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Monday, December 20, 2010

A milestone, and of newbies

Before diving into the topic today – which is courtesy of Endurance Granny – I wanted to share a special milestone.

Aarene over at the Haiku Farm, suggested I develop a rental program for the renegade hoof boots. After making numerous suggestions, she became my first customer a few weeks ago.
This week, Fiddle and Aarene sported a red set of rental boots and successfully returned from a test ride with boots intact – after going through sand, creeks, and mud.

This report was especially satisfying as there were several challenging aspects to the fitting:
· It was long distance – I had to rely on pictures and e-mails. In fact, this was the first hooves I’ve fit long distance!

· There weren’t current measurements – the measurements came from last fall/winter when Fee’s shoes were pulled. New measurements couldn’t be taken because Fee was still in shoes.

· The measurements weren’t as precise as I usually like – the measurements were to the ¼” instead of the 1/8”.

· Fee has feet that are asymmetrical.

So, when I got the good news that the boots are staying on, as you can imagine I responded with a huge WHOOOO HOOOOOO!!!!!!! The fit isn’t perfect and there’s a few adjustments I’d like to make – but the nice thing about renegades is that as long as you are close, the boots will usually stay on well enough to ride in them until you can fine tune how much cutback is needed etc.

Then I got something even better – A pic of Aarene and Fiddle in “full” Standardbred-trot mode looking perfectly in harmony. And because my boots were in the picture, I felt like I was part of that picture. And that was one of the best feelings in the world. I admit I haven’t done much today at work besides stare at that picture of happy rider and horse on the trail, doing what both obviously love to do.

Aarene will probably post on her blog (see side bar) soon if you are interested in more of their adventures.

Now on to the real topic of the day
Endurance Granny posted on the subject of novice disappointment, a topic I probably have touched on before.

I struggled with this during the first couple years in Endurance. In fact, on my website ( I wrote the following in the endurance section main page - Learn all you can, do the best you can by your horse, and remember - "if you are having a tough time, there's probably someone else out there who's gone through the same thing and has come out the other side more or less intact" – a tribute to my first year. I didn’t complete a single ride my first season – and lamed my horse to the point I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to ever do endurance again. It seemed like everyone around me was completing rides easily. I started endurance for the sole purpose of completing the Tevis – a goal that seemed impossibly far away at the end of my first season.

As a goal oriented person used to creating game plans and meeting deadlines – it was a hard pill to swallow that I had failed. And yes, I would use the word “fail”. Aside from the non-completions, I had a lame horse who was miserable. Oh yes – that is a fail.

Gradually I realized that even the self-proclaimed “newbies” in this sport weren’t really newbies the way I was a newbie. Yes, we are all eternally learning in this sport, HOWEVER the newbie with less than 1000 miles is on a different learning curve than the “newbie” with 5,000 miles.

It seemed to me that people were great at giving advice, but seemed to lose touch with how it felt to start out in this sport. This is completely understandable! It’s easiest (and natural) to give advice where you are NOW, not where you used to be. And, while time gives perspective on the past, sometimes it can be a bit rosy in hindsight and you lose the intensity and raw-ness that was present when it was happening.

After talking to endurance riders I respected and who were willing to talk candidly about their experiences over the years, I realized that most, if not all, endurance riders did go through the same trials and tribulations in their first 1000 miles, that I was experiencing. The problem is, that at any one time, only a small % of riders are at a certain stage – which includes that critical mass of newbies under 1000 miles.

Because I know how badly I felt, and how frustrating it was to see people who were moving out of the stage I was in (LD’s, starting 50’s) and into the next one (100’s, Tevis) with an ease I couldn’t imagine – I wanted to help someone who might be struggling in the same way.

Among other reasons that’s why I started a blog. It’s the truth from a perspective and being IN THE PRESENT. Some day, when I’m a widely successful vet and endurance rider (hey – we all have dreams right?) I want to be able to tell people – “what you are going through is normal and it gets better”. And if they don’t believe me – then go read my blog. I may have changed my mind or have a different perspective now, but it doesn’t diminish the power of writing in the present.

You may wonder why I write about the “1000 mile” point as being the cut off. I would agree with those who say that endurance is about continuous learning no matter what your mileage, and that the more I learn, the less I know. I'm less apt to see issues in black and white and consider the grays. However, talking to other endurance riders, I’m under the impression that the steepest learning curve comes in the first 1000 miles. I feel 1000 miles is a significant accomplishment – something that’s echoed by AERC. At 1000 miles you are recognized at the convention and your mileage patches become less frequent – no longer are they awarded every 250 miles. One thousand miles is also a major horse accomplishment and is the first recognized mileage levels for our equine partners.

For those newbies in the throes of what seems to be never-ending disappointments and challenges I want to offer you this comfort – it does get better. You will accomplish more than you ever dreamed possible if you continue to seek advice, critically evaluate, and stay flexible. I have journals from my first year that have pages completely soaked in tears. I wanted to do this sport SO BAD. Would I have felt the same way if I had met my deadlines and plans? Maybe not.


  1. I love my newbie endurance buddies so much. :) It can be such a lonely sport (and I think that's why a lot of us are attracted to it - you don't have to have a coach, you don't have to have people to ride with) but it's so nice to have a little group of people working through the same fears and obsessions. :)

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  3. Mel, the photos from our "test ride" are up on the blog. And hey, if you start getting lonely for some Big Standie Action, the agency north of my house has a nice little gelding right now...!

