by Tamara Baysinger
It's so fun to go fast, and so tempting to race! Why not take on that first event with a vengeance? Welllll...there are actually some great reasons to slow down.
1. You’ll get people’s respect.
It may seem counterintuitive, but riding conservatively at first is the best way to make friends in this sport. Endurance people are much more impressed by concern for the horse than by speed.
One year in my region, a newcomer showed up with a hot mount and proceeded to sweep a summer’s worth of wins. At first, other riders wondered whether the rider was unable to control the horse. Then they speculated that the rider didn’t know – or worse, didn’t care – enough about the horse’s well-being to keep it at a safe pace. Even if it didn’t have a metabolic crisis, it was bound to go lame.
I shared a post-ride dinner table with the rider once and learned that the horse, while new to endurance, actually had quite an impressive fitness background from its lifetime on a mountain ranch. Nevertheless, the rumors (whether true or false) proved hard to overcome. Folks weren't trying to be snarky; they were just concerned.
That horse and rider vanished toward the end of the season. I never learned why. The point is: It’s possible that your horse really is ready to get out there and win. But I still don’t recommend it.
2. Your horse won’t get the wrong idea.
Most horses tend to get racy in a high-energy, group situation no matter what. One of the best things you can do for your horse’s mind is show him, right from the beginning, that you will be asking him to focus on you rather than letting his emotions take over. First pace, then (maybe someday) race.
3. You’ll get your money’s worth.
Riding at a moderate pace is fun! You’ll have more time to talk to people. You won’t get frowned at by the vet. You can relax about making mistakes as you learn the ropes.
Of course, not coming in first isn't losing at all! Finishing your first LD at any pace is an accomplishment. Finishing with a happy, healthy horse -- ready to go again soon -- is a triumph.
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The Sweaty Equestrian