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Where Horses Come First ...

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Wed, 19 Apr 2017 12:31:00
Harry & I working out.
Why is Endurance my favourite equestrian discipline? Well - it's challenging for horse and rider, of course, demanding a fast pace against the clock across all sorts of terrain for long distances. It also, in my experience, creates a bond between rider and horse like no other. You and your mount sure get to know each other very well during all those hours in the saddle!
That's why I'm excited to be entering the UK's oldest endurance ride, the Golden Horseshoe, to be held in the heart of the stunning Exmoor National Park in May. This ride was first held in 1965 and was held annually thereafter, earning pride of place as the ultimate of endurance rides in the country. Sadly it foundered after its 50th anniversary in 2015 when long-time ride organiser Barbara Wigley stepped down. After a gap last year, however, the Golden Horseshoe is back on track and I am thrilled to be taking on the test of one of the competitive and demanding rides which make up this endurance festival.
The Golden Horseshoe weekend is now being run by Jo and Andrew Chisholm of Watervale Endurance, Lydford, Devon, and offers four classes of rides, from the "grand" event across 160km in two days for advanced level horses and riders, down to the mini version along a 24km route on the Sunday (which is what I am currently training for).
If you are interested in finding out more about the Golden Horseshoe visit the website.
Getting into this increasingly popular equestrian sport is easy. There are 23 local groups throughout England and Wales that organise rides - some for training or social purposes and others that are seriously competitive. You can find all the info you need on the Endurance GB website.

GETTING READY TO RIDE

Having set my sights on making a success of endurance riding, along with my dearly beloved Thoroughbred, Harry, I've been careful to look into what's required.
Fortunately Harry is a fit and healthy fellow, sound and sensible, and we have a good level of trust between us. You don't have to have a top drawer horse, however, to compete in endurance - most horses and even small ponies used to a regular work out will be able to cope with a ride of around 25km if he/she is sound.
The super-champs of endurance are usually Arabs, but you can easily train any horse to enjoy the sport at lower levels, if you work at building the right muscles.
I've found an online guide very useful in conditioning Harry for Endurance.
Another big consideration when it comes to Endurance riding is ensuring that both you and your horse are comfortable. This means making sure your saddle is well-fitted and your girth and stirrups positioned to give you a good seat while riding. 
When you enter an endurance ride your horse will be examined both before and after the ride to ensure there are no abrasions from bad fitting tack. He will also have his heart rate checked and noted and his soundness vetted in a trot up.
Safety is important too, and unlike other equestrian disciplines there are no regulations about what you or your horse should wear. A good helmet is obviously a pre-requisite, and you'd probably want to take the precaution of an air jacket (I definitely wear my Point Two Air Jacket!). 
I'd also recommend long sleeves - both for sun protection and those annoying branches and brambles. (And on the subject of sun ... don't forget sun cream for yourself and your horse!) 
Comfort is the key, so make sure you have a comfy seat-saver under you. You'll need to stay well hydrated, especially in warm weather, so you and your horse need a good drink before you set off, and you need a water bottle with you. 

PLEASURE, NOT PAIN!
 
The most important thing to remember when you start out in Endurance that you are riding for pleasure! The lower level non-competitive routes are not meant to be a race, so pace yourself and your horse carefully, slowing down when necessary to recover your equilibrium. 
An Endurance event is an adventure, and nothing can beat the satisfaction of completing the course to go home with a happy horse and a completion rosette!