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Endurance Riding
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droach
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 Posted: Mon Aug 6th, 2007 06:15 pm
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Deb, Since reading your article on bone formation, our lives have completely changed.  Having been raised in typical horse families we were prepared to ride our young Arabian at 3 and after your article we nixed that and waited till he turned 4. 

We were going to start training and doing limited distance rides (25-30 mile) but after delving deeper into your article have decided to do a little training but wait till he is 5 to start his career.

So, the question is, what is the youngest that a horse can do a 100 mile ride?  Pretty much the highest level of endurance ride is the Tevis cup which is a 100 mile ride.  That is our goal and we are very interested in what you think is the best age to attempt such a tough ride.

Thanks,
Doug

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Aug 6th, 2007 08:10 pm
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Doug -- it is a total fallacy to think that longer rides are more difficult and shorter ones are easier. Or to think that the way to bring a horse up to where he can do 100-mile rides is to do 25's and 50's.

The reason for this is obvious if you look at ride statistics (and I am sure you have, if you're serious about this sport): the RATE OF SPEED (miles per hour, average) on shorter rides is higher. In fact, it is so high sometimes as to be "killer". The reason that more horses do not actually die on these rides is, thanks to the veterinary supervision, and also, thanks to the fact that average speeds of above 6 mph can ONLY be maintained over shorter distances. You try that on a 100 and you will kill your horse.

I am very sorry, for the most part, to see most of what has happened to enduro since it became an Olympic sport. The one and only prize they give that would have any meaning in my world is the "best conditioned" prize, and even then, only on some rides (depending on exact circumstances, and again, I am only speaking of rides of 75 miles or more).

So the first piece of advice I would give you, if you want to TRULY succeed, is to stop going after riding -- in any form, at any time -- as a competition. This is because your horse cannot be otherwise than the innocent victim of your ambitions. He does not understand, or care about, your ambitions. He might like to help you do some things, though.

Next, I would advise you to drop all attempts to "condition" any horse. This results in far more harm than good -- I don't know of a single case where "conditioning" by the usual method of timed road-rides has done any horse any medical or long-term benefit. Instead, that is a way to make him (sooner or later) lame -- to wear him out prematurely.

How, then, do you get ready to go on a long trailride? In the beginning, back when enduro first started (that was more than a century ago, now), there were two types of participants: civilian, and military. The military horses were not anyone's pet, and they were considered to be disposable. The civilian riders went after it a little more gently than the military guys, who often killed their horses in the attempt to complete.

In the next phase, then we had the incorporation of the AERC and NATRC. That's when I was participating in the sport. Back then, NATRC literature said that their rides would be so designed that you could take an otherwise sound horse straight out of a pasture and complete a 30-mile ride. This is still the attitude I want you to take: COMPLETE not COMPETE.

The three best ways, to me, to get ready to go on a ride are:

(1) Go on lots of relaxed trailrides, over varied terrain, with your horse. Go any distance that you like, but put NO TIME REQUIREMENT on it. Learn, instead (from your horse) how to regulate his speed for EFFICIENCY over TERRAIN. Learn to totally tune in to how your horse is feeling. There will be times when he almost begs you to canter a meadow. There will be other times, such as when going down a long, steep hill, when you will want and need to rate him almost step by step so that he does not speed up. There will be yet other times, such as when going up a long, steep hill when you will need to rate him but in another way, more to help him not plunge up.

(2) Ride "cleanup" or "tail" at the end of a competition ride. In other words, volunteer to ride the trail with a group of companions who follow the competitors. You ride the whole trail but at no great speed. You help pick up the ribbons and you help by radioing in if anybody is lost or hurt. You start off long after the competitors and you come in the next morning.

(3) Spend no more than two days per week out on the trail. Ride no more than five days per week. Spend the three "other" days in the arena with special emphasis on "down" transitions, bending and suppling, and straightness.

