One week from today, I will (knock wood) be riding at Old Selam, which is Idaho's longest-running endurance ride and one of my favorites.
Old Selam has been a ride of many "firsts" for me:
This year, I hope to add two more:
But you know how it is. With firsts come worries.
Well, okay, ALL endurance rides come with worries! But firsts are the worst.
Instead of downing a handful of Xanax, I'm trying to identify the individual sources of my generalized anxiety. That way, I can strategize to mitigate them as much as possible, and maybe even get some sleep the night before.
So, here we go:
Worry #1: Starfish's Nervousness
Here's my plan:
Why the SmartDigest Ultra?
Well, I've found that when horses' tummies gets grouchy, they often respond rapidly to a dose of Equerry's Electro-Probiotic Paste. Within 15 minutes, their appetite returns and they resume life as usual. I've had this work in several horse, and I always keep a few tubes on hand. Naturally, I considered including it as a preventative in Starfish's race-day protocol. It doubles as an electrolyte source, too! BUT WAIT...the paste contains sodium bicarbonate.
Maybe the Equerry's paste doesn't contain enough bicarbonate to matter, but I'd rather err of the safe side. So, I went looking for a product that offers similar probiotic and other stomach-soothing ingredients without the sodium bicarbonate (or any substances that would violate AERC's drug policy). I landed on SmartDigest Ultra Paste. The ingredient list compares favorably to the Equerry's paste in terms of probiotics, and it has even more soothing ingredients like pectin, kaolin, and l-glutamine.
Overkill? Maybe! But I'd rather be sure she's comfortable all day long.
Anyway, back to my worry list.
Worry #2: Ledger's Boots
The problem with "almost" is that it usually isn't quite good enough for a long trail ride. The 1s stay on and, after some hoof touch-ups with my rasp, they aren't twisting anymore. However, they do have just a bit of a gap at the quarters that makes me wonder if we'll have trouble with them coming off once we throw in a few creek crossings and steep embankments. I'll keep working on the trim and bring along some athletic tape, just in case we need to wrap his hooves for a better fit.
We're also trying to figure out interference protection. He doesn't interfere badly, but he did knock himself in the front once before his shoes were pulled. For now, I'm putting fetlock boots (the kind designed for hinds) on all four, which looks a little odd but offers the protection on want in front.
In the rear, I'm watching carefully to see whether his near-side boot rubs on an old wire scar that bumps up on the front of his fetlock. If it does...well, I'm going to have to get creative.
Worry #3: Behavioral Unknowns
Will they settle in camp? Will he eat while she's out on the trail? Will she get anxious at the start? Will he be racy? Will she cross mud? Will he cross water?
My mind could spin in these circles forever. Or, I could put as many tools in our toolkits as possible and know that even if we have some trouble, we'll be prepared to deal with it. I've been focusing a lot more on groundwork than usual -- running the horses through Clinton Anderson's Method properly, in order and without skipping anything.
My original reason for doing so was to lay a foundation on the ground for dealing with specific issues under saddle with Starfish. I wanted to have all the "buttons" installed to help me redirect her when faced with her nemesis: boggy ground.
I'm definitely not above dismounting to deal with a sticky situation. I call it joining the I Choose Life Club. Ha ha.
Some people worry about getting off because the feel it rewards the horse for bad behavior. Stacy Westfall addressed this in one of her podcast episodes. Her solution? "Get off more." The idea is that if you dismount frequently, regardless of the horse's behavior at the time, the horse won't associate the dismount with his behavior. Clinton Anderson's take is that as long as you deal with the behavior, it doesn't really matter to the horse whether you're mounted or on the ground.
All things considered, I think we're ready. Mostly ready? Ready! We've practiced vetting and trot-outs, climbed hills, watered at canal banks, dialed in diets, tested tack, and packed the trailer. Now, it's time to do our best and see what happens.
As I reach the end of my last bucket of Buckeye Perform N Win, I find myself on the hunt for a new electrolyte product to use during conditioning. (I normally use something with higher concentrations during 50-mile or longer events, when replenishment is more urgent.)
Perform N Win was popular among endurance riders for its sweet taste and gentleness on equine tummies. I wrote to Buckeye to ask about the discontinuation and rumors of an upcoming re-formulation. They responded quickly and kindly with the following:
I also asked on social media what other AERC riders who used to use Perform N Win are using, and thought I'd share the jist of the responses here, since that post will soon be buried.
