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Monday, April 18, 2016

Bruce Wearys' Wisdom

"As a mentor, perhaps the most common questions I am asked or that I see posed on FB and elsewhere refer to how much work and time is needed to condition a horse to an endurance level of fitness. Folks understandably wonder about how many miles, how fast, over how many weeks/months/years, how many times per week, over how many hills, etc.,. Add to this the confounding evidence of a rare horse and rider who manage to finish Tevis as their first ride ever, and another horse and rider who struggle through an LD after months of preparing. Why the diversity of outcomes from one rider to the next, and one horse to the next? First of all riders and horses come to endurance with a vast array of knowledge, experience, skills, and attributes-- or the lack thereof. Add to this the fact that there is no "cookbook" method of successfully and safely conditioning each and every horse. Lastly, our equine partners have the audacity to show up lacking in one particular skill that would make everything SO much easier: they can't talk. So, as we face the challenge of figuring out a conditioning program that will safely take us and our horse where we want to go, we are left with developing as many resources, skills and intuitions as we can in order to figure out the mysteries that lie within our horses, especially as they relate to their ability to do endurance work, and to keep doing it soundly for months and years. I'm sure some reading this will come up with things to add to this list, but here are several that occur to me as necessary or helpful skills/attributes we must develop as horsemen and riders: 1) Basic understanding of equine nutrition--what to feed and not to feed to help the horse perform at his best, or at least not slow him down. 2) Palpation--that manual skill whereby we learn to feel normal vs abnormal when it comes to legs, joints, backs, soft tissues, pulses, body temperature, hoof temperature, etc.,. 3) Pacing--learning to know and feel a horse's level of energy, when he's ready for more, when he's getting tired, if he has a second wind coming, when he's done for the day. Homing in on the optimum speed over a given terrain and climate is a skill that can take a lifetime to fine tune. 4) Knowing how much work a horse can tolerate--how many rides, how fast, over what period of time, when the horse is peaking, and when he needs a good rest, even if he seems to want to continue down the trail. Lots of trial and error and careful observation here. Overdoing it here may be the most common way of pushing a horse over the edge. 5) Knowing if a horse is truly cut out for endurance work, and if he not only seems to like it, but can do it and keep happily coming back for more, year after year, or if he'd truly be better off running barrels or chasing cows, but we can't see it because of our commitment to our goals. Speaking of goals, they should be realistic, and well within reach of the horse and rider, and not asking more than either one is prepared to give at any given time. 6) The rider should, ideally work toward a level of fitness that at least helps them to be a lighter load in the saddle, with enough stamina to stay light in the saddle throughout the ride. If we exercise and push ourselves at least a little, it also helps us appreciate what the horse is doing for us every time we swing a leg over him.
Just some food for thought."

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