not that I did this, but in theory you could).
You head off down the trail. And keep going, and going, and going, and going. At some point in the ride, typically in the middle for a LD, there is at least one mandatory vet check and hold. Once you reach this point in the ride, say mile 12 for a 25 mile ride, you stop and present your rider card and horse to the vet. This spot may be back at base camp making life super easy or it could be out on the trail somewhere depending on the route. The horse has to have a pulse rate not to exceed a predetermined rate (usually 64 or 60 bpm) prior to presenting your horse to the vet. Once pulsed down, the vet does another check for tack issues, hydration, attitude and lameness. You trot your horse on the lead rope with you jogging down a straight line and back. If all looks good, your card is marked with letter grades from A-C and your hold begins. Most holds I had were 50 minutes. This is time you use to pee, eat, drink, stretch, feed your horse hay and grain and carrots, and allow your horse to power nap. Once your hold time is up you head on back down the trail. And keep going, and going and going.
Once you reach the end of the trails you do the above again. Pulse down, present horse. There is no hold at the end. Once your horse is pulsed down you can present. If all looks good and your total ride time with holds is under the limit, you have a completion!
Longer rides, 50 miles and up, will have more vet checks and holds throughout the ride. Some have what is called a "gate and go". This is where you present your horse once pulsed down, but you don't have a required hold, so you just get back on and keep going. All this is in an effort to prevent people from running their horse into the ground.
And that is it for the basic rules. There are a ton of techniques, tactics, and ins and outs to finishing and I still have no clue what they all are. That's part of the lure of the sport though. Each outing teaches you something and maybe, just maybe, before your horse is of retirement age you just might figure it out.
Next up is my first event! I will cover it in 2 posts (idea I stole from other blogs): the ride story itself and then what I think went well, wrong and what I learned.