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What is Long Distance Riding?

by Kathy Blocksdorf http://www.twelvestoneyacres.ca/

A Long Distance Trail Riding Primer

What is Long Distance Riding? Do I Have the Right Horse? A Pit Crew?
What is Competitive Trail Riding? How Do I Get Started? What Do I Do When I Arrive?
What is Endurance Riding? How Do I Prepare? The Finish Line!
What is Ride 'n' Tie? What Do I Take? Did This Information Help?
Where Can I Learn More?

What is Long Distance Riding?
Long distance riding differs from other equine disciplines because horses and riders travel up to 100 miles or more either as a race or as a strictly timed event The distance can be broken down to be covered in one to three days depending on the specific event. Usually three different events are known as "long distance" disciplines; Competitive Trail Riding, Endurance Riding and, Ride 'n' Tie. The aim of all that participate in these events, whether worker or rider, is to ensure the safety and health of the horse while competing. Various long distance riding clubs and associations have their own rules that may vary slightly--check with the organization offering the event for specifics.
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What is a Competitive Trail Ride?
A Competitive Trail Ride is a strictly timed event in which horses complete anywhere from 20 to 100 miles in a set time. The time allowed for the ride is set the day of, depending on trail conditions, weather and other factors. Horses and riders begin in pairs or small groups and their start time carefully recorded. Finishing more than a few minutes before or after their set finish time results in penalty points.

At checks along trail and after the finish horses are examined by veterinarians and qualified lay judges and judged on their soundness and cardiac recovery. Cardiac recovery is measured by comparing the pulse rate taken at specific intervals after the horse has come to a stand still at the "vet checks" and compared to an average resting heart rate. Points are lost according to how high the recovery rates are compared to the resting rate.

Points can also be lost for things like dehydration, lameness or soreness, tack or trail lesions.

There are three weight divisions and riders are weighed in and compete against other horses carrying the same approximate weight Horses receive their placings according to the least points lost in each division with the lowest point scores overall awarded Reserve or Sweepstakes--indicating the two fittest horses of the day.

A novice division is also run with a longer time or shorter trail allowing the novice to learn without the pressure of competing against seasoned competitors. Participants take great pride in successfully completing a ride regardless if they were "in the ribbons" or not.
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What is Endurance Riding?
For the serious competitor an Endurance Ride is a race. This is perhaps an oversimplification as many riders participate in Endurance for the satisfaction of bringing their horse soundly over a distance of 50 to 100 miles or more. Quite often the race begins with a "shot gun" start--all competitors may start at once although some may prefer to wait until the dust settles. Horses are checked by vets and lay judges on trail for signs of lamness, fatigue or any other factor that may prevent it from crossing the finish line in a completely healthy state. The first rider across the finish line (with a completely sound horse) is the winner. It is the goal of many Endurance riders to finish in the "Top Ten". Many 50 mile endurance rides are won in times under 5 hours. Many other riders take advantage of the maximum time allowed--for 50 miles usually 10 hours.
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What is Ride 'n' Tie?
It's fun! Each team competing consists of 2 riders/runners and a horse. One person starts out running, or even walking while the other rides ahead on the horse. The rider then ties his horse-usually to a tree and proceeds on foot, leaving the horse for the first runner to mount. The rider now passes the runner and again ties the horse where it awaits the runner...thus leapfrogging down the trail to the finish line. It takes a high degree of fitness for all team members to be competitive but again this is another sport that many people do just for the satisfaction of finishing. It is not unusual for children on ponies (accompanied by adult guardians), and all manner of friend and family teams to participate. There are frequently "half distance" races for novices ( and non-runners like me) to have fun competing in. Here again vets and lay judges monitor the horses for any sign of lameness or excessive fatigue.
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Do I Have the Right Kind of Horse to Participate With?
Representatives from every horse and pony breed have participated in long distance events. Arabians are the most popular choice for this type of riding but, most light horse breeds and heavy horse crosses can participate and be successful. Heavy horse breeds and those with bulky muscles may not be as suitable--just as a heavy weight wrestler is not the best candidate for marathon running. Trying a "training ride" before competing will give you an idea of your horse's capabilities. There are also minimum age for horses-usually 4 or 5- depending on the event.
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How do I Get Started?
I will assume that your horse is relatively well schooled, is responsive to leg aids, is controllable in group situations. You have spent some time in the saddle, are "light and centered" on your horse's back at all gaits, and that all of your tack is sturdy and fits both you and your horse well. The importance of these factors may be less apparent if you only hack a few miles, are riding alone or solely in the ring but could result in unsafe or uncomfortable situations for horse and rider over a long distance.

