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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

First rides

In celebration of season of firsts.....
  • Funder's first LD completion
  • Nicole (Adventures of Arabee) first upcoming completion of LD 
  • My first 100 completion
  • Aarene's first upcoming completion in a LONG time (2 years is like a lifetime right?)
  • Endurance Granny's resolution that this season will be different
  • and all those other bloggers that I'm forgetting (please forgive me) that have special "firsts" coming up.
  • and what the heck - just because it's SPRING and I'm in a good mood! :)
...I thought I would blog on what to expect for first rides.  
As in....this is what to expect for a first ride that NO BODY BOTHERED TO TELL YOU.  
This was a much more difficult post to write than I anticipated.  Hopefully my readers can comment on their own experiences as a newbie endurance rider, whether that was last weekend or 20 years ago.
We will start with a gem from Funder:
The horse you conditioned is not the horse that will come to the ride
  •  The horse you brought to the ride may look like Lil' Miss Pokey Pony that you conditioned from home, but I GUARENTEE you that she will be replaced by a fire breathing dragon the morning of the ride. 
  • Damage control strategy - take deep breathes, thank the heavenly stars you didn't forget your helmet.  This should be a minor issue unless YOU suddenly turn from Miss cautious-want-to-keep-my-horse-sound, to Ms. we-are-going-to-WIN-this-thing.  Things usually improve after the first 1-2 hours on the trail. 
  • My advice - use terrain to your advantage.  I like using hills to slow down my horse to a walk or slow trot. 
I didn't have this problem with my first ride - the horse I conditioned was the horse I brought to the ride - ie my crazy maniac horse I had at home also showed up at the ride.....however this phenomenon was very apparent for Farley's first ride.  Farley is a pokey horse.  During her conditioning she was NEVER as forward as I would have liked and the little pitty pat jog she offered on our conditioning rides was just NOT going to cut it.  I had seen glimpses of greatness so I knew she just needed to be motivated.  And yes sir-ee she was decided she was motivated at our first ride.  I've rarely been in a position to complain about her pokiness since.
Anything slightly irritating about your tack will be a big problem
At my first ride I used a Mcclellan Saddle with an army blanket.  I hadn't figured unless I kept the girth REALLY tight that I would literally lose the blanket out the back.  I spent COUNTLESS minutes on the trail fixing the stupid thing.  On conditioning rides I had had the same problem but at a much lesser degree.  On subsequent rides I accepted the fact I had to ride with a tight girth, but it was definitely a problem I could have avoided my first ride if I had realized that small issues during conditioning rides turn into big ones during real endurance rides. 
  • Damage control:  try not to shoot yourself or others from the annoyance of it all.
  • My advice:  Pack 2 of everything for your first ride so you have an alternative if something isn't working out.  Even if it worked for a conditioning ride....
Whatever your food plans were, they will not work
I really really really liked cliff bars but I was cheap and didn't want to buy them.  My mom offered to try her hand at making homemade ones.  She did a great job, I wrapped in wax paper and dumped into a grain bag that attached to my saddle, along with apples for Minx.  I think I had a grand total of 2 of those bars.  The rest melted and smashed into my grain bag.  My the time I got to the lunch check (35 miles) I hadn't eaten anything substantial since breakfast.  Unfortunately I hadn't packed anything EASY to eat at lunch and nothing really salty.  I ended up eating a piece of sourdough bread with horse electrolytes dumped on top of it for lunch.  Ugggg.  
  • Damage control:  Pretend you are in sixth grade and swap lunches with someone.  Or just mooch off of them.  Play the sympathy card (it's my first ride!) and someone might take pity.
  • My advice:  Pack only that food that requires zero effort to prepare AND eat (for me this means minimal chewing). 
Being too helpful will get you DQ'ed
I was close to missing many of my time cut offs during my first ride because of my commitment to help others along the trail.  I was told many time before the ride that it is polite to stop if someone you are riding with needs to stop.  Coupled with my own tack issues which slowed me down substantially, I also stopped several time to help other people.  As a result I had to BOOGIE through some rough stuff and was constantly worried about time. 
  • My advice:  During your first couple of rides you will have your hands full just dealing with your ride.  Ride on unless you see the person is having real trouble or is hurt, then it's appropriate to stop and ask if you can help.  Otherwise, make sure you keep you and your horse safe for those first couple of rides. 
Your horse will get demotivated and you will want to die
I distinctly remember this.  At mile 40 Minx was DONE.  I was DONE.  It was over 80 degrees, it was HOT, we had gotten lost, ran around like idiots and were faced with a GIANT hill.  Everyone had left and we were on our own.  I was puking by the side of the trail and Minx was bleeding from her nose.  I decided we weren't going to finish and we sat down in the shade to cool off.  After 5 minutes or so we would stagger up the hill to the next shade patch.  I poured the rest of my water over her to help her cool down.  It probably took us 2 hours to get up the hill.  By that time Minx looked markedly better.  At the water stop, the friendly volunteer looked my horse over and said she actually looked OK.  I was in no position to make judgements to I mounted up and decided to walk to the last vet check (mile 48).  I knew I was overtime and decided to try and enjoy myself since evidently Minx and I were NOT going to drop dead. 
People upon finding out it is your first ride will fall into 3 categories
 I'll start with the most annoying person first.
First Category: The drag rider found us about mile 45.  He ordered me off my horse because "she was tired and should think about helping HER out now...".  We went through several ditches of water that came up to my chest.  My boots had (I didn't know it prior to waltzing through the water) glue on soles and after the first crossing my boots fell apart and I walked on the flapping soles.  I finally staggered into the 48 mile vet check and got a bottle of water - my first in 4 hours. 
The drag rider I put into the category of riders, that upon hearing it's your first ride will assume you are in need of advice will force it upon you whether you like it or not.  In this case, I had walked most of the afternoon when Minx was having trouble, I hadn't had water in several hours, I hadn't had food since the lunch check.  I was riding because Minx at that point felt better than I did.  But that didn't matter at all.  He decided since it was my first ride I didn't know better than to ride my tired horse and ordered me off. 
