- How to Condition for Your First LD with the Bare Minimum of Effort
- My QH is a Badass
- Praise the Weather Gods
- Luckier Than a 3-Legged Dog Playing Frogger on a 6-Lane Interstate
ARABIAN AND NON-ARABIAN BREEDS IN ENDURANCEI want to state up front that I am in no way advocating for one breed over any other in the sport of endurance riding. I do not intend any kind of negative words/thoughts/energy toward any breed through this post. These are simply my thoughts and opinions based on my personal experience with a non-Arab in the world of AERC limited distance endurance riding (where n=1, which is not a significant statistic, folks, and I totally get that).
Competing a non-Arab breed in endurance (LDs or otherwise) isn't a remarkable feat. People do it all of the the time with great success. Many people prefer a non-Arab over an Arab for endurance for various reasons. It's awesome that so many breeds have found success at the sport.
But I will say, from my observations over the years, Arabians and Arabian crossbreeds (henceforth referred to as "Arabs" as a group) do have a significant advantage the majority of the time. (There are freakazoid individuals in any breed that can rival them, but these individuals are often few and far between.)
Arabs have metabolics that lend themselves very easily to the sport of endurance. They often pulse down to criteria (commonly 64 bpm or 60 bpm) quicker and more easily that non-Arabs. Additionally, Arabs often hold their conditioning fitness more easily (and often longer) than non-Arabs. As I commonly told my non-horse friends who didn't understand why conditioning Stan was different from conditioning Q, "Q is genetically superior. She's like the elite athletes from a family of other elite athletes you see that consistently kill it in a marathon year after year. Stan is your average run-of-the-mill blue collar worker who likes to watch TV more than exercise. One is infinitely easier to condition than the other." I'm sure you could come up with various analogies to get to the same point.
|Not an Arab. This mare is a Percheron/QH who was a pretty common sight at east coast LDs. Her owner now has a Belgian.|
None of this means that non-Arabs are sub-par or lesser within this sport! Oh, no. It just means that their human partners often work a little more "outside of the box" so far as managing them for success. And that's awesome. Those people are often better horsemen due to it. There is a lot to be said for knowing multiple ways to manage certain conditions instead of just sticking to one method.
CONDITIONING STAN: PAST and PRESENT TIME & MILESWhen I conditioned Stan for RBTR it's first year in 2007, I didn't know what the HELL I was getting into. Sonya (his owner then) knew that the club was putting on the ride in August and that it was basically a long trail ride. She looked on the internet and found an endurance conditioning article beginners, printed it off, and gave it to me one evening at the barn. I don't remember what that article said other than recommending riding for at least an hour a day, 5 days a week. I'm pretty sure they assumed people would be conditioning in an arena for the majority of these hours.
Well, I didn't have an arena; I had trails at my disposal. I had many trails over mountains, and on what we originally hoped would be the RBTR course. It wasn't easy terrain by any breadth of the imagination. So, I applied that article in my own way and I rode Stan a minimum of 5 days a week for an hour to three hours each time on the trails at a trot and canter. He was in killer shape. I can't tell you how his pulsing was, but I know it had to have been better than it was this year!
In contrast to 2007, my conditioning for RBTR 2017 looked like this:
- January - 8 total rides of which 2 were trail rides recording 14.3 trail miles.
- February - 4 total rides of which 3 were trail rides recording 10.4 trail miles.
- March - 2 total rides of which both were trail rides recording 7.1 trail miles.
- April - 4 total rides of which 3 were trail rides recording 9.1 trail miles.
- May - 7 total rides of which 5 were trail rides recording 30.6 trail miles
- June - 5 total rides of which all were trail rides recording 47 trail miles.
- July - 7 total rides of which 6 were trail rides recording 60.45 trail miles.
In total, from January through July, Stan completed 178.95 miles over the course of 26 trail rides.
That's like...nothing. Especially considering what we'd done in the past and what I've done with Q in 2012-2014 when I was originally legging her up for the various endurance distances LD through 50. When legging Q and Griffin up in more recent years, we'd rack up ~180 miles in 3½ months not 7!
Regardless, while I knew Stan and I didn't have the quantity of miles I wanted to have under our belts from conditioning, I didn't question his ability to complete 30 miles. Hell, we'd had one ride of 23 miles in each June and July that he handled beautifully over terrain similar to - possibly harder than - RBTR terrain. But completing miles is only half the battle with endurance. The other half is pulsing to criteria intermittently throughout the completion of those miles (keeping metabolics at good levels). And pulsing to criteria during hot, humid summer days isn't easy.
CONDITIONING STAN: HR RECOVERIESSee, I'd also been monitoring Stan's recoveries during several of our July workouts. And frankly, his recoveries sucked. After one particular hill sprint workout on a sunny 81ºF day (above normal for us this summer; it's been in the mid-70s a lot) with relative-high humidity and little to no breeze, he was around 100 bpm 15 minutes after work, at 76 bpm after an additional 30 minutes in which I actively cooled him with a cold hose and scraping, and at 66 bpm after yet another additional 34 minutes where he stood quietly and calmly with a buddy in the shady barn. That's downright horrible. And that was on July 27, 9 days before the race. Yeah...
So the fact that I was a bit erm, spazzy? about our chances of completing RBTR this year from a meeting-pulse-criteria standpoint wasn't too ludicrous. We didn't have the level of conditioning we should have had. At. All.
Now, let's take into consideration that he'd just done 11 hill sprints at full-bore effort and he'd never be expected to do that during a ride. His HR should have no reason to be nearly that high at any point in the race. Period. But STILL. That his recovery was that piss poor 1 hour and 19 minutes after max exertion was of great concern to me. (Thankfully there was nothing going on behind the scenes to contribute to his poor HR recovery. He's just a QH dealing with stupid humid weather with no movement of air. His human (hai!) with her pale skin and red hair who acclimates better to cold than heat was also pissy and hot and having trouble keeping her own HR low due to the weather, too.)