So, having said all this, I would like to change your question a little bit. You ask "how YOUNG can a horse be and do a 100 mile ride." What I would like you to get interested in asking instead is how OLD he can be.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

 

 

droach
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 Posted: Tue Aug 7th, 2007 03:24 am
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I agree with all you said about conditioning.  I agree that most people over train their horses.  Our approach is to do a training ride once a week.  In the mountains covering 10-15 miles at a time and we ride a couple times a week working on basic equitation.

This is what we do with our older horses. 

So, in your opinion, is a 5 year old horse physically mature enough to do a 100 mile ride?  Taking competition out of the equation, would his bones be developed enough at 5 to complete a 100 mile ride without damaging him?

Joe
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 Posted: Tue Aug 7th, 2007 02:44 pm
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Dr. Deb:

No dispute at all about your main point, but if I may voice a small difference of opinion on a peripheral issue -- the military didn't consider horses to be disposable.  In fact, they devoted a huge effort to learning how the shepherd them through the most trying conditions.  In the second half of the 19th century, some units in the west rode as much as 7,000 miles in a year, much of it far from any help.  A soldier who lost a horse was a soldier afoot, and therefore likely a dead soldier.

For long marches, the cavalry developed methods of alternating gaits, with a period of dismounting and leading the animal every hour or so (I have all this somewhere in the library but don't have time to look it up). The British dveloped a "clock" system for this to be sure it was not overlooked.  The USA relied on judgment and conditions.

Interestingly, much of this knowledge was lost to practice (still existed in manuals) in the early 20th century when the west was settled and long scouts were no longer undertaken.  At that point the cavalry focused more on basic horsemanship, started the cavalry school at Ft. Riley, and so on. However, one of the army's great horsemen at the time, Gen. Carter, wrote a retrospective in the 1914 RASP (yearbook of the cav school) in which he  noted that while the level of equitation/rising skill was improving, those hard-learned lessons of  horse husbandry in the field were being forgotten.

In the late 20th century, brush warfare  in southern Africa caused mounted military units to be created in Angola, Rhodesia, and the RSA.  Again men rode horses for a month or more at a time in harsh conditions where life and death were in the balance.  The chief trainer for one famous African unit is a personal friend of mine.  He himself was trained at St. John's Wood and had been a member of the Kings Troop, Royal Horse Artillery -- the crack ceremonial troop that shows in Napoleanic era uniforms at Buckingham Palace, the Windsor Horse Show and elsewhere.   In conversations with this man, it has become clear that except when life was literally at stake, equine welfare was an absolute top priority, and as in the American west, they learned a great deal about it.

One fun aspect of their practice was to give horses a vacation when they came in from a scout.  The animals were vetted and treated as necessary, their shoes were popped off, and they spent a couple of week undisturbed in prime pasture, just being horses.

Joe

droach
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 Posted: Tue Aug 7th, 2007 04:33 pm
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Nice post Joe,

I've also found that the military pretty much studies everything to death which is why they are so good at what they do.  I've read several military manuals going back to Napoleon's time and as you say, not much was more important to a soldier than his horse.  In my opinion, their documentation and methods were superior to nearly all of their contemporaries.   Although, admittedly , I haven't read as much from their contemporaries. 

One of the things we really appreciated about DrDebs article on skeletal maturity was the fact that a mature horse is much stronger than most people to day give them credit for.  In the Civil War horses were ridden many hours a day and if they lived through the violence were able to live long and fruitful lives.  While compared to today's standards, farrier work was not nearly as good, by contemporary standards at the time, the military was way ahead of the game.

There is no doubt that if the choice was life or death for a human, the horse would be sacrificed whether through running it to death or even eating him, however, under normal conditions, nothing made a soldier more valuable than a healthy horse.

doug


DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 06:48 am
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OK, guys, there are two items here. One is to D. Roach -- surely, if you are like Joe in knowing quite a bit about cavalry history, then you were already aware before you wrote in here that the cavalry never purchased 5 year old horses for troopers' use, rarely purchased 6 year olds, primarily tried to purchase 7 to 9 year olds, but when supplies were scarcer would purchase up to a 13 or 14 year old. Does this not answer your original question? And I repeat again here my previous statement to you -- please, I would like to have you get a lot more interested in how OLD you can compete a horse than how young. Please think about the implications, or what I am trying to get you to think about; these are serious and deep matters.