Side note:  BTW I met this rider about a year later and upon recognizing me STILL attempted to lecture me and give me endurance advice even when I politely tried to dissuade him and let hm know I wasn't really interested in being lectured....a year after that I was at Tevis and going to ride the next day.  His advice magically dried up upon hearing I felt ready to tackle a 100. 
I find that this type of person is more interested in overwhelming the beginning with advice and stories of what they have personally accomplished than giving any sort of useful mentoring. 
Second category:  These are people that upon hearing that you are a complete newbie, wish you luck and then try to ignore you the rest of the ride.  I don't' say I blame them.  They have seen it a million times - someone starts this sport with high hopes and dreams, finds out how hard it is and quits.  They don't want to get emotionally invested in someone that isn't going to stick around.  And the newbie can say all they want about how much they love the sport, but the proof is in the first ride.  I don't mind this sort of rider - they are genuine in their wish for everything to go well and are going to wait to give advice until asked and until it will really matter. 
Third category:  These are those wonderful people that if you are lucky enough, you get to meet at your first ride.  They take you under their wing, introduce you to their friends, invite you over for food, and follow up with you afterwards of how your ride went.  They didn't give a lot of advice that first ride - just those essential tidbits.  I was fortunate enough to have THREE of these people at my first ride.  The Smarts, Beth F., and Kathy S.  They would go out of their way to say hi when they saw me at subsequent rides and helped me start to feel part of the endurance world.  Later on, they were sources of valuable advice as I continued on in endurance. 
You will follow good advice that is NOT appropriate for the ride
As a newbie you will have read all the books and asked a million questions.  You will have a TON of good advice to chose from on the day of your ride.  Here's the thing to remember -
Good advice in the wrong situation is Bad Advice
Here's a example of good advice I followed during my first ride that did NOT turn out well
  • Start 10 minutes behind the group in order to have a relaxed start.  This ride had very tight cut off times AND the LD riders started a mere 30 minutes after the 50's.  All I did was put myself 10 minutes behind trying to make cut offs and the LD top riders caught me sooner.
Expect the unexpected
Minx pulled a shoe right before the lunch check.  Fortunately I had cash for the farrier that was there.  She never pulled another shoe, even using the same farrier, the same style shoes, and the same shoeing/trimming style for the rest of her endurance career.  Just one of those freak things.  Expect the unexpected and bring double everything, including cash for unknowns.
The ride will be nothing like your conditioning rides
Accept the fact now and you will be better off for it - endurance rides are *not* like "longer faster" conditioning rides - especially if both you and the horse are newbies.  
You will go faster over rougher terrain than you ever imagined
It's very very difficult to stand by the principle of "ride your own ride" at your first ride and In most cases you will be going faster and further than you were in conditioning rides.  At my first ride I looked around and thought "everyone else is doing this so it must be OK", but it really wasn't.  
Not everything is magical rainbows and fluffy marshmallow clouds
Try to go into the ride with no expectations - Expect to have to do everything on your own, expect to provide your own food and water, expect to eat dinner alone and bring a way to amuse yourself. 
Then, be pleasantly surprised with everyone turns out even more helpful than you thought, you can't believe that ride management is actually providing lunch, AND a million gazillion people stopped to help you on the trail!  
In my experience, the newbies that get hit the hardest with the "but it's completely different from what I thought!" are usually the people with the highest expectations of the sport - that it will be magical, that people will go out of their way to help, and upon hearing that it's their first ride will bend over backwards for them - which in many cases might happen, BUT as we are all trying to ride our own rides too....and just like every other sport there are those rotten eggs... it's best to go in with the most open mind and optimistic attitude possible.  Also keep in mind that endurance tends to attract A-type personalities, strong opinions and OCD people.  Chances are you are one too!  And you know what happens when you get a bunch of A-type, opinionated people in a room....
Dealing with shattered illusions
You may have felt during conditioning rides, that you owned the most wonderful horse who was perfectly suitable for endurance. 
Especially if you were not successful during your first ride, it can be difficult to reconcile this with how horrible wrong your first ride went.
I really struggled with this.  I failed so miserably during my first season.  Minx was going to be off for 6 months while she recovered from injuries related to me overriding her.  I have tears staining my journal pages from this period.  I was very depressed and took my failure very hard.  I had followed all sorts of wonderful advice and it hadn't worked.  I couldn't figure out what the disconnect was between what I trained for and how my rides were turning out.  To be successful it took:
  • being absolutely committed to riding my own ride NO MATTER WHAT for every future race.
  • recognizing that good advice in the wrong situation is bad advice
  • riding and conditioning a non-arab if different riding and conditioning an arab. 
  • Taking responsibility for my ride and my horse's injuries.  As part of this, I went back and apologized to those people I felt like I had been a bit short with during that first ride.  It didn't matter that they didn't exactly treat me with courtesy either (we were all hot and tired), or that in most cases they didn't remember the incident - it allowed me to put that first season behind me and start fresh. 
  • Deciding that even though I wasn't having "fun" *right now*, I knew deep down I loved endurance and I was going to stick with it until it was everything that I dreamed it would be. 
I love endurance from the bottom of my heart and as a result I tend to be the type of person that gets very excited when I find out it's someone's first ride.  It's such a journey from your first ride, so your first 1000 mile mark (and I'm still on that journey) and unbelievably fulfilling.  Even though I knew I wanted to do endurance, my first season was NOT fun, was NOT fulfilling, and was NOT pleasant.  You may find the same - stick with it!  Give it another chance!  Reevaluate and try and again.  Chances are the reasons that endurance appealed to you in the first place have not gone away....and some day you will look back at your fumbling mistakes and laugh - and then share redicule yourselfin public so that others can learn from your mistakes.
Of course - you might be one of those lucky ones that was able to do everything right from the start.  Kudos to you!  Unfortunately that wasn't me....


