Your First Endurance Ride
Ride management and volunteers work hard to help you have a safe and fun ride. The following tips and guidelines will help you through your first few endurance rides until you become familiar with the procedures. If you have any questions at a ride, seek out a Board Director or ask ride management. We’re all here to help.
Visit the ERA Manuals and Handbooks page for more publications such as a Rider’s Handbook and guidelines for performing a vet check on your horse.
An endurance ride is a test of a horse and rider team over challenging terrain over distances of 50 to 100 miles in one day, 150 miles over three days using one horse, and multi-day rides of 200 to 300 miles where each day is actually a separate ride and multiple horses may be used. There is no minimum time for a ride.
The maximum time is 12 hours per 50 miles (or 24 hours for 100 miles). The winner of an endurance ride is the first person to cross the official finish line having followed the prescribed trail with a horse (equine) that is fit to continue on. Failure to meet veterinary criteria at any point in the ride including the finish, will result in no completion. All rides are held with strict veterinary controls to ensure the protection of our equine partners. Rides are open to equines of any breed, registered or grade. They must be at least five years of age. Regardless of age, breed or conformation, only very fit horses will be successful in this sport. Most top endurance horses are between 8 and 12 and have had a lot of long, slow distance riding to build up muscles, bones, and tendons.
A limited distance ride is a ride of 25 to 35 miles. This ride is intended as a training/conditioning opportunity for the novice horse and/or rider or for riders who prefer this distance over the 50-mile rides or more. The ride is usually over a portion of the same course as the endurance ride but with stricter veterinary control to protect the equines. Horses must be at least four years old to participate in limited distance rides.
Remember your Numbers
When you and your horse(s) become members of ERA, you will be issued registration numbers. These numbers are important and should be carried with you to the ride site or when you’re completing the ride registration papers.
You may use any kind of saddle and bridle that you wish. Tie downs are not permitted as a horse could be injured in the bush or drown in a river crossing. Tack should fit both the horse and rider well. The lighter the tack, the better. Don’t try any new tack the day before the ride. Chances are great, the horse will get a gall or one or both of you will be uncomfortable.
Wear comfortable clothing. Avoid new clothes or rough materials. Many riders (including males) wear panty hose or other undergarments, riding tights, and chaps and half chaps to avoid chaffing. Many riders also wear running shoes or other soft shoes to assist in occasionally running with their horses, leading, tailing, or beside them depending on terrain.
Packing for the Ride
Try to find out about the ride from ride management before leaving home so you can plan what to bring. If there will be loops back into camp, you may only need one set of materials. If there will be veterinary checks away from camp, you may want to pack extra feed buckets, water buckets, blankets, a hay bag, a food cooler for you and your horse to be taken out to the remote checks.
It is a good idea to develop your own checklist at home. The following is a starting point that you can add to!
Saddle, saddle pad , extra saddle pad, extra girth/cinch, bridle, extra reins, sponge and scoop, grooming equipment, lead rope/halter, Easy Boot, spare horse shoe(s), boots or wraps if your horse uses them, hay, grain, beet pulp, grain pan, water buckets, cooler, blankets, shipping boots, minerals/vitamins/supplements, electrolytes, horse and people medications, fly spray, sponges for vet checks, stethoscope, hoof pick, water bottles, knife/pliers/Leatherman, matches, flashlight, trail mix, helmet, sunglasses, sun tan oil, coat/shell/extra clothes, hat, helmet, farrier equipment.
Prior to leaving home make sure you have your rider package with you. ERA previously provided registration and ride information at ride site upon arrival however for ride planning purposes we now request pre-registration through a link on both our website and Facebook page. This package will include your rider number, ride maps, a map to ride site, and other important information such as timelines and general rules of the ride site.
After your horse has settled into camp you can present him to the veterinarian. Make sure you have your rider number with you before heading to the vet check so that the scribes are able to locate your vet card. The veterinarian will examine your horse and you will be asked to trot the horse for a soundness evaluation.
After the vet check, make sure your horse has plenty of food and water the night before the ride. Many riders provide free choice hay and “preload” electrolytes the night before as it’s thought it encourages the horse to drink earlier on in the ride. Never electrolyte a dehydrated horse.