And Joe: thanks for the courteous way you have phrased your post, saying that you DID understand my main point, which I have just reiterated above. And for all the fascinating cavalry information.

But, as to "disposable" horses -- the difficulty is, of course, only semantic. I originally meant the horses were treated as if disposable in the case of the military test rides, but I will also expand that now to meaning anywhere and everywhere within the cavalry. The proof of this is that they did dispose of quite a number -- not only by in some cases riding them to death in the military test rides, but, indisputably and by the thousands, in battles right up through WWI. Obviously, it was not anyone's objective to waste U.S. government property -- but they were nobody's pet. They were disposable.

I stated, "these horses were nobody's pet", not "nobody cared about them at all." This is the difference -- horses throughout history, though obviously crucial to every cavalryman's survival, have been used as bullet-shields, slaughtered for food, slaughtered to make sails for boats or tents, and "wrecked" or destroyed in the same sense as the modern military expects some humvees and tanks to be wrecked or destroyed on the battlefield. In this sense, they are disposable; they are nobody's pet. You can read two dozen different stories about this in my 1996 book, "Conquerors."

But everybody in this thread please remember, all of this is a side issue -- the main point here is to get the original questioner to think more deeply about the implications of what he asked.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

Joe
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 01:59 pm
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Quite right -- cavalry is a tangential point that we shouod not let divert us.  Sorry for leading the diversion.

Back to the main point -- how old CAN horses manage long distance without undue stress -- and, I suppose, what do we consider long distance?  We are not distance riders and certainly not competitive at it, but have a 24 year old Arab who when in normal working condition, thinks nothing at all of 20 to 25 miles, even with a substantial load like me.

Of course, we are not riding against the clock

Of course, in writing this the questions emerge in my mind -- how well conditioned is the horse, what is the weather, what is the terrain, how heavy and balanced the load, how skilled the rider, and how is the ride itself managed in terms of gaits, stops, water, feed program.

It all makes direct comparisons a little hard.

Joe

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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 02:47 pm
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    Deb, thanks for making me think.  i always appreciate asking questions and then being told to think.  My mom always answered question with "think about it".  That was great advice then and it still is.

I pointed out in my  remarks about the military that "for their contemporaries" they were on the cutting edge (In my opinion).  I doubt seriously if they had access to the knowledge that a PHD in 2007 has in bone formation and the maturation process.

No doubt the longer you wait for a horse to mature the more secure we can be in the knowledge that the horse is safe to ride.  Obviously if I had a 7 or 8 year old horse I would not have bothered you with the question.  But since forums are for questions I thought it would be appropriate to ask. 

However, I have a 4 year old horse. 

So, I will go think about it. 

So for all the forum readers, I will be in deep thought about these serious matters.   I am going to stop thinking about when to start my baby and instead focus on how OLD I can start him.

Later everyone.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Aug 8th, 2007 07:02 pm
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Not how old he can be when you start him, D. Roach, but how old he could be when you finally retire him.

What I want you to think about is what you can do NOW, when he is 4, that will fix it up so that he will still be an "active threat" in competition when he is 25.

As Joe has pointed out, the military did not go after WASTING horses, and neither should we.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

Joe
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 Posted: Tue Oct 16th, 2007 04:10 am
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As this thread has been completely quiet for a while, I thought to post some information about how military horses were maintained under the most trying endurance  conditions possible during the 20th century wars in southern Africa.  The writer is a friend of mine who was chief trainer for a famous mounted unit.  The initial quastion was whether a higher standard of riding skill would make "the" difference.  As you will see, the stress was hard onhorseflesh, despite best efforts:

"Whilst I agree that the riding skill is of importance, it is only part of the whole. It has been experienced that prolonged operational patrols, over time produce a regression in the riders ability. The human frame can only take so much, before problems start to occur, and same applys to the horse. And the problem is compounded, where inadequate rest periods are required in war like operations.