  1. oh my god, this was hilarious Mel! I got to wondering where I fit into all this. My first ride "attempt" was a Competitive Trail Ride because that was the only access I had locally. No endurance rides. My husband trained with me and attended with me for moral support. We rode alot faster than I wanted to because JB was a total nut about horses passing him and being behind my husbands horse.I rider optioned at lunch because he was "a little" off. I didnt want to take a chance. My husband almost won, had I known the CTR rules and not let him keep overreach boots on his horse. I spent the afternoon waiting for him, licking my wounds. Everyone was really nice but since he isn't an arab there was almost an attitude in the air, like.. "see , you need an arab to successfully do this sport". The next ride was 2 months later, yet another CTR . I was ready this time (cough) JB was sound, his lameness at the previuos one never turned into anything. 12 mile sinto it, he stone bruised, tripped so badly he almost sent us reeling off of the face of a cliff had I not bailed off in a less than graceful way. He was lame and sore and a vehicle couldn't get to me where we were. I had walked him back the 12 miles. It took us 2 and half hours because I had to stop and let him rest several times. Luckily much of the trail was soft grassy or sandy ground. No water for either of us for quite some time. I had blisters on every part of my foot imaginable by the time I got back.Everyone seemed really concerned but it was the same crowd from the last ride. I knew what they were thinking...
    My third attempt was also at a CTR..last September. (CTR's really aren't my preferred sport but I had to take what I could get!) We had a successful completion , barely.... that's a whole other story you can read about on my blog! I am definitely a newbie and haven't officially completed ANY endurance rides...