After your horse has vetted in, your time is your own until the ride briefing held the night before the ride. It is very important that you attend the ride briefing. It is here that ride management reviews the trail map in detail, and indicates start time, any hazards, water stops, and where and how long your hold-times will be.
After the ride briefing make sure your horse has enough hay to eat through the night and a full water bucket, get yourself ready for morning, and turn in. Tomorrow will be a busy day.
Vet-check locations vary, but usually there will be a vet check every 12 to 18 miles or if you’re doing a 25-mile ride, for example, approximately the half-way point of the loop. If you want to send things out such as buckets, feed, extra clothes etc, get them ready and take them to the designated vehicle either the night before or morning before the race starts. Write your name on everything so you get it back!
Eat breakfast! A horse is no good with a tired, hungry rider.
Assemble all the gear you think you will need i.e.: water for yourself, snacks for the trail, aspirin, sun block, lip balm, toilet paper etc.
Tack up early and warm up your horse for 15-20 minutes. If it is cold you will need to do a longer warm-up and maybe even place a rump cover on your horse.
Check in with the timers and give them your number 10 minutes before the start of the ride. This is very important!
Take it easy and do not try to keep pace with the experienced horses and riders. Experienced, well-conditioned horses can complete a ride in half the time of a new horse. If your horse is excitable and hard to control at the start of a ride, wait until the other riders leave, then start out slowly. Remember you must leave within 10 minutes of the start time.
Start your first ride slowly. It gets the fast and hyped-up horses out of your way. Everyone should ride their own race. Ignore the competition, don’t worry if people pass you. Your goal is to finish and learn the capabilities of your horse and whether your conditioning programs needs fine-tuning. Remember, put your horse first. You look after him, and he’ll look after you.
And have a great ride.
On the Trail
Do not try to finish first on your first ride. It takes at least two years of conditioning before a horse is ready to compete seriously in an endurance ride without undue risk of breakdown. It is a good idea to start a new horse (or a new rider) on short rides before attempting to do an endurance ride.
Yield the trail to overtaking riders when asked, and ask for the trail when passing. Since dehydration can be a major problem, encourage your horse to drink on the trail whenever water is available. If other riders are with you, do not ride on until all the other horses have finished drinking. When riders leave early, the other horses will not drink since they will want to leave as well. Leaving when others are trying to get their horses to drink is a serious breach of trail etiquette.
Carry a plastic scoop and/or a sponge on a string to cool your horse and yourself at water holes.
Ask for advice from other riders and pit crews if you are uncertain about any aspect of the ride. Take an opportunity to ride along with more experienced riders if your horse’s pace matches theirs. People love to talk on the trail and you will learn a great deal. Tell the veterinarians and ride management you are a new rider. They will be glad to help you out and provide advice. However, you are responsible for your own horse and for setting a pace that will allow your horse to finish the ride in good condition.
Any time on the trail that you could walk as fast as your horse, GET OFF AND WALK. There are several benefits to this. It will give your horse a break. If you have a heart monitor, you will notice the difference. Secondly, it will give you a break and a chance to use different muscles and get a stretch. You and your horse will be less tired and stressed as a result. Leading and jogging downhill’s and tailing up hills is of great benefit to your horse. Remember, traveling downhill is harder on the horse’s muscles, bones, and tendons than going uphill.
Ride in rhythm and balance with your horse. Look ahead down the trail and avoid rocks, logs, sticks, anything that could cause potential injury and lameness, resulting in the vet “pulling” your horse from the ride. Sometimes a “pull” is unavoidable. Don’t be discouraged.
At the Vet Check
When you arrive at the vet check your first priority will be to get your horse’s pulse to criteria (that info will be given at the ride briefing). Sponging your horse with cold water, taking his bit out and loosening his cinch/girth will all help to bring his pulse down faster.
When you think your horse’s pulse has met criteria (usually 64 beats a minute calculated by counting the heart rate for 15 seconds and multiplying by 4) present him to the pulse crew. If the horse is “down” the pulse-taker will call your number to the timer. Make sure you hear the timer repeat your number. Now your hold time begins.
