Well, it’s been a hectic a few weeks. After a slow start to training this year, we have hit full throttle! Off to Spruce Woods, Manitoba for a two-day 50 miles/day for conditioning in preparation for the 100 mile qualifier we needed to do to represent Canada. An extremely tight time frame for that many miles and that much travel on the trailer but there were only a few options available.
We headed to Manitoba (two-day trip) three days before the first 50 mile, which would give Sam a days rest after two days on the trailer and before racing. This, to me, is the ideal scenario if you can take the time. It gives your horse a chance to recover from travel, a light warm up ride on the day of rest and time to settle in. I also stop approximately every three hours on the road to unload for about half an hour and let him stretch his legs, bite to eat, etc.
Our overnight place was great. Located just east of Regina about a mile off the highway (Birchwood Stables), Sam had a corral with shelter and they have a huge indoor arena for him to run and roll in. We arrived at ride camp in the afternoon and set up camp. The next day, we went for our light warm up ride, registered and vetted in for Saturday’s 50 mile ride.
There were nine entries in the 50 mile distance on Saturday, which turned out to be cold, snow, hail and gale force winds. The trails were in pretty good shape with gently rolling dunes and some sandy areas going up to knee deep. Steady speed with care in the sand needed to be taken to be able to complete two days on this easy looking course. We completed day one in third place and received best condition. Now for day two!
The second day was bitterly cold in the morning. The water had frozen in the water buckets overnight. Only four riders were doing the 50 mile that day. Sam was tired, but we finished in second and received best condition again! The only horse to do two days and winning best condition on both! Naturally being a lucky person, we again won the draw and Sam was blood tested. This seems to happen to us several times a year.
Headed back home the next morning to work frantically, clean and re-pack the trailer to head up to Fort St John, BC for our 100 mile qualifier for the World Equestrian Games. We would have to finish in under 11 hours and 18 minutes to do this. It was another two-day trip, with an overnight stay in Whitecourt. Again, we arrived a day early to enable Sam (and me) to rest from the trip and do a light eight mile ride. He loved the trail and really stretched out although he didn’t want to get his feet muddy in the boggy areas. Luckily, once they are muddy, he doesn’t care.
Once we got back to camp, I registered and we vetted in for the next day. Tina was coming up to crew for us and arrived so we can get all of the crewing feed, equipment ready. The first vet check at 25 miles was an out check, so we load up the truck. All of the other checks would be in camp. The plan was to head out in the morning at 12-13 miles/hour and then see how the day and trail progressed.
I was up at 3:00 a.m. to feed Sam and have a coffee. The race started at 5:00 a.m. and I move slowly in the morning, so I find I need the two hours to be able to be in the saddle on time. It looked like the weather would be perfect, and it turnedout that way with only one of the six loops ending up being hot and one of them with a bit of rain.
We all took off at a fast canter and came into the first vet check at 25 miles in two hours. The ride went mainly according to plan and we finished in 10 hours 40 minutes. We qualified to ride for Canada! And Sam won best condition again! What an amazing horse he is. So many ride miles and trailer miles….my tough little iron horse again shows what he is made of.
Now as a side note: If you think endurance riding is not tough on the rider also, think again! The fitter you are, the more you will help your horse when you ride. Staying balanced in the saddle, helping on corners, all of it is important. One rider rode the day before the 100 and did a 75 mile. She was bucked off in the morning, couldn’t walk but completed the 75 and then started the 100 the next day. Unfortunately, the horse was pulled at mile 83.
My old saddle has something wrong with it, so I broke the golden rule of never using anything new on the day of a ride and rode in a new saddle. By the time I hit the mile 68 vet check, I was in agony and changed to the old saddle to enable us to complete the ride (stirrup leathers aren’t broken in so every step felt like someone was throwing a spear straight up my leg by then).
There are so many things to learn when you start competing in endurance riding. You learn about your horse, yourself and the limits that you can push both without endangering yourselves. The learning curve is constant and there are always new things to try when something isn’t working. The best thing about endurance is riders will always give advice, you just have to find what works for you and your horse.