Saturday, January 31, 2015

Routine, Ride, or Rest?

You love your horse. Their very footfalls speak of freedom, grace, and a bond that makes you shake your head in disbelief when people don't get it. You spend hours on them, hours on the ground, hours riding, hours reading. You have this goal called Endurance riding and people are sharing and posting and networking about it, touting miles covered and hills climbed and goals met. With the very best of intentions you heap steaming forkful after endless shovel load of advice, some worthy some not, who know's at this stage, into a mountain of Maybe-Knowledge at your back.

Your horse starts to look a bit fitter. Maybe starts moving a little faster. Oh, yes, this is endurance right, this grab and go and trottrotrot for miles thing?! Ideas, hopes, goals, and miles, yes, miles. More reading, notions of appropriate riding, changing diagonals, hoof angles, the right feed, chiropractic care. Your nose is to the ground and you are chasing this thrilling whiff of Endurance.

my first endurance horse, Desire, taught me YOU GO FOREVER, FAST, Don't you?
Hat Creek Hustle 50, 2012
photo credit Baylor/Gore
 One morning you go to catch your steed and notice that your beloved glances at you askance, staring at the halter in your hand, perhaps taking a a step or two away from you. You're surprised, or sad, or mad. You love them, you're doing your best, what could be in their head? It probably happens more than just the one time, and your brain kicks over, cranking but refusing to catch.

There are many possibilities to investigate of course, including discomfort of some kind (tack fit, chiropractic care, ulcers, etc). If you've sorted all that out and are still scratching your head, it may be time to sit down and take a wide angle lens look at your riding schedule.

Not just how much did you ride this week. Or last.

  Where did you start--and where are you now? 

We have this wonderful ability as humans to embrace and relax into routine, especially when it has good results, like a comfortable conditioning ride happily accomplished. The longer I own horses and more personalities I have around, the more I realize that routine is both essential and deadly, a delicate balancing act to be danced along the rim of Safe and Unknown.

Routine saves us, by teaching these animals we've taken out of their element and turned to our purposes that meals come at a certain time, certain words and gestures mean certain things, even particular tack items can have a particular emphasis to a horse, let alone the same time spent in the trailer every time, or same trail ridden every time.

Routine also endangers us, by lulling us down a comfortable road until suddenly a proverbial tire flies off and we pull up short and think, Wait, What?  How did I get here? Why is this happening?
Here are a few "bigger picture" baselines I find helpful to go back and look at and assess your situation with.

1.your starting place with your horse (were they unbroke, green, fit, experienced endurance horses, etc)
2. your methods so far (mileage, frequency, duration, speed, as well as care: diet, hoof trim and angles, chiropractic, dental, saddle fit, bit fit, etc)
3. the horse you have currently on your hands (may well be very different than the horse from #1)
4. your current strategy (may need to change!)
5. your long term goals

Why do I list your long term goals last? Because it is my experience that if you START at your long term goals, you are far more likely to discount or gloss over some detail of the first 4 questions. There are uncountable things that could come up and be addressed within those 5 questions, but bottom line is you are asking them because your horse is *just not thrilled to see you coming anymore.*

By assessing the questions above in the context of that horse, you may well discover that you're gleefully riding your 2nd or 3rd or 4th season horse 3 or 4 days a week.. Or even one or 2 days, every single week.  Don't think this only goes for experienced horses, while new horses to the sport must build fitness, there is *so much more* to the endurance equation, and a few years of physical prep is the easy part in my opinion. It might be high mileage or low, slow or fast, and every scenario varies a little bit, but I would submit to the rider that if all else fails, all other signs are accounted for and good, but the steed just isn't giving you enthusiasm--hang up that halter for a few weeks and just let it be.

Scrappy's happy place
I know, I know.

But we're on a fitness schedule! But Fluffy will lose condition! But I love to ride! 

Ideally I would encourage you to get a second horse to alleviate the understandable, passionate desire to essentially ride the legs off the one you have, but I completely recognize that's not always possible. If it's not, there are myriad ways to get your horsey fix while letting your steed just be a horse, from volunteering at programs and stables to harassing your buddies with extra horses. It might not be the easiest thing or the thing that you exactly want to do, but expanding your own horizons away from the routine of your conditioning schedule can have wonderful consequences for your horse.

Just ask Scrappy, who is never happier to see a saddle than after 4 weeks of just being a horse.


  1. Great post, excellent thoughts. Thanks! :)

  2. So well said. I have been thinking about this a lot as I wait for spring. Thanks for the reminder that relationships are a two way street!

  3. Love this! I am have been so guilty of pushing my horses to get out and condition when they did not feel like it because we had races on the schedule. Sometimes a break is much more beneficial than a high mileage week.