Make sure your horse can eat, drink and rest. Keep him out of the way of other riders. If your horse is thirsty when you arrive at a vet check, then the horse should be allowed to drink before going to the pulse check. (Horses will cool down and their pulse will drop more quickly if they drink so you may actually save time at the vet check by allowing your horse to drink before trying to get the pulse down.)
After you have met the pulse criteria and other vet criteria, you should ensure your horse has plenty of food and water available. Many endurance horses like a sloppy grain mix with bran, carrots, apples, beet pulp etc. (Remember – soak beet pulp for 4 to 6 hours before feeding depending on water temperature and time of year.) Also have a good quality hay available.
Sometime during your hold you will have to present your horse to the vet for examination. The vet check procedure will be outlined at the ride briefing.
Your out time will be written on the white board by the timer’s table, if one is being used. However, It is your responsibility to know when your out time is. The timers may give you a two-minute warning but you are responsible.
If you feel that you or your horse need extra time at the vet check you may take it. Remember that you do have a time limit for the ride (depending on the distance you are riding).
There is normally a vet check within one hour after you cross the finish the ride. Many rides now do a lameness check immediately after pulse criteria is reached.
When you come across the finish line, have your horse’s pulse checked as soon as you think the ride parameters have been reached. Remember to present your horse to the pulse-takers and reach pulse criteria within 30 minutes or you’ll be disqualified.
Limited Distance (25 to 35 Miles)
Your time keeps running until your horse’s pulse meets criteria. You have ½ hour from the time you cross the finish line to get your horse’s pulse down. It will speed things up if you remove his tack and sponge him with cold water. If it takes longer than ½ hour for your horse’s pulse to reach criteria you will be disqualified. This is an indication that your horse is in trouble and the vet should see him as soon as possible.
Once your horse’s pulse comes down you have one hour (from the time you crossed the finish line) to present him to the vet for his final vet check. Depending on how your ride went you may want to present immediately or you may want to give the horse a chance to eat, drink, and rest before he sees the veterinarian.
Keep in mind that you are not finished the ride until the final vet check is complete.
In our sport it is an unwritten rule that if there is a line-up for the veterinarian, the higher mileage horses take priority over the lower mileage horses. If you find yourself in this situation, please do not take it personally. Be patient, your turn will come.
Endurance (50 miles and up)
Your time will end as soon as you cross the finish line. Your horse will have to meet criteria within ½ hour or you will be disqualified. You will have one hour (from the time you crossed the finish line) to present your horse to the veterinarian for your final vet check. You can present immediately or you can wait and give your horse a chance to eat, drink, and rest before you present to the veterinarian.
Post-Ride Care of Your Horse
If the horse worked hard and is very hot, do lots of walking to cool him out. Let the horse graze and provide short slurps of water while hand-walking. Never let a hot horse that’s finished a race gulp down gallons of water at once. Short slurps, walk, short slurps, walk.
Groom the horse and check for any anomalies. Ice the legs if appropriate, blanket the big muscles to avoid cramping, massage the big muscles, make your horse comfortable. After the final vet check, provide free choice hay, water, and only begin to feed small increments of a sloppy gruel of grain and beet pulp later. Let your horse rest but keep a close check on him after the ride to make sure no problems arise.
Your horse may have worked hard on the ride. If so, and you have a long drive home, it is wise to let your horse rest overnight before packing up and trailering home.
Make sure you are fed and watered. Please stay for supper (if offered) and the award presentation. Complete the online ride evaluation form.
Each person completing a ride within the allowed time frame with a horse/equine that is fit to continue will receive a completion certificate. Awards are given to the first four finishers in an endurance race. Placings in a limited distance ride are determined on the basis of the order of horses achieving heart beats that meet the ride criteria. The first four placings will receive awards.
Junior awards (under 16) are given to riders of both rides. Junior riders must wear a helmet and be accompanied by an adult.
Year-end awards are given to members according to miles completed and placings in the rides. Milestone awards are granted in 250 mile increments for both horse and rider. Awards are presented annually at the year end banquet. Remember, to be eligible for awards and mileage accumulations, you must be a Member of ERA.