    I didn't have a "learning curve" at the beginning of my endurance career so much as I had a line that looked like a rocket shot. Although I often finished my rides, it was more by the grace of god and the seat of my pants than by knowledge and experience. I got lost, I misread directions, I allowed myself to be dragged down by other riders (in my case, going too slowly rather than too quickly), and I was completely confused by all the stuff on Ridecamp. Slowly, slowly (it's been ten years now!) the dust in my brain is beginning to settle. But Fiddle brings a bunch of challenges that Story and Toad didn't have, so there goes my learning curve again!

  4. Deleted my doublepost, and wanted to add: I instantly forget ribbons. I can look at the map before mounting, ask the volunteers as I leave ridecamp, and still have forgotten my ribbons by the time I get to the first set of them. Not lost yet, but I'm sure it's a matter of time.

  5. If I ride anything longer than 50 miles, my crew will write the colors of my loops onto my arm with a Sharpie.

  6. I hate to be the one to disagree ;) But being new at Endurance doesn't have to be a struggle. I think the most important things to get a good start are the following:
    1) Do your research (which should include crewing for other people, taking riding lessons, learning about proper feeding, proper tack, proper conditioning)
    2) Buy the most suitable horse you can afford (you can always challenge yourself with a younger untrained horse, or a more unconventional breed, once you know what you're doing)
    3) Find a mentor

    There are plenty of challenges in Endurance as is, so don't make it more difficult for yourself (or the horse who happens to be your "guinea pig") by ignoring any of the above points.

    I have been surprised again and again this year (my first) how poorly some people ride, how ill-fitting their tack is, or how they just do whatever their horse wants to do on the trail!? I wish people would take this discipline as serious as an Eventer or Dressage rider would and not mess about so much... usually to the detriment of their horse. If you don't know what you're doing (yet) please hire a trainer (or experienced Endurance rider) to help you and get you going. I bet Melinda is available ;)

    Okay, off my soapbox now...

  7. Ines, when I started endurance I already HAD a horse. Fortunately, I was encouraged by nice people who knew that an "unconventional" breed did not necessarily indicate an "unsuitable" horse.

    I read everything I could get my hands on, and did plenty of research (I'm a librarian, I know how to research!)--but the research then did not offer clear answers about feed, tack, or conditioning. It still doesn't.

    My "mentor" didn't know as much as she thought she knew, and I didn't know enough at the beginning to recognize this.

    That's a problem with being a beginner: it's hard to pick out the best sources of information. You can't necessarily identify what you don't know, because you don't know what you don't know!

    Maybe you got lucky?

  8. Same here - I like the horse I have just fine, thanks. I also got lucky finding an IRL mentor who thinks non-Arabs can -complete- successfully :)

    I personally don't believe in "trading up" horses to compete better. My success in horse sports comes from building a partnership, not from dominating the competition. Any sound horse can do an LD, and most of them can do 50s. You don't need An Endurance Prospect.

    The rest of your advice is spot-on though.

  9. Just to clarify, I also believe breeds other than Arabians can compete successfully in Endurance, I never suggested otherwise.
    I was simply trying to express that it's a lot easier and less frustrating to start out with a SUITABLE horse of (most) any breed, and by that I mean sound, sane, with good (ground) manners and some sort of training in ANY discipline. (My mare happens to be a cutting & reining horse.)
    You can always move on to greater challenges later. But I completely understand that if you already own a horse, you naturally would like to use it.

    I don't believe I got lucky, btw, I just followed my own advice ;) But it was luck indeed when a swarm of honey bees stung my horse's head but didn't send her into shock, or when a trailer loading incident led "only" to a superficial cut, or when we survived stepping into a gopher hole without a scratch. That kind of stuff is luck... most of the rest is up to us as riders and horse(wo)men.

  10. The truth is that most "newbies" will start with what they have, which is on the AERC site which says pretty much any horse can complete. To complete is not the same as compete. I indeed did select a CMK bred foal purchased as a two month old for a life project until I can't ride anymore. I got a mentor early on who had apparently forgotten what "slow" means and trained with her which set up the race brain in my horse. I've really only discovered what "slow" is in the past two LD's. Most of my ride frustration relates to the fact that I refuse to let my horse do what she wants at an LD. So if she tries to pull ahead I'm going to stop her, correct her, and start again.

    Many newbies have financial restrictions going into the sport. It took me two years get a horse trailer purchased. I'm still waiting on the purchase of the saddle I'd like for her, but using "what fits" as instructed on the AERC website. I would like to do six or seven rides a year for mileage, but again that is not and likely never will be in the cards for us due to the $ needed to chase the rides.

    So with all these obtacles why do I just not pack up my toys and go home? Because I want to do this. I want to ride my horse and believe she is capable if I continue to learn, take my time, and if necessary become the slowest turtle on the trail. Research says that most endurance horses reach their peak between 8-12 years of solid performance. Mine has had 5 starts, 5 completions, and one got lost (not her fault). I pick apart each and every ride. I'm going to talk about the negatives much more than the positives. Why? I want to cure the negatives. Each ride she improves, and I tick off one more area from the to do list. I will let the ride vets determine if she is fit to continue.

  11. I needed this post today. Thank you. I'll go wipe off my tear stained notes now.

  12. EG - it took you two years to get a trailer?! OMG that makes me feel so much better! G swears we'll get one by Rides of March, but you know how life goes...

    Breathe, hang in there. Just starting out is so awful. I remember.


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