Also in my humble opinion, I see many horses on trail that would benefit from spending some time in the ring so that they learn to move off the rider's leg--thus allowing the rider to control "both ends". This is important when other riders need to pass you on a narrow trail--your horse may be less likely to kick or "bump" another horse if his hind end can be "moved" out of the way.

Overall, the more obedient and responsive your horse is the more safe and comfortable you will both be.

Also, slight problems with the riders seat and posture can result in a sore back for your horse (and possibly for you) . There are few riders among us (myself included) that couldn't benefit from a few "tune up" riding lessons or "Centered Riding" sessions. Don't give up your riding or dressage lessons just because you are now "into trail riding". Equitation is as important on the trail as the in the ring--if not more.

Having gotten off my soap box about that, you will know want to find out what "training rides" are available. Training rides are designed to introduce novices-whether human or equine- to the vetting procedures and trail conditions encountered in a real competition. "Old pros", vets and, lay judges are available to answer any questions you may have.

"Mileage rides" are also held to give participants who may be a member of a certain club or association a chance to accrue mileage against mileage awards and novices a chance to familiarize themselves with the long distance riding experience. These are usually held in conjunction with an endurance ride and are not competitions.

If you are competing in ride 'n' tie you will want to condition yourself too...at least going for brisk walks to wake up those muscles a bit. You will also want to accustom your horse to being tied on the trail and left-perhaps having another horse ridden by so he learns that he is not being abandoned by the herd!
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How do I Prepare my Horse for Competition?
If you have taken advantage of the training rides in your area you will have a pretty good idea of how to condition for your first ride. If not here are a few suggestions.

If your horse is very un-fit or overweight start slowly by walking about 3-5 miles at least 4 times a week. Increase your speed and distance until you are going about one fifth of the mileage you plan to compete in at a pace of about 6-7 miles an hour. If your horse is being ridden regularly this may take about 4-6 weeks depending on his fitness. Plan and extra three weeks for the overweight or very un-fit horse. Choose as varied terrain as possible-rock, sand, hills, flat, creek crossings, road work and introduce him to as many "spookies" as possible. (Although inevitably he will spook at the mailbox he has seen a zillion times and not flinch when the UFO lands on the trail in front of you.) Count time in the ring in your conditioning as well. As his fitness increases (and yours) increase the mileage (and the pace )in cor-relation to the mileages you will be competing in (and the pace you will ride if in Endurance).

There are as many different conditioning methods as competitors. Whole books have been written making my method look grossly over-simplified--which it is--but it gives you a general idea where to start. You can also do things like lunge on an incline, ride up and down hills for 20 minutes to build muscle or go for a good mile gallop when your horse is fitter to build his wind. Don't be afraid to ask veterans their training secrets--they may say no, but more likely you will come away with some really good tips.

Teach your horse to accept being mounted and dismounted and lead from the "wrong side". This makes life easier for anyone checking incoming pulse rates.

Teach your horse to drink out of different water containers and drink "foreign" water.

Teach your horse to accept being sponged down on trail without squirming.

Teach him to accept strangers hands touching him all over and esp. to having his temperature taken--and no, they don't take it under the tongue!

Teach him to lunge quietly at the walk and trot.

