Enduring My First Endurance Ride

Enduring My First Endurance Ride

By Ginny Grulke

I just finished my first Endurance Ride.
A caveat about what follows: It may sound like I’m whining. I’m not. But I wanted to give you a true glimpse into what it’s like to start this very tough sport late in life, and still survive.

Stormy and I finishing the ride.
For those of you who don’t live in the horse world, or perhaps even for those who do, an Endurance Ride is 25, 50 or 100 miles long, and in a natural setting: pastures, woods, gravel trails, etc. Winners are determined by fastest ride times plus time for horse’s heart rate to pulse down to an acceptable level (usually 60-64 BPM).

(Note: I signed up for the 25 mile ride, the lowliest of the low. Something the “50-milers” scoff at. To 50-milers… well, 25 miles is just a frolic in the park for a few hours. But I have no pride. 25 miles is PLENTY for me.)

The interesting and most admirable part of this sport is that the horse’s health is of prime concern. There are required vet checks of the horse every 10-20 miles (depending on the length of the ride), and if your horse is showing any signs of over-exertion, or dehydration, or lameness. – etc… you are eliminated from the ride immediately. That is simply called “not finishing.” A well-known saying for endurance riders: “To finish is to win.”

(Cartoon by Pierre “Peb” Bellocq)


Now that’s all well and good, but hear my cry: WHAT ABOUT THE POOR PERSON ON TOP OF THE HORSE?!
Picture it: Horse and rider approach the vet check area. Horse is alert, trotting along fine. Rider is ashen, wild eyed, and fingers wrapped in the mane with a death grip. Rider dismounts, vet examines the horse.
Vet: Horse looks great, you may continue.
Rider: What about me?
Vet: Don’t care. Horse is good to go. You have 30 minutes to start on the second loop.


Rider on wobbly legs, blindly reaches for a bottle of water (or bottle of something…), needs to pee but can’t find the port-a-potty. Horse calmly munches on grass. Rider collapses in lawn chair, rips helmet from her head, and stretches her neck, groaning. Horse calmly munches grass.Rider sees port-a-potty and tries to get out of chair, but realizes her legs don’t work any more. Pushing herself to her feet, she stumbles bowlegged to the potty. Horse calmly munches grass.


10 minutes to post-time and rider realizes she has to get back on horse. He has grown about 2 feet taller since that morning. She drags herself up, almost pulling the saddle off, while the horse looks at her with disgust.


But HEY! The horse is healthy, YAHOO!


And so this 60-something woman and her 8-year-old horse (Affectionately known throughout the ride as “Stormy”, “jerk”, “hey you”, “dumbass”, “stupid horse” and “I-love-you”) somehow made it through our first ride and learned what the word “endurance” really means.


Taking two days to pack the trailer at home: tack, clothes, food, etc. etc. Checklist after checklist. (While horse is eating grass.)
Unloading horse and setting him up in a stall in a cold rain the day before the ride. (Horse demands his hay.)
Dragging in a 50-lb bale of hay, two water buckets, a large bucket of alfalfa-forage for a warm mash, grooming tools, towels (for wiping sweat off), saddle, bridle, saddle pad, martingale, girth, helmet, water bottle holder (for saddle), cooler (not the food kind, the kind of light-weight cover you put on a horse as he cools off), cooler (the food kind – GOTCHA!), bags of apples and carrots…oh and then all the clothes YOU the rider might need. (Horse still eating hay.)
Sleeping in an unheated trailer the night before; no electrical hookup at this location. (Horse awakes frequently in his stall and poops hay out.)

I arrive at the ride ready to unpack my few things.


The next three lines are meaningful only if you know I have a button that says–

Getting up at 5:45AM to feed horse so you could start tacking up at 6:45AM. (Horse eats more hay.)

Tacking up at 6:45AM and riding around to warm him up for 30 minutes. (Horse burps when you tighten the girth.)
Ride starts at 7:45AM.


Sounds impressive doesn’t it? AND WE HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED THE RIDE YET!! I’m already tired, but luckily my crew (bless them, bless them!) brought me coffee that morning.


And then…Riding Riding Riding. I have ridden 8 hours a day before, no problem…but at a leisurely pace. This ride however, was at a trot/canter most of the way since Mr. Stormy decided he was not a Morgan horse, but was really a Thoroughbred training for the Kentucky Derby.


Oh and did I tell you about the wardrobe malfunction? Suffice it to say that if you are riding a Derby horse for 3 hours, don’t wear underwear edged with lace. No more details needed.


Unfortunately there was no million dollar purse to win this race. Stormy didn’t seem to understand that, although I tried to explain it many times as we charged over hill and dale. Horses just don’t have any money sense (only horse sense…OK GROAN BAD JOKE).


I tried to settle in behind groups of horses that were going a reasonable pace. But Stormy had other things on his mind. Like finding the NEXT group over the hill. And the next. And the next.


Finally I ran out of muscle and energy to hold him back, and I caved. “What the heck!” I told him. “Go as fast as you want to go. I don’t really care.” So he broke into a canter and kept going…and going…and going…I grabbed mane and leaned forward into the wind.


But it felt good. There really is something about speed once you relax. It’s fun! Is this what kept Richard Petty going? We were rip roaring along at–OK, so maybe 12 miles an hour? WOO WOO, not too impressive is it? Yeah well, smarty pants, try it on a moving horse.


Anyhow, the whole ride turned into kind of a blur, except on the few occasions, when I was able to ride alongside others. They were all so nice and friendly and helpful. Somehow they knew I was a Newbie. (The wild eyed look? The bugs in my teeth?) So they offered advice, sympathy, and their own stories.


We endured. We did FINISH. That is what it is all about, we charge through the gauntlet and come out the other end with smiles. Sore muscles, aching back… but smiling.


And that’s what life is good for. Those final smiles.

Originally published on kyhorse.wordpress.com

Ginny Grulke is an avid trail rider and lifelong horsewoman. She is the former Executive Director of the Kentucky Horse Council and current Chairman of Kentucky Backcountry Horsemen, dedicated to promoting and protecting trails and equestrian access to public lands. She has recently begun Endurance riding on her homebred Morgan, “Stormy”. She occasionally writes about it all on her blog, Not Really Retired.

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