This is hardly a scientific survey, but the most popular electrolytes among respondents to my post were Mad Barn's Performance XL and Kentucky Performance Products' Endura-Max. Some riders were also using Kentucky Performance Products' Summer Games, the product suggested by the former maker of Perform N Win.
I pulled the comparison information below directly from the product labels. The companies format their analyses a bit differently. (Note things like sodium and chloride breakdown vs just salt, and chlorine vs chloride.) Being neither a nutritionist nor a chemist myself, I won't attempt to elaborate or interpret. Instead, I included complete ingredient lists for a fuller picture. If you're knowledgable on the subject, please do add your thoughts in the comments!
A couple of the analyses include additional nutrition information. For example, Summer Games offers copper, iron, manganese, and zinc; Performance XL offers vitamin E and ascorbic acid.
Most riders who commented on Mad Barn's Performance XL noted that their horses love it. A couple said they (the riders, that is) didn't care for the smell of the product. One noted that while it doesn't include a buffer, it is not caustic. This makes sense, given the relatively low sodium concentration.
The KER article notes that well-respected endurance vet and rider Dr. Garlinghouse combines equal parts electrolyte and kaolin pectate in a blender to make a smooth, tummy-friendly concoction that can be syringed into the horse during competition.
In the interest of thoroughness, other favorite electrolytes cited by riders on social media included: Apple-a-Day, Perfect Balance, and DAC. One rider also mentioned Endura-Max Plus, which is a paste version of the same KPP product. It includes a buffer but, at about $10 per single-serving tube, is considerably more expensive than the powder.
I'm thinking of trying the Mad Barn product for use during conditioning, as its lower concentrations should be easier on the horses' stomachs.
For competition, I like the idea of buffering Endura-Max with kaolin pectate (which can be purchased by the gallon for $10-20, depending on the vendor). My horses typically eat their electrolytes in a mash, so I'll have to test whether they'll mind a bit of kaolin pectate in the mix. Stay tuned.
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2021 AERC Convention Notes: Nick Warhol on What Makes a Great Endurance Horse, and How Do You Get One?
You know Nick Warhol, right? Over 13,000 miles in 13 years of endurance, 30-plus 100-milers, ride manager, former AERC board member, and storyteller. Yeah, you know the guy. His talk at the 2021 AERC Convention was worth the price of admission. (You can still access all the Convention sessions through the end of March!)
Warhol began with a disclaimer: All opinions are his and could be argued by others.
I reckon that’s true of anyone trying to sort out what makes a great endurance horse. We all agree on good feet, correct conformation, and all that…but Warhol’s focus went more than bone deep: His #1 most important trait for an endurance horse: its mind.
Warhol listed a variety of mental attributes of a good endurance horse, noting that some are trainable, and others are not. Here’s his list:
This is about the point where Warhol began spinning stories. Those were the best part, but you simply have to hear them in his voice. I’ll just capture his practical points here.
Spooking (the phantom type, not the occasional honest spook) is problematic and even dangerous. Warhol said that, in his experience, spooky behavior is best addressed through relationship rather than training.
Okay, I can’t resist. I’ll pass along one story:
Warhol had a gorgeous, talented mare. She was fabulous, but he clung on as he rode her, afraid of hitting the dirt (again) on one of her dramatic spooks.
A friend finally advised, “Don’t ride her like she’s gonna spook. Ride her like she’s not!”
He added that no matter what horse you buy, it’s possible her personality and mindset will change when you start doing endurance. Your unicorn could turn into a dragon at the starting line. It is, quite literally, the nature of the beast.
When asked how to prevent race brain, Warhol answered like a card-carrying member of what I call the I Choose Life Club: “Go ahead and get off until they calm down. When the frenzy stops, get back on.” Cheers, Mr. Warhol.
Of all the talks during Convention, this one resonated with me the most. I’m currently searching for my next "perfect" endurance horse. No, I’m not shopping. I’m assessing a couple mares that are already in my pasture.
Neither is perfect, but they both have so many strong points. Some of their weaknesses can be trained away. Some of their strengths may evaporate under the pressure of an event. Only time will tell.
I’m working with the pair of them. Listening, watching, asking questions. Where do they shine? What imperfections can I live with? Are the good things about each horse good enough to make up for the bad ones?