So, following that ride I sent texts to my endurance mentor and another endurance rider who has successfully competed a non-Arab over many miles with mostly top 10 completions asking for help. Through conversations with them, the next time I rode Stan on July 29 (13 flat miles on the rail trail at only a trot), I electrolyted him immediately before and after the ride and gave him 40cc of calcium gluconate afterwards, too. I also made a point to walk him the final ¾-mile to the barn so he could have a chance to get his HR down.
When I hopped off at the barn, I administered the electrolytes and calcium gluconate and checked his HR. 54 bpm! Boom.
The weather for this 13-mile ride was a cool 64ºF with a slight breeze and overcast skies. I'd be a complete dumbass if I didn't note how
RACE DAY SUCCESSESThe 13-mile ride left me feeling a lot more optimistic about RBTR than I had days prior. Still, I knew the weather was going to play a HUGE FREAKING ROLE in how hard or easy success would come to us re: meeting pulse criteria. Fortunately, as of July 29, a cold front was predicted to hit the night before the ride; the weather on ride day would be overcast with a high of 64ºF.
This kind of weather report can and will change, but I was grateful and very fortunate it held through this year. The prediction for weather on race day Friday morning before the ride was partly cloudy with a high of 71ºF. The actual weather ended up being in the upper 50s and low 60s with overcast skies until around noon when the clouds broke up and the sun broke through to bring things to the predicted high of 71ºF. There was a steady 5-10 mph breeze from morning to night.
Knowing what I know, doing my homework, and planning to control all I could from the italicized factors above, I found success on race day due to:
- THE WEATHER. Race day was 60-68ºF with low humidity and 5-10 mph breezes. Cloud cover dominated for 75% of our ride with patchy sunshine for the final quarter.
- KNOWLEDGE OF TRAIL. I know the RBTR trails very, very well and knew where I could afford to move out and where I should save a little.
- CONDITIONED TO CLIMB. While deficient in time and miles, our training included copious gains in elevation. While Stan lived in Canaan, (yeah, still no good situation in Canaan so all horses are once again a 50 minute drive from me) our rides included a minimum of 1,000' elevation gain each. Stan and I only did 9 conditioning trail rides between June 3 and July 21. A conservative estimate is that Stan climbed 9,000 feet. When you go through my GPS statistics and actually calculate the total elevation gain from all 9 rides you discover that we climbed at least 11,880 feet over 90.15 miles. That certainly doesn't suck! I'm very fortunate to have access to terrain like this for conditioning.
- HISTORY. My history with Stan facilitated our training and movement down the trail in both conditioning and competition. Our relationship spans 10+ years with a solid few years of nothing in the middle. Fortunately, Stan is such that he picks up right where he left off after any length of time. He was fatter and less in shape for his 5 years as a pasture puff when he entered my life again on July 31, 2016, but his mind was just as wonderful as it's always been.
- ELECTROLYTES. I dosed Stan 2x on Friday with a 50/50 mix Perform 'N Win & Enduramax mixed with apple juice and molasses. I dosed him again before the ride on Saturday morning and at the hold with the same. At the finish when he had issues with cramping in his hind end, I dosed him with the calcium gluconate. He drank beautifully all day long, increasingly so as the day wore on. Shy of the weather, I firmly believe the horse had another loop in him and could have completed 50 miles.
Really, the way I look at it, what it all boils down to is the weather. I got luckier than shit with the weather forecast. If the weather had been its typical humid, muggy, hot, no-breeze, temperatures in the 80s, we would have had a MUCH different day. That day would have been infinitely slower in average pace (5 mph vs. the 7 mph we achieved) and I would have spent a lot longer on my own two feet than in the saddle heading back into the hold and finish (1 mile instead of ½-¾-mile).
CONCLUSIONSo, what's the point of this post? Well, mostly I wanted to document all of this for my future self while it's fresh in my mind. But also, I want to put out there to the world that you CAN condition a non-Arab for this sport and find success without riding 15+ miles per week for 5+ months. I've told people for years that any [sound, healthy] horse can go out and complete an LD within the time criteria. And now I've lent more support to that statement from my own experiences this summer.
I've also said that with continued management of fitness following a successful LD, any [sound, healthy] horse can go out and complete a 50(+) mile endurance ride, provided you have some checks and balances in place for managing your metabolics. Metabolics make things trickier though and require more initiative on the part of the rider, so this statement is one I've only stated cautiously to specific audiences.
Certainly, a variety of factors, especially the weather and terrain that you condition and compete over, play into the game of success for this sport. But the conditioning side of things really isn't as daunting as it seems. In a 7 month training period, I never rode Stan more than 60 miles in a month. I never worked Stan more than 8 times in a month in any fashion. You can break these numbers down by the days in a month in various ways to visualize how little effort this is over the course of time one has available. It's SO possible.
So, what do you think? Have you ever wondered about giving this sport a try whether for cross-conditioning for another discipline or just to see if you could go the distance? Maybe you've never considered it, but you've got a pretty fit horse that's been participating in HTs, dressage, or hunter paces and now the wheels are turning in your head about the possibility of pursuing an LD? Whether to simply cross it off the list of "Things Tried" or to cross-condition for another sport or even to give you a little more drive and impetus to get out and ride your horse with a goal-driven purpose, I encourage you to give it a go if you're interested. It's pretty fun to spend the time and miles with horses and friends traveling across beautiful countryside.