The Finish Line
If you are aiming for the top ten, be aware that the last few miles are often where placings are changed as stronger horses overtake tired or less quick ones. If your horse has been drinking and eating well all day, and still is strong with plenty of energy left in the tank, don't be afraid to hold your own against oncoming riders, or overtake a slower rider in front of you. Be judicious of your speed, however -- only go faster when you can do so safely and without
harm to others. Keep your horse's heart rate below the anaerobic level, unless you are in a sprint for the finish line. Again, the finish line is the place to have a fun gallop or canter to celebrate a successful finish of the ride as long as you are careful to do it safely and without endangering others.
When you cross the finish line of an endurance ride (50 miles and up), you give your rider number to the Timer, and also your rider card. They will mark your finish time and the order of placing in which you came in. At that point, you have one hour to meet criteria and to have your horse complete the vet check. If you are riding LD, then it is best to get off and walk your horse across the finish line, since it must come down to a specific pulse parameter within 1/2 hour for you to be declared "finished". LD placings are determined by the order in which the horses meet criteria.
Walk your horse back to your trailer, give it water and some hay while you strip the tack and clean him up a bit before presenting it to the vet check within the time allocated for your division. Make sure you cover your horse with a cooler, and then take it up for the final inspection. The vet will take all the vital signs, and watch your horse jog out and back. If the horse passes this final check, the vet will congratulate you and tell you that you have completed. The ride is now officially over for you and your horse. The vet will keep your rider card to give to Ride Management as proof of your completion.
Now is the time to relax and let your horse chow down a nice meal of alfalfa hay while you wash off all the trail dirt and sweat with warm water, then rub the main muscles and joints down with bracing liniment or Sore No More. Make sure your horse has plenty of clean, fresh water to drink, because it will be thirsty. Let your horse graze if there is grass nearby. Grass is the best food for hydrating the horse and restoring minerals and electrolytes to the system. It is also excellent for the gut after a long ride.
For the next hour, keep a very close eye out for any negative change in your horse's eating or general outlook. This is the time period when the horse's body, no longer under the influence of adrenaline, will start to show signs of metabolic or muscle distress. If the weather is cold, take your horse for a slow easy walk after about 45 minutes or so to prevent any muscles from stiffening up.
Some riders will poultice the legs to prevent the horse from stocking up overnight. It is actually better just to use liniment on the legs and hand-walk your horse around the camp before you go to bed, and then again when you get up in the morning if you are not leaving until the following day.
Photo by Chrissy Drinnan
AERC rules state that everyone who finished with a completion will get an award. Depending upon the ride, the awards can range from a simple ride t-shirt to a fancy silver belt buckle. Many rides will have an award ceremony after the ride is over. Riders who have top-tenned will get an additional award, and the first place rider often gets a nice collection of great stuff - like a special cooler, or jacket, or personal item. Many rides will host a dinner along with the award ceremony, so it is well worth it to stay if you don't have a need to rush home.
If you are within a few hours drive from the ride, it is best to take your horse home after the ride and awards. If you have a long trip of over 4 hours, or you will be driving late into the evening, it is better to just stay overnight at camp. Don't worry - you'll have plenty of company since many riders prefer not to leave until the following day. Just make sure your horse is comfortable, warm, and has plenty of hay and water for the evening. Chances are both of you will sleep well the whole night through. The next morning you can pack at your leisure and motor home in daylight, bright and well rested.
Do NOT give banamine or bute right after an endurance ride unless you are doing so under a vet's direct order. Both of these anti-inflamatories can be very dangerous when given to a dehydrated horse. Even if you think your horse had practically drained every stream dry out there on the trail, it will still have come to the finish line in a depleted state. You will be amazed at how much more it will drink throughout the night to recover from that depletion.
Once you are home, give your horse a good warm bath, and check for any nicks or rubs that you might have missed before. Check the horse's back for any soreness, and the legs for any heat or swelling.
Give your horse a full week's vacation to rest and recover if you had done an LD or a 50; two weeks for a 75 or 100 mile ride. You may find yourself a bit stiff and sore after the ride as well. A good rubdown with Sore No More, or taking any medicinal pain reliever, can do wonders for alleviating the achiness you might feel from those hours spent on trail.
Unpack your trailer, clean your tack, fold up and store horse blankets, and put away anything you don't need stored in your trailer between rides.
Finally you can put up your feet, rest and relax...and start planning your next endurance ride!