  2. I absolutely fell into the trap: Being too helpful will get you DQ'ed

    My first ride I went out with a partner whose horse was not an arabian and was not as conditioned as Pete. She kept calling me back, telling me I was overriding my horse, asking for help at the vet checks, delaying.. delaying...

    Finally my crew (husband) stepped in a had a few words with me and pushed me on my way.

    It was hard to leave her and she made some rough comments as I passed her. Did I mention that she was not a newbie.

  3. I am totally laughing. Not the oh, gosh, what you said was so fabulously funny laugh, but rather the, oh, d*mn, I have totally been there and done that laugh. Sigh.

    I am purposely returning to endurance with a NON-ARAB. It isn't more difficult to campaign a Standardbred. It's just different. I've done both, I learned a lot, I'm ready to go back on the trail with my standie. It's been two years since I've been in competition (although I've continued to hang out in camp, build trails, pulse horses, and serve as junior advisor for my region), and I'm just quivering with excitement!

    I have to say "ditto,ditto,ditto" about expecting the unexpected. You will be amazed at the stuff that comes unravelled either physically or mentally.

    Minor irritations become major irritations? Oh yeah. Not just tack. People too. Trust me. OTOH, if you can ride with somebody for 50+ miles and still want to talk to them after the ride...well, Jim and I are still together after 10 years of that.

    Demotivated? Pack a food treat into every vetcheck bag. I swear that the thought of half-frozen lemonade a mere 15 miles ahead has saved my life. Lytha gave me and my junior some blue corn tortilla chips at the finish line once...we still talk fondly about those chips.

    Marshmallow clouds: Ha! Some of my best moments on this planet thus far have happened on the endurance trail. Also, some of the worst. Sometimes on the same day.

    My endurance goal these days is to have fun . If I get too wrapped up in worry, or the desire for milage landmarks, or whatever, I try to remember the goal. If it's not fun, I don't do it. (at least in theory).

    Life is too short to live it any other way.

    Wish me luck, chums, we leave for camp in the morning!!!

  4. You know the ONE thing this post was missing was all the POSITIVE stuff that you learn/realize on your first ride(s):

    1) How incredibly awesome your horse is. Wow! They went xxx miles in xxx hours! That's so cool! I guarantee you will be in awe of your horse that first completion.

    2) How tough you are as a person. Wow! You actually rode your horse xxx miles in xxx hours! How incredible! Not many people can do that! And it WASN'T EASY but you stuck with it and STILL did it (I can nearly guarantee that your first time at any distance won't be entirely easy).

    3) What a great partnership you have with your horse. Wow! You guys went xxx miles together in xxx hours and you can still stand to look at each other the next day. No one totally hates the other. Heck, you both probably even had FUN (at least mostly, at some point). ;)

  5. Okay, other things no body bothered to tell you:

    Your's horses main goal the night before the ride is to keep you awake. They will eat all the food you put out, consume 3x the normal amount, and still make demands for more. They may be polite and only walk around incessently, or may try to get your attention in a more demanding manner. This may include banging on the trailer fender step into the tack room so hard it falls off (this was MY horse, not Funder's for those following that story line)...

