Hours on the trail, sun beats down, rocky terrain, swim a river, negotiate a forest – or a small town, climb-leap nearly straight up, descend barely balanced on a trail which would make Man from Snowy River take pause. An eighty-mile race which you can only hope to finish and dream of one day finishing in the top five.
At the end you stand on trembling legs, exhausted and totally spent. But your heart soars because the light in your horse’s eyes tells you he’s still fit and ready to keep going. The judge declares him sound. Your horse is a winner. The moment goes down in history as a great personal victory.
This is endurance racing.
This is a dream I once had and now flickers in the back of my mind again. Can I even consider such a task at nearly 60? Why not?
Decades ago, when Midnight was my trusty steed and carried me over trails and around barrels, I worked for a time at a ranch where hinnies were raised. What’s a hinny? He’s the opposite of a mule; the foal of a jennet (female burro) and a stallion (horse and in this case a Tennessee Walker). One of my jobs was to gentle train the two-year-olds for saddle and packing. We had one three-year-old who showed promise for greater things.
The ranch owner, Don Cafferty, looked into endurance racing, and with permission from my parents, I began training. It meant riding two, three, and four hours a day. (Such a hardship, right?) I was in my glory, riding that big hinny. I can’t remember his name anymore so I’ll call him Beowulf, since Don loved all the ancient works of literature. And – the name really fit that animal.
Soon the trails on the flat were too tame and Wulf grew bored. We took to the Superstitions for all day rides. Don rode his Tennessee Walker. Four of us together, and the three other riders took turns riding a rather tough loop with me. Wulf and I rode over eight hours with a good break after each two hours – and he hardly broke a sweat.
Beowulf was on his way to becoming an endurance mount. He would be entered in a race the following year. After he turned four years old and completed his training.
Then my family moved away – to Texas. Last I heard, Don was still raising hinnies. I know of an offer of ten grand he received for Beowulf way back in the ‘70’s. Yeah, the industry is that big.
The horse I ride now is half Arab crossed with a Mustang fresh from the Nevada range. He’s all ‘go’ and doesn’t know the meaning of ‘quit’. I’ve ridden him on two trail rides of around ten miles and he’s barely settled down when we finally get back to camp. So I started looking into endurance once again.
Training is rigorous; hours and miles a day. The equipment is expensive. And the distance to these competition rides is great.
All tack and equipment for the endurance horse and rider are specialized. Shortcuts = sore butts!
Saddles range from $500 to $2500 and include some very interesting treeless versions as well as some beautiful Aussie types. Not too many heavy Western saddles in here and very few saddle horns.
Bridles aren’t so expensive, most of them are headstall/halter combos or bitless bridles and run around $100.
Saddle pads designed to protect your horse can sell for up to $400!
Did you know they make tennis shoes for horses? Look up ‘Easy-Boots’.
You can imagine what the girths, stirrups, breastplates, cruppers and helmets go for. And I saw some interesting safety vests for riders designed to protect the back and ribs – for over $300!
Riding clothing is what you would expect from a high end boutique, but I can tell you that the difference between your standard Levis and a pair of endurance riding breeches is like the difference between a cart with square wheels or floating on a cloud! Shirts, pants, helmets, hydration and cooling gear range in price from $50 to $200. GPS systems, and heart monitoring systems range in the upper $500s to off the charts.
Then comes the horse trailer accessories. I won’t go there for now.
The videos I watched and the sites I read while researching the modern version of endurance competitions, shows an entire team of assistants traveling to the checkpoints with trucks and trailers, ready to minister aid in the way of massage, cooling, hydration, and nutrition along the way – which is rendered only after the all-important vet-check.
Is this style of competition worth the monetary costs and the time spent in training? That, of course, is a question only the horseman and the horse can answer.
As for Oberon, he becomes bored and annoyed after about fifteen minutes in an arena and wants to see what’s over the ridge. He looks with longing at the next trail, even when the ride turns toward home. Barrels and poles – so far – irritate him and he will either nudge a barrel over with his nose just to spite me, or kick at it as we pass. Is my horse telling me something?
For more information on endurance riding, visit: The US Equestrian Federation Endurance https://www.usef.org/_iframes/breedsdisciplines/discipline/allendurance.aspx
Or American Endurance Ride Conference http://aerc.org/aoDefault.aspx
And for a fun read about one of my own trail riding experiences, try Legend of the Superstition Gold on Amazon Kindle or paperback.
I’d love to hear your trail experiences. Please leave a comment in the box.