"The limitations of horses in the field are often overlooked, but they can be a logistical problem, and sometimes not easly overcome, and in other cases tactical deployment has to be abandoned, and other areas searched for to deploy.  Horses cannot operate for long periods of time without fresh water, and feed, so the range of their deployment is limited. This does not make them ineffective, but creates a logistical string that could get too long.

"They are also prone to internal and external predispositions which will affect their life span. Poor water and feed being one of them, and the breakdown of legs and knees being the other, whilst poor shoeing and foot care will also take its toll. Whilst every care is taken to ensure that weight is kept to the minimum, the horse still has to function as a war horse, and is required to take the weight of the rider plus his equipment. This in turn over a prolonged time, will result in the premature loss of the horses operational ability. Other factors often come into play, that of climate, heat cold rain and humidity each in turn will reduce the operational life of the horse.

"It was estimated that after the war, by 1982 at least 2 years after the war, that between 35 and 40% of the original horses would be unfit for further duties, and that if not replaced the remainder would be unfit after a further 5 years, and we are talking about an animal establishment of over 400 horses, that is 3 Sqn's and at that point the mounted infantry would not exist, unless of course this was disregarded and the horses ridden into the ground.

"The Regt had a purpose built animal hospital, which was regarded as the best equiped horse and dog facility in Southern Africa. It was staffed by some the best Vets in the country, including those who worked on race horses. Indeed a number of civilian horses, were granted permission to be operated on there.

"Every care was taken over our horses, their welfare was extremely important to us; one has to remember that a fully trained operational horse was worth its weight in gold. Any negligence on the part of the soldier irrespective of his rank, could and did result in severe repercussions, including Court Martial. Many soldiers rode the same horses operationaly for 5 years.

"You can only ensure that the usefulness and prolong the life the horse, by good animal management and care. But like everything else, there are limitations in what can and cannot be done with horses, and there is only so much one can do to ensure that their usefulness is not cut short prematurely.


kuuinoa
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 Posted: Tue Oct 16th, 2007 07:46 pm
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Hi, Joe & Everyone.

Thank you for this info, Joe.  I find this thread very interesting, and I'm glad you brought it back up.  It's refreshing my memory and making me think - always good!

~K.

 

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 Posted: Wed Oct 17th, 2007 09:16 pm
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Just an anecdote to highlite Dr. Deb’s point on endurance training.  I have a friend that maintains a riding/horsemanship training facility here in the NE corner of Texas.  Her personal riding horses, a 10yr+ Arab mare and gelding of unknown breed or age live in a 10-40 horse herd environment with 24/7 turnout and is ridden approx. 2-3 X per week while wrangling trail riders, etc. on relatively level (country back road) terrain. Last year on a whim she, riding the mare and her son, riding the gelding, decided to check-out an “endurance ride” in the North Texas area; to ride along and see what all the fuss was about.  They just wanted to finish the race with all having fun.  They rode at their normal gaits and even stopped to help a fellow rider with tack problems.  They both, to their utter shock, finished in the top 10 and my friend’s mare was presented for “best condition” on a ride vet’s recommendation, where she placed second.  So less just might prove to be more and better when it comes to training for the long haul. 

rebecca g
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 Posted: Wed Oct 31st, 2007 04:27 am
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I think that the point that Dr. Deb would like for us to get out of this is that we ride to prolong our relationship with our horses. Starting a horse as a two year old rather than say at four years may give you two years more at the beginning, but because of damage done to an immature body you could loose 10 years or more at the end. My own horse I purchased as an untrained 4 year old and I hope with the way in which we work and play together  (physiologically and mentally sound practices) to have an active relationship until he is 30 years or more.  Best wishes- Rebecca


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