The Morning of the Ride
2 Hours Before The Ride Start:
Give your horse a bit of feed and some choice hay, like alfalfa, to encourage it to eat so that it starts out with a full stomach. Check to make sure your horse looks healthy and happy, then leave it to enjoy eating in peace.
1 Hour Before The Ride Start:
Get dressed and fix yourself a mild, nutritious breakfast -- something you enjoy, but won't make you feel queasy as you trot along. Proteins will stay
"with you" longer than carbohydrates or sugars, but the key is ...whatever will make you eat is a good thing. It is important to start your ride with a fueled body, otherwise you will find yourself quickly fatigued, and possibly ill before the ride is even half over.
Remove your horse's blankets, brush off its coat to remove any nighttime dirt or chaff, and tack up, taking care to see that all the equipment you need is at your fingertips. If the weather is cold, replace the blanket after tacking up to prevent your horse from getting chilled.
Check that you have your rider card in a safe place, that your map (or trail description) is easily accessible in your pocket or pack, and that your water bottles are filled, sealed, and on your saddle.
15 Minutes Before The Ride Start:
Give your horse a dose of electrolytes formulated for endurance. The electrolytes will ensure that the horse will maintain its chemical balance throughout the day, and will encourage water consumption. Every rider has an electrolyte they prefer, based upon the climate they ride in. An electrolyte that is higher in sugar - such as the highly popular Perform N Win - will be metabolized quicker into the bloodstream, and the sweet taste will encourage the horse to take it happily. Try to choose an electrolyte with less salts, rather than more, to help prevent stomach and mouth "salt burns" which may cause your horse to start refusing food. Always give electrolytes after the horse has eaten, and only after it has been drinking water out on the trail.
Ride, walk your horse on foot, or go by yourself, to the Starter and give them your horse's number so that you are officially on the start list. You are now free to warm up your horse by walking around the ridecamp, but stay behind the start line and do NOT go out on any trails.
Re-verify that your watch time matches that of the official ride clock.
Take a few moments while walking your horse around to recheck your equipment, making sure everything is on straight, tight, and secure.
1 Minute Before The Ride Start:
If you are riding out with the main group, bring your horse to the start line at least 1 minute to 30 seconds before the trail is announced open. If you are riding towards the middle or back, stay close enough to hear the open statement that the trail is open, but wait to go out until the front runners are out of sight. Some rides will have a time limit, generally 10 or 15 minutes, for when you must leave camp for the first leg of the ride. This ensures that all riders will be out on trail and headed to the first vet check in a timely manner. Wherever you choose to ride -- front, middle, or back -- be sure you know when the ride has started, and if (or when) they close the start.
Check to make sure your horse's heart monitor is working (if you are using one) and that your GPS unit (if you are carrying one) is on and functioning.
15 Seconds Before The Ride Start:
Position yourself where you want to be in the crowd, and wait for the start to be announced.
The Ride Start:
Pass the starter and head out on the trail at a controlled trot. DON'T gallop off from the start -- that just unnecessarily uses up a great deal of your horse's stored energy that will not be there later when you need it. Walk only if you are heading out from the back of the pack.
PLEASE REMEMBER: The total ride time for your distance will be from the moment the trail opens to the moment the clock hits the hour allotted for the ride. All ride vet checks and holds fall under this allotment, so the less time you have to linger in a hold, the more time you can take riding the trail.
Dealing with Pre-Ride Jitters – Both for You and Your Horse
It is very natural for both horse and rider to be nervous at the start. Even the most experienced horses and riders will get butterflies as the time for the start approaches. Many calm horses can become jiggy and animated when the infectious excitement of the other horses is transmitted in the early morning. The typical "shot gun" start used in endurance can cause "herd behavior" to take over, and your formerly relaxed, easy-going horse will suddenly be raring to go, and go fast! However, there are tips riders can use to maintain a sense of calmness and control in this exciting environment:
Once you mount up, keep moving. Stay at a walk -- DON'T trot. You want to slowly warm up the horse's muscles, and also give it something to do, so that it isn't fretting about the other horses milling around in excitement.
If you find yourself in the middle of the herd and your horse gets too excited and stops paying attention to you, walk it away from the group. Find a quiet spot where you can walk in circles, patting your horse calmly, and talking to it gently in low tones.
If your horse becomeS uncontrollable, rearing or bucking or kicking, and presents a real danger to others, you should dismount and lead it back to the trailer. It is important for your horse to understand that it is not acceptable to endanger its rider, or other horses, with severe disobedient behavior. Walk the horse out in hand until it is paying attention to you, and then take it back up to the start after the front runners have gone. You may, if you wish, hand walk the horse onto the trails after the start, and keep walking until your horse calms down and can be ridden safely.
Keep in mind that you can conceivably walk the entire endurance ride (if you walk quickly enough) so you will NOT run out of time by spending the first part of the ride calming your horse. Whatever time you've spent going slow in the beginning, can be made up later in the ride when your horse can go at faster speeds, doing so calmly and obediently.
Many folks like to stand at the start line to wave and call out "Good Luck!" to the riders heading out. Make sure you smile and thank them, plus thank the timer, too. The simple act of smiling will calm you down and set a better tone for the first leg of your journey.
Avoiding Problems at the Start
The start of an endurance ride can be too exciting for some horses to handle. Excitement is infectious and even the calmest horse can be affected by the antics of others. To prevent problems at the start:
Make sure you are using a bit your horse will listen to and respect, in a race environment. If you have any doubts, use a slightly stronger bit for the first leg of the ride. You can always change back to your horse's regular bit at the first vet check where the "race mentality" finally goes away.
Make sure your tack is on correctly and tight BEFORE you go up to the start. Standing on the ground at the start area trying to fix something is not a wise thing to do with a crowd of excited
horses milling around. If you need to re-check or tighten anything, GO BACK TO YOUR TRAILER or to a quiet, out-of-the-way place, to do it.
Keep your horse moving at a walk to warm up the muscles and keep its attention on you.
Make sure you keep a safe distance from other riders, even friends, and give double room to any horse with a ribbon in its tail.
If your horse starts getting out of control, pull up and re-establish control. If the antics continue, or get worse, get off and hold your horse until it calms down. Sometimes turning and walking back to the start will deflate the horse enough so that the rider can remount (once the others are gone) and continue down the trail.
When the ride begins, set your pace and do not be drawn into a faster pace by the horses around you.
Be aware of any horses around you having problems. If you want to stop and help someone who has dismounted, you can do so. It is merely common trail courtesy to help out another rider; however, this is a competition and no rider is under any obligation to stop for another. It IS the obligation of riders to report to the ride officials any emergency issues on the trail -- like a rider or horse in severe distress.
If your horse wants to go faster than you do in the beginning, letting it move out at a good trot for a mile or so may just settle it enough to start listening to you. Usually the first loop is a contest between horse and rider as to "who" sets the pace, and many riders find themselves fighting the horse the whole way. Best to be judicious and let the horse move out, in a controlled trot, while it is fresh and strong, so that it doesn't feel so constrained that it turns all its attention to fussing and fighting the rider.
FOCUS ON THE TRAIL! The more attention you pay to what YOU are doing, and not sightseeing to what everyone else is doing, the better you are going to be to focus your horse on the job at hand.
Above all ...relax! You have a long way to go, and as your horse's pilot, you need to stay supple, alert, and quick. Stress and anxiety are exhausting and will only fatigue muscles In the long run. Remember, you are doing this for fun, so...take three deep breaths at the start, let the air out slowly, wiggle your shoulders to untighten the muscles and settle your nerves... and then sit back and enjoy the ride.