    They will discover creative ways to contort their body in order to scratch themselves in previously undiscovered methods. This may include removing all the running lights on your trailer with their rear ends... Or possibly straddling a small pine tree while you're still mounted and gyrating back and forth while making grunting noises of pleasure (umm, that's the HORSE doing that!)... Or stopping in the middle of trotting to scratch an ear with a hind foot, nevermind the rider on board...

    Stuff that doesn't normally bother you, may cause an issue at a ride (or longer distance). Did you know that Gatorade only makes me throw up after I've gone at least 35 miles? No? Me neither until my 3rd 50, I finally figured it out. I've also supplied a pocket knife for one lady to cut off her underwear while still mounted on her horse. You never know what might rub or not feel right until you go farther than you have before.

    You're carefully and best laid plans aren't going to matter. Stuff is going to happen, things are going to change. Be able to adapt.

    BIG second about the tack. I had a squeaky stirrup once and I was ready to KILL someone from having to listen to that thing for 8 hours.

  6. I think ride one I got hit with most of these concepts.

    Ride your own ride: I did not. Even though I wanted to start in the back, I allowed myself to be talked into starting in the middle. More experienced riders told me to absolutely not start in the back because if I did...and anything went wrong....there would be nobody to help. So I took that on faith and started in the middle of the pack, which galloped the first three miles, and sucked me along in their midst. (See the next paragraph)The hardest lesson I'll have ever learned is RIDE YOUR OWN RIDE.

    The horse you conditioned is not the horse you will have at a ride: No crap, Sherlock...I was riding the black stallion before he was tamed on the beach, and at some point the black stallion racing across the desert. No control, no rating, gone to hell in a hand basket. Horse emotionally "OUT THERE", and physically teetering on the brink of total disaster. I loved my riding buddies, but not as much as I love my horse and want my horse to be healthy.

    I got really lucky in one respect though. Some of the best riders in our region stopped by our trailer and told me how some really bad things had happened to them...what had probably gone wrong...and that sometimes, stuff just happens. Not to give up, but to learn, and work at getting it done. I took all that to heart. I plan not to repeat the mistakes of that first ride. That is not to say it couldn't happen again, but if it does, I'll KNOW it wasn't my horse management, but rather that Phebes just is not made for this sport, PERIOD.

    Some of the other stuff...well--- I'm still working on it. But I LOVE LOVE LOVE distance riding. ~E.G.

  7. Thanks for the great post! I will keep all this in mind when I attempt my first LD at Buck Meadows in TWO weeks... I'm nervous already!
    Everything is all set, horse is super fit, tack works well, clothing has been triple-tested, and I'm expecting things to go wrong ;)
    But I'm nervous! Oh, I already said that...

  8. It's really great to hear that most of you have had similar experience to mine. I feel like people don't talk about how hard it was when they were newbies and they act like finishing an LD or a 50 is no big deal?????? Ugggg I can remember when it was IMPOSSIBLE. I think it's encouraging for others to find out that we've all failed miserably and it DOES get better :)

    I must say that ~C's story about her first Tevis and how she pushed and REALLY wnated it, but it didn't happen, and she (and her horse) lived to try the next year, was probably the most helpful story I read last year while preparing for Tevis. I could totally relate.

  9. Jonna - I'm pretty sure the folks in my area were saying the same thing - here comes that girl with that big black thing...again. LOL. Everyone always seemed so suprised to see me at rides. "Hasn't she given up yet?"

  10. BTW - ~C is RIGHT ON in her comment. LOL.

  11. Post plus comments are all awesome!

    You know, it never occurred to me to help strangers (not that we passed many people, but still!) I kinda figured that was the flip side of "ride your own ride." Everybody was polite about the water - asking before riding away - and that was all the help I hoped for. :)

    WV: monspony - Jamaican endurance mount.


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