Please refer to the 2nd article where we discussed "Tips and Tricks" for additional information.
When you're doing your first few rides, at the start you'll be caught up in the excitement of the ride, and although you've told yourself that you're going to take it easy, you'll find yourself going at a pace you cannot sustain. Your horse will also act up, wanting to stay with the pack. It's very difficult to keep your cool amidst all the excitement and you'd like to look as if you know what you're doing, so don't lose your temper and take it out on your horse! It shows poor horsemanship apart from yelling "dummy".
If your horse is pulling and wants to stay with the pack, let him tag on the back and slowly calm him down, he'll soon realise that he cannot keep up with the faster horses and by being calm yourself, will allow him to relax and get into his stride. Don't fight him by yanking on his mouth all the time - you'll both lose. If it's safe footing, keep doing circles until the faster riders are a good distance away.
If you hear a faster rider approaching, slow down to a walk, because if you're trotting or even cantering, it's easier for your horse to speed up in that gait, but by walking he'll have a tendency to merely walk faster - keep doing circles if he's still being silly and he'll soon figure out that he's doing more work than if he listens to you. Ask to buddy up to another slow rider - the calmer horse will have a good effect on your bouncing ball of energy.
If you see your horse is unmanageable and stays that way even after a few rides, it shows a gap in your training at home and you should make every effort to eliminate this. Take him to some training dressage or jumping shows (for the noise and activity) or commandeer some friends to help you. Let your friends ride away from you in a group while you stay behind, keeping your horse relaxed and calm. Let the front riders circle behind you and pass you again, all the while keeping your horse at a steady pace. You can even go for outrides in strange places and work on the manageability of your horse while the other horses go ahead with the ride.
Some courses have fairly difficult stretches of rocks or hills, so make a conscious effort to go slowly through those patches. Don't think that because some riders seem to effortlessly float over the rocks or are galloping down the hill that you should do the same - they may be seasoned veterans already doing their second leg of 80kms while you're still only halfway through the first! Try and get off if the going is very rough as it'll save your horse's hooves and legs, besides, you may benefit from a break from riding anyway. Several veterans jump off at the bottom or top of a hill and "tail" up or jog down with their horses thus saving energy for the flat bits.
Try to arrive at a venue as early as possible on the Friday - this will give you and your horse enough time to settle in and you won't be in such a hurry to sort all your things out. By being calm and taking your time to sort out your camp site and his paddock, you'll convey that calmness to your horse and he'll settle down quicker. Too many people tend to arrive a few hours before the start of the ride and wonder why their horses aren't performing as they should - they've just travelled a good part of the night when both horse and rider should have been sleeping. They might argue that their horses do fine despite this routine, but can you imagine how much better that horse can perform if given the chance?
Remember the after-ride care of your horse - don't saunter off to chat to your mates or go for a snooze and forget to fill up his water buckets and keep his hay net full. If the neglect of a horse comes to the attention of the Chief Stewart, you'll be charged with neglect, and depending on the severity, either be warned, fined or kicked out of the sport. At one ride an empty water bucket and hay net was noticed by the Stewart, filled by helpers, and although a person was posted with the horse, the rider took several hours to return to check on his horse. The rider was severely reprimanded and warned that for another transgression he would be banned for life. The care of your horse might be the responsibility of your groom, but you'll be held accountable.
Don't change anything in the diet or to the tack up to a week or two before a ride. If you want to experiment with supplements or different feeds, do so after the ride when there won't be a chance of ruining your day. Also, don't change your saddle or even the bit, as that can also have disastrous effects on the performance of your horse. Any spare tack you carry with you, should have been tested by yourself prior to using it on the day. Make sure any spare tack are in good working order, because an old stiff and cracked bridle won't be of any use to you when you suddenly need it.
Don't change anything to your own diet or clothing either. Rather take your own food with you or check that the food available at the venue is similar to the food you normally eat. If you don't eat hamburgers as a rule and if that is all that's available, there's a good chance that you'll be trotting more than your horse! Remember to practice riding with a full waist bag, because it can be quite annoying if you're not used to it and over a distance the annoyance factor multiplies drastically!
Don't haul out a new pair of jodhpurs on the day of the ride without having worn it once or twice at home - it might not fit like your old worn out but comfy jods! Don't be brave and wear shorts - yes, boys and girls, it happens! - because you've been able to do one or two bareback laps around the arena. I've seen some riders walking wide-legged back to camp after doing only a few kilometres.
If you're using electric fencing for your paddock, train for this at home a good time before going to a ride. Trying to teach your horse about electricity when you're at a ride is much too late and you might end up with a wreck you hadn't planned for. If you're using ordinary rope, make sure your horse knows what it's there for because some horses view a flimsy piece of rope as an intriguing problem to solve and will delight in escaping every time you turn your back with head and tail high, terrorising the neighbours and scaring the old people and kids.
When out conditioning, make a note of which leg you favour to post on and which leg your horse favours to canter on. Don't consciously change legs when you're trying to figure it out, but keep that information tucked safely away, because over time, endurance horses become very one-sided. They will purposely "spook" at something to change legs or to get you to post on their more comfortable side. You also run the risk of becoming one-sided in posting on a particular leg all the time, unknowingly creating a one-sided horse.
To minimise the risk of a one-sided horse, during the season make an effort to change legs and to post on different legs during the ride. Try to get your horse to do flying lead changes on the straight - this is where some basic dressage will be of benefit - and purposely post on different legs. You can also teach your horse to canter on a particular leg when going on the straight - if you can manage to get him to strike off on the correct lead, you'll be one up on those dressage riders!
This is the last article in the series. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. Please look after your horses and enjoy the sport of Endurance Riding.