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|The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding
"Taking excellent care of your horse is really a big part of the endurance ethic." –Morgan
By Lois Barton
Posted on Aug 7, 2004
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|"Morgan on Luna," Prineville Endurance Ride, May, 2002 with the Three Sisters peaks on the horizon|
A couple of years ago our daughter-in-law Morgan began talking about endurance riding. I had no idea what that was, nor did some of my friends. So I checked the web and found this definition at www.endurance.net. "Endurance riding is an athletic event with the same horse and rider covering a measured course within a specified maximum time." I also learned that there are endurance riding groups all over the world.
I recently spent some time learning more about Morgan's involvement. How did she find out about it and then get started participating? One might say it was almost an accident. She was waiting for someone to show up at the place where she worked and picked up a book lying there to pass the time. It was a book about how to deal with midlife, and she happened to open it to a page suggesting one make a list of things you would like to do before you die. Having just turned forty herself, she gave it a just moment's thought–– it immediately occurred to her that she'd always wanted to "raise and train horses."
Recognizing this as a real interest, she happened to learn about a friend of a friend, a woman with a horse ranch, who needed help exercising her horses. The woman was open to her coming out and giving a hand. So starting in the autumn of 2000, she went several times a week and learned to ride and care for several horses . The woman bred Arabian horses specifically for endurance riding. Luna, a mare just old enough to start training, needed a rider. The horse breeder asked Morgan if she would like to take on the challenge of riding a new horse in the upcoming endurance season. Morgan and Luna rode their first ride together in April of 2001.
"So how did you feel at the end of that first 25 miles?" I asked.
"I was pretty sore for a few days till my legs got back to normal," Morgan said.
"You went on to ride your friend's horse for several 50 mile races, didn't you?"
"No. Luna was only four when I started riding her, so that season we only rode 25 mile rides together. I rode her through that first season, and for one 50 mile ride the following season. I sat out the rest of that second season, buying my own horse to ride the following winter. Tango is his name, and we've been riding together for two seasons now. Tango is half Arab and 17 years old. He has run many endurance races and has much more experience than I do, which is one of the reasons I bought him.
"Tango is made for the sport of endurance he loves and he has the perfect metabolism. Endurance is a sport where you don't complete the ride or make it through the periodic vet checks until your horse's heart rate drops to a certain point - usually 60 beats per minute - and Tango's heart rate drops like a rock as soon as he gets where he is going. He also eats and drinks whenever there's food and water available, which is not true for all horses. He takes very good care of himself. To top it off, he's got a giant stride. Other horse and riders often pull in behind us because Tango has got such a big trot and a 'never say die' attitude. He just pulls other horses along. I'm very lucky to have him as my partner."
Most endurance riding horses are Arab or some combination of Arab with another breed. Their genetic background as desert horses where food and water were far apart, created a built-in metabolism well suited to this form of exercise.
"Quarter horses on the other hand are bred for short burst of speed and lots of muscle, and don't have the body conformation or metabolism for long distance exercise,"Morgan says.
In endurance, a horse must be four years old to be eligible to enter a 25 mile ride. It must be five years old for any distance greater than that. To get in shape for endurance riding, a horse must go through months and years of distance training, which means riding long, slow miles to build musculature and metabolic conditioning. It takes at least two years to develop a horse to the point where it can begin to complete rides among the top finishers. Morgan follows a training regimen of riding at least three times a week for a total of no more than twenty-five miles a week. She enters one or two endurance rides a month during the season, which in the Northwest runs from March through November. When her rides are only separated by a two week break, she reduces her training rides to two six to eight mile maintenance rides in that time. She wears a geo-positioning system device (GPS) to keep track of how far she and Tango travel.
|The Prineville Ride Camp, May, 2001, with Luna resting on ground|
Morgan's longest rides so far have been of 50 mile duration. She usually trots the horse most of the way. A gallop now and then provides some relief to the horse's muscles. If the terrain is rocky, Tango and Morgan slow to a walk to prevent bruising his feet. There are vets stationed every twelve to eighteen miles on every ride. These professionals, trained in how to examine an endurance horse, check the animals carefully for everything from hydration to muscle tone to attitude. Horse and rider are allowed out of the vet check after their required rest period only if the vet has pronounced the horse fit to continue.
Morgan says, "There is water available for them to drink at the stops, and usually hay as well. Sometimes the ride managers throw lots of carrots out with the hay. Tango always makes sure he gets his share, but when its time to leave the vet checks, he is always ready to go."
The web definition of endurance rides says "they are technically 'races' but many (if not most) riders participate for completion rather than placing. To these riders the satisfaction of completing 50 or 100 miles on a sound horse is the prize." The allotted time is considerably more than needed to complete a given distance.
