Endurance Up

“Cowboy up.”

In my case, cowgirl up.

It’s a common phrase, especially out here in the West, and it’s a succinct way of telling someone to shut up, stop whining, grow a pair, et cetera.  No crybabies allowed.  If you’re gonna run with the big dogs…

You get the idea.

I came into endurance already somewhat familiar with this concept.  Despite the fact that versatility is the hallmark of the POA, and the best way to describe what we did was “Everything,” there was a very strong Western influence to the shows, and the whole POA lifestyle.  Wimps and crybabies weren’t tolerated.  I was a very somewhat nervous fearful cautious rider as I was growing up (Who am I kidding?  I still am…) and as such, didn’t embrace activities such as jumping and gymkhana with quite the same reckless abandon as some of my fellow riding cohorts.

And yeah, I took the accompanying ridicule with (mostly) good humor.  After all, I was training a young horse.  I didn’t want Mimi to learn “gymkhana race brain” and end up being one of those ponies that had to be backed into the gaming arena because they were so hyped up.

“Tough” doesn’t have to equate to “stupid.”

Sometimes, being tough means making the hard decisions, the responsible decisions, and being the stronger person.  And it’s a damn good life skill to have out on the endurance trail.

On the surface, endurance looks like a sport of “only the toughest survive.”  And that’s true.  But what’s your definition of tough?  50 miles over rugged terrain?  100 miles over any terrain?  The rider that rides hard and fast enough to Top Ten?  Or the rider that is out for the full 12 hours of allowed time?  Surely the natural athlete that eats up the miles effortlessly is one tough horse?  But what about the plucky little horse who is all heart that gives their all because they love what they’re doing?

(Incidentally, that last one would be Mimi.)

It takes all kinds of tough.

Some riders can mile after mile, day after day, never appearing to show any kind of discomfort.  For others, they are aided by pharmaceutical means and support wraps.  But they are out there.

No doubt, endurance cultivates “tough.”  It takes not only physical strength, but mental fortitude to make it through an endurance ride.  There aren’t too many people out there that don’t hit a wall at some point during the ride, and you gotta suck it up and forge ahead.  It’s easy to get discouraged when the boring part of the trail seems to go on forever.  There may be a scary section of trail, but you gotta gather your courage, trust your horse, and just do it, because it’s the only way to go.

We (and Alaskan fishermen) keep the foul-weather gear companies in business.  Weather is seen as a poor excuse to sit out the day.  (After all the wet rides I’ve done, I beg to differ on this one.  Cold, wet rides just suck, says the desert rat.)

Like I said, endurance riders are tough.  But there’s another side to that as well…

“Tough” all depends on the given circumstances of any situation.  Listening to the campfire horror stories, one might get the impression that endurance is really a competition of “Who can be the most insane?” when riders start pulling out stories of various injuries they’ve ridden with/through.  Broken ribs, broken arms, concussions, kicked, stomped, battered, bruised.

I hear that and I think, “I’m a wimp.”

My first 50 I ever tried, I pulled halfway through because the saddle I was riding had tweaked and pulled my ankle into such an unnatural position that it ended up spraining it.  I couldn’t put any weight on it in the stirrup, and couldn’t go stirrup-less on the side because the loose stirrup flopping on the horse’s side kept spooking him.

I clung to the guilt of that ride for a long time.  I felt like a failure as an endurance rider…I should have been tougher.  I should have tried to finish.  All the other “real” endurance riders are going to look down on me because I wimped out over a sprained ankle.  If “x” can get through a ride with whatever-body-part-broken, I should have been able to disregard a measly ankle sprain.

That’s where “tough” can turn around and bite you.  What did I say earlier about “tough” doesn’t have to mean “stupid”?

Okay, I get it…we’re all out to prove how tough we are based on a collective lack of IQ?

Because if you sit back and really look at the big picture, who is that kind of tough actually helping?

Your ego, yes.

More campfire stories.

The local orthopedic surgeon knowing you on a first-name basis.