Here's the thing: Those mares are watching me, too. They're reacting to my strengths and weaknesses. The difference is that they don’t have a choice. They’re stuck with me. So I’d damn well better give them my very best.
You might also like:
Dr. Stephanie Seheult on How Your Body Works with your Horse
Dr. Langdon Fielding on Electrolyte Problems in Endurance Horses
Dr. Melissa Ribley on Riding in Different Conditions
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I always enjoy presentations by Melissa Ribley, DVM. Her talk at the AERC Unconventional Convention on March 6, 2021, was especially effective in sharing her passion for traveling to endurance rides all across the country. My notes capture the highlights, but there's no substitute for the full video, now available from AERC through the end of the month.
Dr. Ribley is an extremely experienced endurance vet and rider. Not only does her AERC record span well over 20,000 miles, it also reflects her love of traveling with her horses. Competing in different regions means implementing good hauling practices and being prepared for all types of climate and terrain. Dr. Ribley shared tips on all counts.
Five Reasons to Ride Out-of-Region
Dr. Ribley started by sharing some enticing reasons to explore endurance rides in other regions:
I've only made it to one out-of-region ride in the past, and it really was fun for all the reasons above. Dr. Ribley got me thinking about doing more, but I'm not sure how I can pull it off on a practical level. My vacation time doesn't go as far as I want to! Maybe in retirement. Stay tuned.
Tips for Traveling with Your Horse
Dr. Ribley provided excellent advice that can reduce stress for both horses and humans on cross-country treks with the trailer:
Tips for Riding in Diverse Terrain
Once you get to your destination and give your horse some rest, it’s time to ride! Dr. Ribley offered thoughts to bear in mind when riding in different types of terrain:
Tips for Riding in Diverse Climate Conditions
As both a vet and a rider, Dr. Ribley is well acquainted with the impact of climate on horses’ ability to perform. She shared some excellent advice for keeping our equine partners safe in all conditions:
Dr. Ribley took some extra time to focus on hyperthermia. Horses whose temperatures exceed 103 degrees Fahrenheit are in danger!
Do you ride out of region or in diverse conditions? Are there tips you'd add to Dr. Ribley's list? Share them in the comments.
You might also like:
Dr. Stephanie Seheult on How Your Body Works with your Horse
Dr. Langdon Fielding on Electrolyte Problems in Endurance Horses
More conference notes are on the way! You can subscribe to receive email notifications when new posts are published. Just fill out the mini-form in the right-hand sidebar.
Was anybody else thrilled to see that both days of AERC’s 2021 Unconventional Convention start with a focus on rider fitness? It seems to me that interest in this topic has increased recently. Maybe it’s not my imagination!
Dr. Stephanie Seheult kicked things off with a session entitled “How Your Body Works with Your Horse." Dr. Seheult is a Doctor of Physical Therapy with a Bachelors in Health Science, as well as an active equestrian. Most of her clients at Advanced Physio are also riders.
Dr. Seheult described two, common causes of pelvic imbalance:
Dr. Seheult also emphasized the importance of the gluteus medius muscle for lateral stability in the saddle. She said one side is usually stronger than the other. On the weak side, your hip flexor must compensate for your inactive gluteus medius, forcing you to use your hamstring to lift your heel to get your leg on the horse. Whew!
My favorite part of the presentation was the self-evaluation exercises. Dr. Seheult encouraged us to try a few tests in real life as she talked:
Anyway... Dr. Sehult had one more test:
After the self-evaluation exercises, Dr. Seheult was joined by Jeanette Henry, owner of Positively Pilates. The two of them work together on Ride Advanced with Positively Pilates.
I won’t even attempt to recite the nuances of the gentle pilates session Ms. Henry talked us through. It focused on the neutral spine and a rider’s ability to keep the pelvis centered while rotating the legs outward. I found the pilates exercises easy and pleasant, and can definitely see the benefit of looking more into pilates as a way to further strengthen and balance my core.
Access to the videos is closed during the duration of the convention (March 6-7, 2021), but my understanding is that AERC will reopen registration next week. If you didn't get a chance to catch this session the first time around, I highly recommend taking the time to watch the video and try the exercises.
It always seems so much more productive to run, spin, lift, ride, or write. But I know that's short-sighted. Like strength work, mobility work is key to athletic longevity.
