Getting started in endurance

Ever wanted to give endurance a go? Here's how to start

IMG_2366So, you’ve heard about endurance riding and would love to have a go but aren’t sure of what’s involved and how to get started? 

Endurance is one of the easiest competitive disciplines to get involved in with a horse. There is no special gear required, and if your horse is healthy and sound there’s nothing at all to stop you having a go. 

What is it, exactly?

Endurance riding involves riding a marked course within an allowed time with a horse who is fit enough to do the distance at an appropriate speed. That’s it. 

Riders all head out together from the start line and you can either ride on your own or alongside other people. Often you will start out riding with one group but they might be travelling at a slightly different pace so you’ll end up riding beside someone else. It can either be a very social sport or a solitary one, depending on what you want to do on the day. 

Is your horse fit enough? 

Most horses who are in some sort of work should be fit enough to do at least the shorter distance Intro rides. What’s required is that the horse should not be lame or sore and that his heart-rate be at (or below) 64 beats per minute and return to 64 beats (or below) per minute within 30 minutes of crossing the finish line. 

Many and varied are the breeds seen in Intro rides, from full Clydesdale through to thoroughbred. 

IMG_2424Endurance training is great pre-season work for eventers and hunters, and dressage horses enjoy the chance to stretch out. It’s an excellent way for trekkers or pleasure riders to see new countryside that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and to meet new people who enjoy the same things they do (spending time with their horses, most likely!).

Stepping up

Stepping up to slightly longer rides can sound scary at first. The reality is that if you’re regularly going out and riding for a couple of hours, you’re probably well on the way already. 

A Novice 40km ride will typically take around four hours at an organised endurance event, if ridden mostly at a walk with some trotting mixed in. A slightly fitter Novice horse and rider will often finish close to the minimum time allowed, which is usually around three hours.

The key to building fitness is long slow distance. It’s not about speed, it’s about steady distance, building muscle endurance. It can (and should) take a long time to build a horse up to doing top endurance miles, but the place to start is long slow distance, and why not do some of that in company at an organised ride?

IMG_1906Endurance clubs organise rides in their areas throughout the season. The ride calendar is available online and local clubs will be only too happy to help you with information on their next ride. Check Facebook or the Endurance Ride Flyers on the ESNZ website to find a ride, and go for it!