Endurance Riding – Ultimate Cross Training

I started this year off by trying something new… an endurance ride! I love trail riding, and decided the idea of conditioning for a longer, faster-paced ride sounded fun. I liked the fitness component, and the crystal clear goal, right down to a distance to be completed on a certain date. This ride was an AERC sanctioned endurance ride called The Last Tango at 7IL Ranch in Cat Springs, Tx on New Years Day. We did the Intro ride, which was about 13 miles.

The trail at 7IL Ranch was easy for our barefoot horses, with lots of sand footing.

For a few months leading up to the ride, I had been working longer rides into my riding schedule with Sofie, trying to get at least one hour and a half or two hour ride in each week. We don’t have easy to access to trails (meaning, we have to trailer out for trail rides), but we do have a big field we can makes laps around, which is pretty good for conditioning! Not quite as good as having actual trails with the variety of footing and terrain, but it at least gets us out of the arena and gives us some open space to cruise. Since we were just doing the Intro ride, I wasn’t too concerned about speed, I mostly just wanted us to be able to finish the ride feeling good and make the whole thing a positive experience.

The trail went through beautiful open fields.

As it turned out, this was plenty of preparation, and the ride went very smoothly! We finished the ride in 3 hours, which was an easy pace with lots of walking and some stretches of trotting mixed in. The scenery was beautiful and we were able to enjoy it, and best of all, I was able to give Sofie the experience I was hoping for. What I really wanted was for her to learn that it was just a trail ride with lots of other horses and to relax and enjoy it.

All the trails were well marked with colored signs.

She started the ride rather hot to trot, but quickly settled in. Goals for future are to get a more sustainable (er, not quite as fast) trot going, and for her to maintain that speed with less reminders from me! I guess this will be where the dressage training comes in…

Some of the trail went through wooded areas, and there were a few shallow water crossings.

We did the ride in our Wintec Pro dressage saddle, and it did just fine! I enjoy having a low maintenance saddle that I don’t have to worry about weather, deep water crossings, or trail dirt. I know the CAIR panels are a love ’em or hate ’em kinda thing, but for us they work just fine! Sofie passed her pre and post ride vet checks with flying colors and no signs of soreness in her back or legs.

There were lots of open stretches with great footing for picking up the speed!

We didn’t carry much with us since we were doing a relatively short ride. I brought a bottle of Propel and a Cliff Bar, which I enjoyed after about 2 hours on the trail, but I didn’t use anything else I had in my saddle bags. As you can tell from the pictures, the ground on this ride was mostly very sandy, so we were able to do it barefoot without any issues.

Sofie with her fluffy winter coat soaked in sweat on a warm, sunny afternoon, standing beside the "1/2 Mile to Camp" sign... almost there!!

Overall, it was such a positive experience and a great way to challenge ourselves, as well as a nice break from the arena riding routine! I would highly recommend anyone who’s interested to give endurance riding a try. It doesn’t take too much fitness from horse or rider to complete an Intro ride, and there are many great training opportunities while preparing for an endurance ride, as well as on the ride itself! It complements dressage training really well too, as it is a great test of the aids, the horse’s balance, and the horse and rider harmony. The fitness gained by building up the horse and rider’s endurance, and the strength developed by hacking up and down hills and through water, also helped improve our dressage work.

Contented horses standing tied to the trailers.

And besides all the other benefits, it was fun! Endurance riding seems to draw a really nice group of people. Everyone is there having a good time, and they are very friendly and supportive of riders new to the sport. I was lucky enough to have a friend willing to ride with me, but if you didn’t bring a friend I think you could find one at a ride pretty easily.

I hope you found this ride summary helpful, and maybe even inspiring enough to give it a try! Maybe I’ll see you on the trail soon!

For more information on endurance riding and to find a ride near you, check out https://aerc.org/

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