How about you? Did you watch Dr. Seheult's session? What did you get out of it?
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A couple months ago, I asked around on the interwebs about where to get covers to go over caged endurance stirrups -- you know, to keep my feet warm while riding in winter chill, rain, and wind.
You know what I heard back? Crickets.
I definitely needed a better solution. Enter my friend Simone.
Simone Mauhl is an endurance rider in the northwest region. Conveniently for my winter riding dilemma, she also makes tack - much of it custom, and much of it for packing. (We have a lot of hunters out here in Idaho.)
So, when Simone mentioned that she could make me a pair of stirrup covers designed for caged endurance stirrups, I was all over it! We put our heads together and she came up with this design:
Well! That's much prettier than my redneck version, don't you think?
Anyway, back to the stirrup covers. The photos above feature them on a 2008-ish era Easycare E-Z Ride stirrup that Simone borrowed from Mr. Sweaty's saddle for a model. However, she made sure to make the velcro loops adjustable for all sizes of endurance stirrups, with or without cages.
My own favorite stirrups are a battered pair that came with a used Bob Marshall. If I knew what brand they were, I would buy more, but alas, they are unmarked. They're a bit smaller than the E-Z Rides. I tried out the covers on them the first time we got a snowy day with decent footing.
The product is too new to be posted in an online store yet, so just look up Simone Mauhl on Facebook. If you aren't on Facebook, ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll hook you up.
Happy toasty riding!
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Is it just me, or do some people get harder to shop for with every passing year? Here are fifteen ideas to help you surprise your favorite endurance rider this Christmas:
Custom Gold Foil Map
These gorgeous maps can be customized to showcase any special location, especially if it has an intricate shoreline or trail system. I purchased one in copper on black. It's stunning in a black wood frame, and the seller was a pleasure to work with.
Charlie Mackesy Book or Print
If you haven't seen this guy's art, you must take a look! Mackesy's work embodies the kindness and gentle humor I associate with Winnie the Pooh, but with horses and without the cheesy illustrations. (Sorry, Pooh.)
High Quality Layers
It seems like distance riders are always asking each other, "What do you wear to stay warm and dry on stormy rides?" My suggestion is to look for gear brands instead of equestrian-specific brands, because the technology used for skiing, cycling, and other outdoor adventure sports is so much more advanced. Some of my favorites are Outdoor Research, Rab, Patagonia, Marmot, and Mammut. Every serious rider needs a good down "puffy" coat and a 3-layer, waterproof, breathable rain shell with taped seams.
Does your rider have a farm name? Ride with a team? Manage an event? Surprise them with the perfect logo -- no design skills needed. You can create your own with support from an app like Weebly Logo Maker or commission an artist on Fiverr. The logo itself is a great last-minute gift, as you can usually get one in three days or less. Pay a few extra bucks for the vector file, and you'll be all set to customize anything: window decals for the truck, completion awards, a metal sign for the driveway, whatever!
Riders can keep both their diamonds and their fingers safer by trading out gold rings for silicone ones during barn time. As a bonus, they're comfortable and stocking-stuffer cheap. Vendors like Qalo and Enso Rings have options that go beyond basic gray.
Feel free to pad your gift with a few emergency supplies, like energy gels, some bandaids, sunscreen, and pain meds to make the walk out more tolerable.
Satellite Communication Device
This is a great gift if you have a healthy budget. I like the Garmin inReach, which fits nicely in a front pocket of my running vest. Its interface is easy to use and can even be operated through a smartphone app, which gives the user a proper keyboard instead of just the integrated grid. Your rider will be able to drop "breadcrumbs" when exploring new territory and send unlimited free pre-typed texts/emails. They'll also have have two-way, real-time communication capability -- no internet or cell service required. And, of course, there's the SOS button if shit really goes down. Bear in mind that you'll need to pay a subscription service (about $15/month) to keep the device active.
Riders doing longer distances often go to bed well before dark. I like a good sleep mask to help block out the world. This one from Sleep Master is my favorite for comfort (very silky, highly adjustable, stays in place) and effectiveness (larger surface area blocks all light).
While you're at it, these Acoustic Sheep SleepPhones are a nice alternative to earplugs for muffling the clatter of ride camp. They're nice at home, too, for listening to music or a sleep meditation without bothering your partner.
