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The making of an Endurance Horse

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  • The making of an Endurance Horse

    I just had to share, because I'm kind of psyched about my little future endurance pony.....

    Yesterday, with no fanfare or even an audience, Merlin did his first ever canter WITH A RIDER!!! And I didn't even die! or fall off!

    This is exciting for several reasons. First, because I am the worlds wimpiest rider. I haven't cantered a horse in over two years, so to be the first rider to ever canter my baby means a lot to me. Second, it means we are one step closer to getting Merlin conditioned and ready to go on a ride. And third, in the attempt to get that canter, I had him doing a super extended trot, and man is THAT smooth to ride....

    He was a bit confused ("you really want me to do WHAT? You do realize that means go faster, right?"). And of course, he's not really strong enough to canter well right now, so I got two strides of a very discombobulated canter-thing before he put himself back into the trot, but it was definatly a canter! Both ways. I couldn't tell you what lead we were on, and I really don't care right now.

    Because of the strength issues, I'm going to start asking him to canter more on the lunge (I rarely if ever lunge him, he doesn't need it as he's super calm most of the time). And trot poles. And if the trails will ever dry up, we'll start conditioning out there too.

    He's 4 1/2 now, and I'm hoping with some careful work, we can do some LD come fall, and be ready for 50's next year. However, we go on HIS terms, so we'll see!

  • #2

    You are SO right. imo that is. I think not ever cantering him until his age or even 5 is ok. They need to be well balanced to canter.

    Sure anybody can go out and canter. But, if you want a long term endurance horse, making the horse safe, and sound for the long term is best.

    I don't really canter until they are 5. Then I will work very lightly in a nice area. Like in the pasture. That way you can do huge circles, so they can learn to balance. Trail cantering is nice too. But, you have to be careful.

    Sounds like you have a really good plan of action. Make each ride count. Make all situations as perfect as you can. Expose him carefully iow. That makes a great long term endurance partner with his brain still intake.

    Yes, teaching on the lunge line is a good thing. I try to not cram them into tiny circles. Think of their legs at all times. Be careful.

    All you have with horses are legs and guts. So take care of those.

    Good luck!


    • #3
      Trotting is good, miles and miles of it over all sorts of terrain - will strengthen his legs and get him in that long-distance frame of mind. Plus you will get fit too!
      I would be even more conservative with the canter than rmh_ - no lunging at all. I have found that the pony will canter when he is ready - one I have started cantering spontaneously last season after a couple of years of short 25 & 40 mile rides, and would drop back to a trot when going downhill or over rough ground. This year, aged 8, he has been cantering all the time and drops back to a trot to rest a little, then goes again. Beyond steadying him, I don't do much else over 50 miles.
      If you're in it for the long haul with this horse, you will have much to gain by taking it slowly and forming a long-term partnership (which most people never get with their horses). He will be coming into his maturity around 9-10 so you have plenty of time.
      Anyway you are off to a good start - happy riding!


      • #4
        That is exciting! I am just getting ready to get my young one started, he's just turning 4 this month. I can't wait to see what his gaits feel like, its always fun to do that first trot or canter with them.


        • #5
          Congrats! That first canter on a special horse is always such a thrill.


          • #6
            Guess I would disagree about waiting to canter. There is no reason to not do regular short canters on good footing. Canter is one of the horses natural gaits and should be used as part of their regular routine. For some Arabs, it's their dominant gait. for others it's the trot. In fact, it's a much better gait to use in deep footing, like sand, as the horse is far less likely to overreach and pull a shoe.

            Now, many riders procrastinate about cantering because of their own insecurities. the more you canter the more relaxed you will be with the gait. It's just a mental hurdle to get over.

            I'm lucky in that my Wynne is a natural at the canter. The first time around the round pen he went into this slow little lope on about a 20' circle, all on his own. I just stood there amazed! Under saddle I keep working on his trot as he would much prefer to canter or gallop. It's hard when riding with other horses that have big trots as I just have to accept that we will canter to keep up. He has a lot of Polish race horses in his background so maybe it's genetic.



            • #7
              Here's a blog post from a newbie endurance rider on that same subject. Looks like she has since gone out and finished her first ride!

              Publisher, http://www.endurance-101.com
              Blog: http://blog.seattlepi.com/horsebytes/


              • #8
                RE: Cantering

                I agree more with chicamuxn. Cantering is a natural gait. It uses different muscles than trotting does. Their heart rates drop when cantering. By switching leads, you can develop both sides of the horse.

                I do not like to lunge, except very short periods to warm up. ( two or three circles around a round pen is all.) I feel that lunging puts more stress on ankles, other muscles and especially knees. I much more prefer to go basically straight on a young horse when cantering, and then do the turns on the trail.

                What concerned me most about the original post was "However we go on HIS terms, so we will see".. That way lies many disasters. You need to be the boss.. The Alpha horse. You should be the one with the training, brains, and disipline to determine the training regime and when to do which speeds. You do not want a horse that rushes up steep hills when his muscles are not ready to do this.. because it was "HIS terms". You do not want a horse that lazes along in places where he should be making time.

                Last year my young horse, General Lee did his first Endurance ride just two weeks past his 5th birthday. We did a 55. It went fine. We trotted and cantered. He did what I asked when I asked because that is the relationship we have established.

                I understand those who go slower and take longer to get to a place in their horses career. However it should be you determining that pace, not the horse.

                Paul N. Sidio
                Spokane MO


                • Original Poster

                  Perhaps I should clarify myself....

                  When I say we go on HIS terms, I mean we progress according to his ability to gain and maintain his fitness level. Not the speed or distance her prefers to go. Because, honestly, he's a bit lazy, and would rather just walk around if given his choice. How odd is that from a Paso/Arab cross???

                  But I digress. I think for Merlin's level of training, he's really doing very well. He goes at the gait I request when I request it. I can walk, trot, whoa, and turn from either my voice or my seat. No reins necessary, although he does understand rein aids too. He understands that there is different speeds in the walk and trot. (his extended trot is the smoothest, lovliest gait to ride. I could get spoiled) He understands leg yeilding at the walk, and is beginning to understand he needs to do it while trotting too. He will go calmly over trot poles. He does short trail rides with no drama or fuss, and is actually quite good at trail blazing should the need arise. He will go out alone, although it still makes him kind of nervous. He has bucked once, about three rides into his training. It was funny, because he bucked, tripped, and landed on his nose. Never tried it again.

                  I have held off doing a lot with him because he is still obviously growing. My husband calls him "lop-ended" because he's still butt high. What Merlin does NOT have is any level of fitness at all, and that is what we are starting to work on, along with continueing his ring work. In the next six months, I hope to have him doing walk/trot/canter in the ring comfortably, and walk/trot in the field/trail. I want to put a base conditioning level on him so that he is comfortable going out and doing an easy 25 miles with no stress. I feel asking a five year old to do 50 competition miles is too much, because they are still growing. I most likely won't do 50's on him until he's at least 6 or so.

                  What I have to work with right now is a friendly, willing, kind young horse that I am hoping will make a friendly, willing, and kind endurance mount.

                  Oh, and for the record, Sunday at the indoor arena, we cantered 10 WHOLE STRIDES. On the correct lead even. And without getting excited. Ok, he didn't get excited. I was thrilled.


                  • #10
                    Good for you - the thrills are so important! Enjoy.

                    My comments about cantering were really directed at the rides themselves, not at training, although cantering is the last gait to be introduced as fitness increases.

                    Nancy Loving (Go the Distance) still makes sense with her training/conditioning advice. She stresses the years it takes for full conditioning, especially if the horse is stall-raised.