Newbie’s Guide to Endurance

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Video of the endurance ride in Rhode Island

Even though I recently completed the first draft of my novel, part of my job is to look ahead to other books. As part of that research, I ended up at an endurance riding event this spring.

Those of you who have rigged your calendars for a countdown to the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games know that endurance is one of the competitive events presented as part of the games.

Maybe you’re familiar with the sport or even a participant. Or maybe you only heard about it when you saw the events listing for the WEG.

So, come with me to the New England Arabian Trail Association (NEATO) Escoheag Ride deep in the Rhode Island woods to get an introduction to endurance riding.

A trail ride that’s a race where health matters

That’s a start. Endurance riding is a long trail ride of a predetermined distance in which the the horse’s condition can determine whether the horse-and-rider team stays in the race.

Still a mouthful. But you get the idea. For another explanation, check out this article about endurance on the WEG site.  Jackie at Regarding Horses has a great intro to endurance – along with where to follow the action during endurance event at the WEG.

Other interesting facts about endurance

Age is not an issue of for endurance riding. Meet the 21-year-old Tulip and his fit senior rider Dr. Les Carr, thanks to the Simply Marvelous blog.

In Rhode Island, riders of all ages, from middle school to senior citizens, saddled up. In the Tevis Cup video you can find on paid-subscription area of the site, you’ll find people who’ve ridden in 20 and 30 Tevis Cups.

In the case of the Rhode Island ride, the number of laps along a trail loop is what determined whether a rider took the 30- or 50-mile ride. In contrast, the 100-mile Tevis Cup race is, essentially, a point-to-point from Robie Park near Lake Tahoe west through Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA.

Most of the horses used for endurance are Arabians. However, at the Rhode Island ride, I saw a Connemara pony, an Akhal Teke, a standardbred, retired racehorses, a spotted saddle horse/Tennessee Walking Horse, some quarter horses.

Veterinarian check-in stations

Before the race, at various check-in points during and after the race, Veterinarians monitor the metabolic rates of the horses by establishing a base line before the race, at various check-in points during the race and after the race.

A key statistic here is the horse’s pulse rate, which must stay within a certain range depending upon the length of the race.

Plus, a horse must stay hydrated, as is determined by the condition of its gums (Are they moist? When you press the gum with your finger, does the tissue go pink fast again?) and its “gut sounds,” whether there’s enough water to send food through the digestive tract to prevent colic.

The Rhode Island ride included a ten-minute “Stop and Go” at 15 miles. Head vet Dr. Nick Kohut explained that the first ten miles will reveal any problems with a horse that the initial vet check might have missed. (The still photos you see on this page were taken at that first Stop and Go. ) Upon entry, riders were given a slip of paper with their entry times. Horses were watered and cooled. Once the ten minutes were up, mounted riders presented their time slips to Kohut and vet Dr. Debbie Hadlock so the vets could watch the horses trot out to check for lameness.

Why the video ends like it does

Weeks before the event, I contacted event organizers and the head vet for permission to come observe the vets at work. One of the major characters in my series is an equine vet, so I thought a trip to where he works at an endurance event might provide some good possibilities for a story.

The vet check-in stations include a “vet scribe,” someone who writes the horse’s pulse rate and other statistics about the horse, including its breed, on a card that each rider carries. That way, the horse’s condition can be tracked.

The vet scribe shadows the veterinarian. The vet examines the horse, the scribe writes down the findings on a card that’s a bit like a medical chart for the day and then hands the card back to the rider for next time.

At the end of the day, the statistics on the card determine which horse in the top ten finishers wins for “Best Condition.

Confusion about scheduling caused one of the two vet scribes to arrive late. Otherwise, only one vet had a scribe, so the head vet did his own note-taking.

That’s when we all decided that, hey, I had a pen.

So, I filled in as “vet scribe.” Since I wasn’t exactly trained on how the cards should look, I have to admit I made a mess of some things.

But I always met riders with a smile and thanked them when I returned their cards. What I lacked in skill, I make up for in manners and pleasantry.

I soon realized that I couldn’t both shoot video and keep up with the notations. So, that ended the videoing.

Since endurance looks like an accessible sport for many riders, would you like to give it a try someday?

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1 Comment
  • rhond7
    September 15, 2010

    A reader emailed me privately to ask about all the riders wearing orange. What a great question!

    The ride organizers had let everyone who would be out on the trail to wear orange because of turkey hunters out in the park, too.