Every rider's nightmare is to lose a horse in the wilderness. Equine ID collars can be worn in camp or while riding to help bring a missing horse home. These I.C.E. clips make good stocking stuffers. I'd like to have one on every saddle!
Merri Melde -- aka The Equestrian Vagabond -- makes adorable equine pins and magnets (and other things too) sure to bring any rider luck.
Custom Stuffed Horse
Speaking of adorable! These are pricy as plushies go, but this Etsy vendor will put your horse's markings on a stuffed toy for the cutest keepsake ever.
Most distance events have a race photographer. You can usually find out who took photos at any given ride by checking the event website or Facebook page. Frame a great shot or have it printed on glass, canvas, or metal. You could also make a collage honoring one special horse, or perhaps all the different horses your rider has competed with over the years.
How about paying for a clinic, ride entry, or private lesson with an expert in your area? A session with an equine massage therapist or chiropractor wouldn't go amiss. Also, it's AERC membership renewal season...
For a truly unique gift, look for a craftsman in your own backyard. A couple years ago, my dad worked with Forgiven Fabrication (they are on Etsy now!) to turn a photo of me and my first endurance horse into a steel silhouette.
Cowhide and Sheepskin
Nothing beats coming back to a cozy home after a winter ride. Cowhides and sheepskins are perfect for adding warmth and flair to just about any style of decor. Even better, they hold up beautifully to pet hair, blood, and barf. Trust me on this.
I've had good experiences with Cowhides International (get the Brazilian ones, they're higher quality) and Sheepskin Shop.
What are you hoping Santa brings this year? Add your ideas to the comments, and happy gifting!
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After I learned that endurance riding was a thing, it took four years for me to actually get started. I spent the time reading everything I could get my hands on. That was back before the internet had much to say about distance riding, which meant I was ordering actual, paper books. I lost them all in a house fire in 2018. These are the first five that I replaced:
1. Go the Distance: The Complete Resource for Endurance Horses by Nancy S. Loving, DVM
This book was my bible as I got started in the sport, and I still re-read it periodically. Written by a veterinarian and experienced endurance rider, it covers all the basics: horse selection, conditioning, nutrition, metabolic health, cooling strategies, hoof care, common mistakes to avoid, and more. Though originally published in 1997, it is extremely well written and the content holds up (even if the riders' clothing in some of the photos doesn't).
2. America's Long Distance Challenge II: New Century, New Trails, and More Miles by Karen Bumgarner
This is another comprehensive book about preparing for, and competing in, endurance distance rides. The author's endurance career began before AERC's current record book, which starts in 1985, and is closing in on 30,000 miles. I am eternally grateful to have had her as my mentor and can certainly vouch for her expertise. But don't take my word for it. As of this writing, her AERC record shows 368 endurance rides (including 44 hundred-milers) with only 12 pulls. Astounding.
3. EMERGENCY! The Active Horseman's Book of Emergency Care by Karen Hayes, DVM
This unusual book is designed to guide you through helping your horse when no vet is available. The author provides brisk, precise instructions for how to respond to a colic, founder, laceration, heat exhaustion, choke, eye injuries, sudden lameness, and more while you work on locating a professional. I keep it in my truck for reference when I'm far from veterinary help. Sadly, EMERGENCY is hard to find new, but you can still pick up a used copy for a song.
4. All Horse Systems Go: The Horse Owner's Full-Color Veterinary Care and Conditioning Resource for Modern Performance, Sport and Pleasure Horses by Nancy S. Loving, DVM
Note the author on this one. Yep, she's the same endurance-riding veterinarian who wrote Go the Distance. This book focuses on a wide spectrum of veterinary information, presented for the lay person, with an eye to the kinds of issues that matter most to distance competitors. The electronic copy is affordable, but I'd encourage you to track down a hard copy if you can. After the fire, I managed to get one on eBay for about $60. It's worth it for photos and easy reference.
5. The Horse's Mind by Lucy Rees
This book offers a fabulous treatment of equine psychology. The author covers everything from how the horse's sense organs function to why our equine partners behave as they do. My favorite section, "Horses and People," begins with a discussion of how horses perceive training. It's dense reading, but highly applicable to the ways we interact with our horses every day.
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Thanks for dropping by! I'm an endurance rider in the northwest region of the United States. This blog is about the practicalities of distance riding and the practice of being my best self for my horse. I hope you'll come along for the ride.
The Sweaty Equestrian