Moving Up To the Multi-Day Ride
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Esler Arabians, Phone: (916) 652-8937, firstname.lastname@example.org
I've just returned from Shelbourne Station, Nevada having successfully completed the 250 mile, 5 day Pony Express ride on a single horse. During the 5 day ride I was amazed and delighted that Kholt 45 (my Khemosabi American-bred gelding by Khemistree), and my riding companions straight Egyptian Amori became stronger every day throughout the arduous 250 mile week. The ride challenges include, 250 miles, oxygen deprivation from the 7,000 to 11,000 ft. elevation as well as a deep sand footing! The criteria that I judge my horses by are: weight, attitude and stamina as they progress through the ride. In each of these areas the horses did exceptionally well and we were showered by complements by other riders who were envious of how great our horses looked. Since our horses finished the 250 actually stronger than they began, we experienced the "Magic of the Multi-Day Ride!"
Why would a rider want to do this length ride on a single horse? The answer is that if done properly you can dramatically improve the strength and stamina of your endurance horse without imposing the detrimental injury many times associated with faster speeds and shorter distances! The secret to this process is to work on the "base line" or "deep" strength of your horse at this slower, longer distance. Your horse will then be easily capable of doing difficult 100 mile event, (ie: Tevis Cup), with much greater ease and much less risk of injury. I speak especially to those of you who are interested in the longevity of your horse, not hose of you who believe that your horse should be "thrown away" after he raced to satisfy your ego.
Once a horse has been injured while "at speed" during a 50 mile event, that injury will be with you for the duration of the horses career. The first three years are particularly critical. The process of long slow conditioning with time off (ie: 30 days) between rides allows for micro-trauma to heal before it manifests itself into a chronic injury. Never allow a horse to race before he has been conditioned for at least 3 years! As you increase distance it becomes more important to carefully observe details-"How is my horse really doing?" What you might "get away" with on a 50 miler will become your undoing on a 250!
Firstly when your horse begins the 250 he must be carrying excess weight. I have been scrutinized by some inexperienced rides and observe at the beginning of a hundred or 250 mile ride for having relatively a "fat" horse. This always makes me smile for I know that it is critical to have some "excess" weight aboard to call upon on 250 mile events. The reason for this is simple physiology: We can never put back all that is lost from an endurance horse during a 250 mile event until after the event! Using my method, the horse looks great at the end of the event and could easily win in the slow ring, which I have done for 30 years. It is crucial to have "spare" groceries, the reserves to be called upon at such great distances. Because of the long slow mile conditioning, under the "groceries" lies the rock hard body of the well conditioned endurance athelete.
Secondly, you must have a horse with enough miles and training that you can control him even at the beginning on the ride. You can never allow your horse to get to the "red on the dial" on very long distance. Conversely, he must always be kept with something in reserve, so that he continues to grow stronger. It is vital to carefully observe and consider attitude, speed, heat, so that the appropriate adjustment can be made before the horse becomes too stressed. Know how to read your horse! Watch for the subtle signs, ie: ear pinning, head dipping, listlessness. What you miss will probably be the thing that will cause you to not complete the ride. If your horse hits the "red on the dial", it is already too late.
Thirdly, on multi -day rides it is especially that you not allow your horse to "hype up" at the start. Moreover it is so important to use his energy to get down the trail rather than going nowhere. The nervous horse using "verticle energy" is getting very little payback and is often tired after the lunch break and becomes less energetic as the daily ride progresses.
Finally, it is also important not to allow your horse to finish of "come in" too quickly at the end of each day's 50 miles. My horse is particularly prone to this behavior because he is oxygen sensitive around 7,000 feet. As he comes down from the 11,000 ft. elevation, he thinks he is "King Kong"! I must remind him to save it for the next days climb back up to 11,000 feet.
1. Start with a well conditioned horse and work your way up, i.e.: 100mi, 150,mi, etc. before the 250 mile event.
In the months to come I will expand on each of these.
Remember-the strongest horse is the one that has been conditioned over long injury-free miles.