Teach him to trot beside you on a loose lead rope.
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What Do I Take with Me?
Here's what I like to take.

  • Saddle
  • Bridle
  • extra lead rope
  • 2 Saddle Pads-a dry one for the mid-way stop
  • coolers, rugs and rainsheets
  • An "easy boot" if you have one
  • Brushes
  • Sponges or scoops-one attached to the saddle
  • hoof picks-again one on the saddle
  • buckets (3)and feed tub
  • feed
  • hay and hay bag
  • electrolytes
  • food and drink for me
  • sports drink and snacks for on trail
  • camping equipment and picket lines or portable fencing if you are over-nighting
  • extra clothes-always prepare for extremes in temperatures for you and horse
  • rubber boots
  • riding clothes-comfort before fashion here!
  • toiletries-esp. toilet tissue-out houses always run out
  • first aid kit-human and horse
  • liniment-NOT to be used until judging is OVER!
    (you can use it on yourself tho')
  • Maps and directions
  • a pit crew!
  • for Ride and tie-running shoes or run 'n' ride shoes
  • stethoscope

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A Pit Crew?
Recruit your family or friends to come along and help you and your horse through the day. It is great having someone to have extra drinking and sponging water for the horse along the trail, someone to hand you and drink and a snack, or hold your horse while you answer a call of nature at a vet check. It is fun and useful to observe other pit crews in action and do some practicing at home first. Teach them to take the horse's pulse so that you can monitor things at the vet checks if you wish.
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How do I Enter a "Ride"?
Contact the ride manager of the event you are interested in. Return the entry immediately with full entry fee, a copy of a current Coggins test, and any other information specified.
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What Do I Do When I Arrive?
Leave early enough that you will arrive at the ride site with plenty of time to unpack and relax. Some like to camp over night before, picketing or keeping their horses in portable corrals. Present your self to the ride secretary to pick up you "ride package" and weigh-in if nessecary. Tuck the trail map in a convenient pocket and give one to your pit crew. Put on your number and take your horse and "vet card" to the vets for the preliminary check. When you have vetted through, attend the pre ride talk. Here the trail master will point out things to watch for, trail conditions, local laws or other pertinent information. Throughout the morning allow your horse access to hay and water. Slowly saddle up, don your helmet, and warm your horse up, making sure to arrive at the starting line on time. If you are riding endurance you may wish to wait for the mass start to subside before starting out. I like to set my watch at 12:00 to better keep track of the time elapsed. (Leave the ride site as clean or cleaner than you found it and respect all rules and courtesies in regards to using public or private lands.)
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The Finish Line!
Having learned to pace your horse through conditioning you should have no problems during your ride. If you have a question or a problem don't hesitate to ask for help. One of the things that continually attracts me to the sport is the camaraderie of the participants...some may finish before others, but you have all travelled the same distance. And everyone knows and appreciates how much work and effort is behind successful completion of an event.
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Did you Like this Information?
If you are a new to the sport all the new information may seem a bit bit daunting. Don't worry; Long Distance Riding is not something you can learn in a book or in day or two. I have participated in Long Distance Riding as a rider, worker and interested observer since 1977 and still have an enormous amount to learn...and the only way to learn is to get out there and DO IT...even if you decide it's not for you, you will still learn allot about your horse and you...but I hope to see you on the trail because IT'S A LOT OF FUN!!
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How Can I Learn More?
You may be able to find these books at your library, tack shop or through your local bookstore.

Distance Riding: From Start to Finish
by Virginia Weisel Johnson and Thula Johnson, published by Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1976

Endurance and Competitive Trail Riding
by Wentworth Tellington and Linda Tellington-Jones, published by Doubleday & Co., New York, 1979

Know all About Trail Riding
by Sharon Saare, contact AERC for ordering information.

Check the Links page for other sites about long distance riding.

If you are a veteran rider and anything in this information makes you roll your eyes and groan in despair please let me know... webmaster@octra.on.ca

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