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Friday, September 3, 2010

Part 2 - Just what skills does endurance require anyways?

Did I really write part 1 of this series back on August 17th? Wow! Time flies when you are having fun or.....not.... But I digress.....We are talking about those skilled athletes we call "our" endurance horses.

In part 1 I mentioned that endurance horses have skill and broadly hinted that those skills do not involve running itself to death or going down the trail with it's little nose in the air.

What skills are required? What skills does a horse need to have "naturally" to make a suitable prospect, and what other skills need to be "trained" into the horse once it does start moving down the trail?

Obviously no horse will have all these traits. Some are more important than others, depending on what whether you are seeking top 10's, turtle, or BC awards. Exceptional endurance horses certainly break these "rules" all the time, so we are speaking in generalities here......

I have never bought a "ready made" endurance horse. Some of the biggest rewards for me in endurance are in bringing an experienced horse along to it's first ride, it's first 50, and it's first 100. I'm speaking as a "middle of the pack" rider, who if I top 10 is totally by accident! When I look at a prospect, I'm looking for innate abilities that I think will translate into a safe, sane, sound, happy, 100 mile endurance horse.

Innate Ability/Traits

  • Calm in every day situations and when presented new situations within an every day routine.
  • Approaches new situation with curiosity or indifference rather than fear.
  • Heartrate - some people put a great deal of emphasis on this, but I must admit I don't particularly care. But I mention it hear for the sake of mentioning it.
  • GREAT feet and legs
  • Back Confo that isn't IMPOSSIBLE to fit with an affordable saddle
  • A desire to have a job
  • As personal preference I also look for a horse that isn't herd bound, and not excessively dominant or submissive.

Just like any prospect in any discipline, innate ability will only get you so far....endurance horses require a set of skills. Those sets of skills may very slightly from team to team. Sometimes I don't think we realize just how important the set of skills IS until you ride a green horse WITHOUT those skills. I remember riding the 4 days at Death Valley on Farley in her first season and finally saying - "look - I'm going to stop telling you where the rocks are - that's YOUR job".

Trained Behavior, learned skills

  • How to follow trail - the rider may be focused on a ribbon several curves down a single track, or taking off a jacket, or be turned around messing with saddle bags - the horse needs to focus on following the trail no matter what's going on around them.
  • How to pick the best footing - I will point the horse in the general direction, but they need to learn it's generally up to them to pick the best footing down that trail.
  • Adjust gaits as necessary for the trail. If we are moving at a trot in the dark, and there's a section that needs to be walked, that's Farley's job to pick an appropriate gait.
  • How to go cross country NOT on a trail if necessary
  • Immediately relax (bring heart rate down) and stand still upon entering a vet check for P & R's.
  • Eat and drink when offered. Farley knows that even if she's not thirsty, she has to acknowledge the water is there by dipping her nose in it.
  • Unfazed by the "stress" of a ride - riderless horses blasting by, bucking/rearing horses at the beginning of rides - but continues to focus on the trail and rider.
  • Able to go down the trail at a steady pace and gait on a loose rein *most* of the time without pulling or fighting rider, with the minimum of training aids.
  • Not unduly concerned with "space". Riders should *not* be riding up the tail of the horse in front, but it does happen. Horse should be able to deal with it on a intermittent basis.
  • Stand still when asked
  • Move through a variety of trail without undue stress - mud, hills, rocks, snow, single track.
  • Cross water. And logs. And banks. And eroded hills. And shimmy down insanely steep, soft single track.
  • Forgive less than perfect riding on the behalf of the rider, as the rider gets more tired and more tired and more tired.......
  • Ride out of the darkness into blinding, blazing lights
  • Know how to pivot turn on single track is necessary in an emergency.
  • Be a good "camper" in ride camp and trustworthy enough for the rider to leave for ride meetings etc.
  • Graciously accepts whatever pokes and prods tickle the fancy of the ride vet.
  • Not have vices that endanger the volunteers other other rides/horses around. Malicious, targeted kicking, biting, lack of respect for personal space, uncontrollable bucking/rearing that is severe enough to hurt others around you.
  • Other skills that I've heard about being trained into endurance horses is - peeing on command, laying down so the rider can mount.

What do you think? Did I miss something? Am I way off base? Please let me know in the comments!


  1. What a great list! This is all the stuff I look for a in a trail horse (I don't ride endurance- 8 hours at a walk and I'm DONE). I hadn't even thought of "forgiving", but that is HUGELY important.

  2. Some people avoid horses with white socks or too many white markings. Some think that white legs are more prone to scratches. I generally agree with that.

  3. Very good list! I like it. I know this isn't a "character trait", but no where on there do I see you saying anything about the horses' height. It's a little pet peve of mine, that most people think they need a TALL horse. They think taller is faster, stronger, etc. But that is just not always the case.

    Just my little notice... I say (like color), any GOOD horse, isn't a bad height.


  4. I agree with Michelle that taller does NOT equal better, especially in terms of 100-mile horses. I have tested extensively, and the results are clear: I do not get taller, smarter, or more well-coordinated after the 75-mile point, and clamboring aboard a skyscraper-horse is just not easy towards the end of a ride!

    Tallness isn't a deal-breaker for me (obviously, since my mare is 15.3hh and I am only 15.2!), but it probably should be.

    Here's something to add to your list, perhaps: I prefer a horse who will choose the company of people over the company of horses . I think it makes heading out on those last loops without a buddy much easier on the horse and rider if the horse isn't pining for equine company.

  5. Both Chief and Bo have been stung by wasps/bees this week, with no major outbursts. Chief fell down a steep mountain when the boulders gave way beneath our feet resulting in a major landfall. No problem, tho he did get two legs cut up. He also fell in a bog pulling his head in when the knees went over his reins and he sunk to his tail. No panic there either.

    I'm glad to be alive, with two horses still able to go down the trail! Three days down two to go!

    Oh yeah, no scratches either! Yippeee :)


  6. I'm feeling incrementally better. Phebes scored at least 85%, just a few areas to get better on and I think time, training, and experience will eventually take her there. Since she's only attempted four rides that isn't a bad score I'm thinking. :)

  7. A short horse is practically a requirement for me!!!!!! NOTHING over about 14.2 please!


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