"Do you ever 'race' on a ride?" I wondered.
"On one ride a fellow rider and I had been riding together through most of a ride, and when we were a quarter mile or so from the finish I asked her if she wanted to race in. I'd never done it and had always wanted to.. She was willing so we galloped off. I'm not sure which of us crossed the line first, but Tango's heart was back to normal within minutes," Morgan said. "The other woman's horse took a good 5 minutes to come down, which gave me an edge I hadn't intended." As a result, regardless of who crossed the finish line first, Morgan received her finish time before her race partner because her horse pulsed down first.
Again from the web, "The horse with the fastest time is the winner providing the horse meets the 'fit to continue' criteria as determined by a veterinarian staff."
Morgan has competed three or four times this year, and plans to do another four or five races. She'd like to get her 250 mile pin this year, but it all depends on keeping her horse sound. She knows riders who've been riding for 20 or more years who've qualified for their 5,000 mile pins.. The most coveted award for many endurance riders is for best condition, or BC. Only those who finish in the top ten of their distance are eligible to show for BC. Whoever wins that has proven they not only have a horse that can cover the distance in good time. but can do so and still be in great shape.
Morgan explains the philosophical underpinnings of endurance riding: "Taking excellent care of your horse is really a big part of the endurance ethic. Endurance is the only sport under the umbrella of the United States Equestrian Team that has a 'No Drug' policy. It is all about making sure your horse is the all around, healthiest endurance athlete it can be, period. That means proper feed and supplements, proper shoeing and joint support and a solid, consistent training regimen. Not all Arabs are up to it. Not every human who tries it is up to it either."
Best condition is determined on three points:
1. Weight of the rider
2. Finishing time
3. Vet's score - the most important one
a. hydration of the horse
b. cardio recovery
e. quality of movement
In my ignorance I have wondered how the rider would get back to camp after riding 25 or 50 miles, but Morgan explained that the mileage is measured in loops. She showed me a map with several trails that loop the horse and rider through remote vet checks and eventually bring them back to camp. These loops enable the rider to cover whatever distance she's competing in by riding the right combination of loops to make up her distance. The combination of loops for each distance is determined by the ride managers, and the riders are given maps with different color trails marked on them. The riders follow the trails marked with colored ribbons which correspond to the colors of their loops. At the end of the day, all the horses and riders end up in camp. Whew! Here I was thinking the rider would be 50 miles from the horse camp at the end of the ride.
The races are always on Saturday. Riders arrive in camp on Thursday or Friday so they are prepared to start promptly Saturday morning. An entry fee of approximately $10 more than the miles to be run is due when the rider registers on Friday. There is a ride meeting Friday night where all the rules and any particulars of the course are covered.. It takes seven or eight hours to complete a 50 mile ride. There are also rides of five or more days duration in which riders may ride different distances each day.. One is known as the Pony Express ride.
Endurance riding came to the Northwest in the 1970s. There are more women than men who participate. Morgan sees the kind of rider who gets into endurance riding as a 'physical type who needs a challenge'
When I started looking into this topic I was told that there is an organization that is concerned to eliminate the sport, claiming that it is too hard on horses. Morgan says she's never heard of such a movement. She says that while some think the sport is hard on the horses, she believes the nature of the sport and what it requires of both horse and rider to be successful, demands that endurance athletes take better care of their mounts than in any other equestrian sport.
At 86 years of age I haven't been on a horse for more than twenty years, and have no interest in changing that. But I have to admire an animal in such good condition it can endure that kind of challenge. I remember on the farm in Ohio years ago Dad would start the spring plowing slowly, giving those big work horses that had loafed in the barn most of the winter filling up on hay, time to get into shape before expecting them to work all day. Endurance riding is a fascinating sport that gives riders a chance to work with their animals and gain points while enjoying the process.
Copyright © 2004 by Lois Barton
More West By Northwest.org horse stories :
Horse Neglect and Abuse in America: Fact and Fiction by Kimball Lewis
The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Lise and Her Horses by Lois Barton
Remember the Tevis Cup: A Horse Named Raven Flies Over the Mountains and Through the Woods by Steve Elliot and Fran Odom, Photos by Susan Walz
Sarah in the Saddle photo essay by Susan Walz-Mendelson and M.G. Hudson
Valerie Larkin's Cascade Camping Con Caballista or High ho, Silver, Mountain Horse Camping
Horses Re-Create Habitat for Cutthroat Profit by Matthew Hall
The Endurance Net at http://www.endurance.net/
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Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.
Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.
Visit the Sunnyside of Spencer Butte Section in our new format for more of Lois' stories. See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By Northwest.org online magazine's archives:
Visit the Heron Rookery
Sauerkraut and All That
Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?
The Midwife- The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.
The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.
Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.
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