Endurance Riding: From First Steps to 100 Miles by Clare Wilde
c 1996 Kenilworth Press, Buckingham (Great Britain) 170 pages
This past winter, I dedicated my equine reading to a selection of titles related to endurance and distance riding. I knew that for 2015, I wanted to try to bring my horse up to a level of condition which might make it possible for her to tackle a 50 or even 100 mile ride, but I really didn’t know how to go about doing that. It was with this mindset that I picked up Wilde’s book. Wilde is an experienced endurance competitor whose love for the sport, and for riding and horses in general, is apparent throughout the book.
This book covers many aspects of the sport of endurance for the novice, tackling everything from horse selection to tack to schooling to what it takes to crew at a ride. One of the sections that I enjoyed the most was called “Basic Schooling and Education,” and I liked it because it reviewed critical basics of training for any horse. For example, Wilde discusses the fact that in order for a horse to stay sound and sane over a long distance ride, they must move in an “economical, balanced yet dynamic motion” (Wilde, 1996, p. 45). To achieve this, the rider must be conscientious in both their own posture and position and also work to develop suppleness and strength in the horse. Horses must be encouraged to work correctly from back to front so that on the trail they can be supple and balanced. In endurance riding, where competitive riders move at fast speeds much of the time, this preparation is essential. “The versatile, supple horse will be able to move away from your leg to enable you to open gates quickly, avoid hazards and move off rough ground. He will also be able to corner efficiently, particularly at speed” (Wilde, 1996, p. 46). This information is so critical; a successful distance horse must be a true athlete, which requires paying attention to all forms of physical conditioning.
Wilde also points out that the endurance horse is the marathoner of the horse world, and the end goal of conditioning should be “to produce a supremely fit, laid-back equine athlete in the peak of physical condition” (Wilde, 1996, p. 49). To do this requires not just attention to their workload, but also their overall stable management. There is a big difference between the casual trail/pleasure horse that goes for a leisurely walk every now and then and a horse that is in preparation for a serious distance undertaking. The horse’s stable management therefore must be of a higher standard than for a horse not in such intense training. This is an important area of consideration which is sometimes overlooked.
Just like in other equine sports, Wilde reminds distance riders that the horse needs a warm up and cool down phase in each work set. It is important to actively walk a horse for at least ten minutes before asking for faster gaits, and then to ease into the trot and canter. Riders who are looking to start their race time at speed must budget in this warm up prior to the start.
The section titled “Conditioning for Competition” was especially enlightening. Wilde says that once her horse has been built up to a base level of fitness which allows for easy completion and recovery from 20 mile rides, she rarely rides more than 15 miles in training. One of the big challenges in distance riding is doing enough work to bring the horse to a fit level of condition but not doing so much that they become sore or unsound, or that their attitude becomes unwilling. Learning how to “peak” your equine athlete at just the right time is both an art and a science, and certainly the ability to do this well separates the best from the also ran’s in any horse sport, not just endurance. Wilde offers several sample conditioning and training schedules which can work to help horses develop for various distance rides, but also cautions readers to remember that each horse is an individual.
The final chapter which I thought was particularly well done was titled “Personal Preparation”. Here, Wilde discusses the care and feeding of the rider as an athlete, as well addresses the critical importance of rider fitness. “In the most basic terms, your horse will find himself unable to perform, no matter how well he is prepared, if you are a hindrance to him rather than an asset” (Wilde, 1996, p. 95). This last statement would seem to be true regardless of your chosen discipline, and is a concept which more riders need to take to heart if they truly want to progress in their riding.
Overall, Wilde’s book is an easy read with relevance to riders who want to improve their level of awareness on the subject of conditioning across the board. While the author is certainly focusing on conditioning for the discipline of endurance, so very much of what she says relates to any equine endeavor that I would recommend it for anyone who wants to do a better job of preparing their equine athlete for their goals. In this book, Wilde is essentially preaching practical, good horsemanship. My only criticism is that at this point, the book is nearly twenty years in print, and photographs and certain references could use an update if there were to be a newer edition released.
Blogger’s Note: The featured image is from the first Tevis Cup ride. Started in 1955 by Wendell Robie in California, the Tevis Cup 100 mile ride is regarded as one of the hardest in the world. Wilde credits Robie with being one of the inspirations for the spread of endurance riders world wide, and especially within the United States.