How to Prepare for Your First Distance Ride

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Ever wonder how to prepare for your first distance ride? Tune in as RW customer and distance riding veteran, Ashley Tomaszewski, shares her knowledge. Ashley and her paint mare, Splash, have won numerous awards including top ten novice, top ten all around horse, and in 2016 they won the provincial championship in Ride N' Tie! Ashley is also bringing along a young horse in the sport of distance riding - they are currently sitting in the number one spot in the set speed discipline at the bronze level. Without further adieu, here's Ashley on preparing for your first distance ride.

Why Distance Riding?

Preparing and training for distance riding is a great cross training tool for both you and your horse. A fitter horse means a better jump round or dressage test, as your horse won’t tire as quickly. Your horse will also have better ground manners, as he'll have to get used to different people touching him (pulse takers, veterinarians, etc). You will also be more fit, which means you won't tire as quickly on those long horse show days. You will learn to problem solve quickly, as anything can happen on the trail when you're out there for that long. Finally, you will gain mental toughness - a hunter course will seem like a piece of cake after doing a distance ride! But how do you even go about preparing for a distance ride?

What Skills do Horse and Rider Need?

You wouldn’t attempt a 10k run without training for it, so you need to condition your horse’s body systems so you don’t injure him. There are lots of training programs out there, but here's a good general rule of thumb:

Give yourself twelve weeks to
get an inexperienced horse
conditioned for a 25 mile ride.

In addition to conditioning, your horse should be accustomed to the veterinary procedure at the various checkpoints. Does your horse stand still while strangers touch him all over? Can he trot out easily on a loose lead? You should also practice camping with your horse. Most rides require that you bring your own containment system, so you should practice using it at home to ensure that you don’t have a loose horse on ride day.

What Equipment do You Need?

The great thing about distance riding is that you can use any equipment you wish, as long as it is safe and not abusive. That being said, there are a few essentials that will make your ride much more comfortable.

1) Riding tights – you really don’t want to be riding long distances in jeans (seams = chafing). Riding tights are your best bet as they are comfortable, lighter, and have more stretch than breeches. The Kerrits Flow Rise Performance Tight is my go to.

2) A comfy saddle – the great thing about endurance is that you can use whatever saddle fits you and your horse the best. If your saddle fits your horse great, but is not so nice to your behind, you can always get saddle cushions for any style of saddle to make the ride more comfortable!

3) A watch – whether you use your regular wrist watch or a fancy one with built in GPS, you will need to know how long you’ve been out on trail and how long you have left before the cut off time. While there are many fancy watches out there that calculate your speed, distance, elevation, etc., you can get by with anything that just tells time. Prior to purchasing a GPS watch, I used my eventing watch. The display is nice and large so I can quickly look down and see how much time has elapsed.

4) A stethoscope or heart rate wand – this is absolutely essential to distance riding. You need to know what your horse’s heart rate is and how quickly it recovers. Either a stethoscope or a heart rate wand will do the trick, and there are pros and cons to each. A heart rate wand will give you a digital number almost immediately, which is great when you are trying to pulse in as quickly as possible. However, with a heart rate wand, you miss actually listening to the heart beat, which would let you catch irregular rhythms and let you know that something isn’t quite right. Polar makes a great one that many endurance riders use.

5) Some way to contain your horse at ride camp – at the majority of endurance rides, you will be responsible for your horse’s “stabling.” Whether you tie to the trailer using a Hi-Tie or set up a portable corral, there are many different options since not all options work for every horse.

How Does a Typical Ride Work?

When you show up to a ride (generally the day before), after finding a spot to park your rig and getting your horse settled, you will go and find the ride secretary table to pick up your ride package. This will generally contain any specific rules or instructions related to the ride site, maps, important times and your ride card. Make special note as to what time your ride starts and when the ride talk is. It is very important to attend the ride talk as you will find out what time your ride starts, what ribbons/markers to follow, and any important things to note about the trail (obstacles, hazards, things to look out for, where the water troughs are). You will also have to vet your horse in to ensure that your horse is in condition to start the ride.

On ride day, a typical ride with start fairly early, with the longer distances starting first. For a typical 25 mile ride, you will do one loop, have a control (vet) check, go out on a second loop, and then have a final control check. At each control check, your horse’s pulse will have to reach a specific parameter within a set time (generally 30 minutes) before you are allowed to continue. Once your horse meets parameter, the veterinarian will check your horse over, looking at capillary refill, jugular refill, and the skin pinch test. They will also check for back soreness or rubs from tack, the legs for bumps/heat/swelling, and gut sounds. All of the vet findings will be marked on your vet card. The control checks are critical because any problems with the horse can be caught before they get worse.

The biggest thing to keep in mind
is that the vet only sees your
horse for a few minutes.
You are with your horse all day.

If you sense something is wrong, please let the vet know so a minor thing doesn’t turn into a trip to the horse hospital. Once all riders have completed their courses, dinner and awards generally follow.

Where Can You Find More Information About Rides in Your Area?

The American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) is the North American governing body for endurance riding. Their website is full of educational information and a listing of rides by region. Individual states and provinces may also have distance riding associations, which a quick internet search can bring up. Many of these associations, including AERC, will have a list of mentors who are willing to help introduce new people to the sport.
 
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