After that ride, I too got caught up in the “tough” competition.  The following weekend, I took Mimi to a NATRC ride, still sporting the sprained ankle.  Hey, it’s my own pony, I can ride her without stirrups if I need to.

You’re going to ride two days on a still-sprained ankle?  A NATRC ride, where you’re judged on horsemanship, including evenness?  What were you thinking?


Outside forces intervened, and Mimi had a weather-related tie-up only a few miles into the first day.

Did I learn my lesson?  Clearly not…

A month later, Mimi and I had an “incident” that involved a javalina, a sand wash, and a tree.  Lesson learned?  The pony fits under a low-hanging palo verde tree.  I don’t.  End result?  A mild concussion and sprained/bruised hand/wrist.

A week later, we were out in California at another NATRC ride.  I had a wrapped wrist and was pretty much limited to riding/mounting one-handed.  That worked well.  Mimi checked out of that ride back sore, a first for a saddle set-up that had otherwise been working for her for the past two years.

Lesson still didn’t stick, because when I sprained my other ankle stepping/falling out of the back of my horse trailer, my first thought was, “Ah, redemption!  I can make up for the other ankle incident.”

You may all collectively sigh and shake your heads.

Needless to say, that didn’t go well.  It’s one thing to try to work through an injury if it happens while out on trail, but to deliberately start a ride that way is just asking for trouble.  And trouble I got.  That weekend wasn’t one of my finer, since I was uncomfortable, and it made me short-tempered and susceptible to several emotional breakdowns.  We pulled at the first vet check.

Did I finally learn my lesson?  I’d have to say, “Yes.”

This past New Years, I was given a chance to join some friends at the Resolution Ride up in Scottsdale (ride story to eventually come).  It was a three-day ride, and the plan was to try to ride a couple of 25s, since the horse I was riding was young, and I hadn’t done a 50 in over a year.

The day before the ride, I started getting the suspicious sore throat that heralds one of the lovely 24-bug-that-morphs-into-a-cold things I tend to get.  I gobbled cough drops, tea, Airborne…anything to try to stave off the inevitable.

It didn’t work.

By that afternoon, I was sicker than a dog, and miserable.  None of this was made better by the fact a torrential storm had moved in and was dumping gallons of water from the sky.  Since I’m not exactly well-versed in the art of throwing up off the back of a horse, and would be riding a youngster that I’d never even sat on before, I made the decision to sit out the first day.  (Hey, she’s learning!)

I took it easy that first day, and woke up feeling pretty much normal by day two.  The bug had morphed into a head cold, but the worst of that was just a stuffy nose, only slightly worse than the year-round allergies I already live with.

Saddle up, I’m riding!

I had a great ride on a really fun horse that day, and was presented with the opportunity to go out on day three and do the 50.  And I passed.

Why?  Because I know myself.  I wasn’t in shape to do a 50, especially on the heels of already having ridden a day.  I could have done a 50 by itself and had I been sans flu/cold.  I knew my limits, and as much fun as it would have been…the girl finally learned her lesson.  It wouldn’t have been fair to the horse to tote my out-of-shape carcass (which is what I would have been after about 20 miles) around, it wouldn’t have been fair to my riding partner to make her slow down to accommodate me, and it wouldn’t have been fair to myself.

Which brings me to my point:  How does that kind of “tough” impact your horse?  If you’re injured, your body is naturally compensating to protect the injured area.  In the case of a sprained ankle, more weight is going to be put on the uninjured side.  Ditto the case with an arm or ribs.  Head injury?  At the very least, your mind is fuzzy, your balance is impaired, and you may not be making the best decisions.  (Kinda like drinking, only not as much fun.)

We’ve all proven how “tough” we are just by doing this crazy sport.  How does a little bit of self-preservation mitigate that?  I’m all for being “tough” (Who’s seen Annie Get Your Gun?  “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” comes to mind…) but it shouldn’t be at the cost to your horse.  That said…

Endurance UP!

Reader Feedback: I shared some of my dumber moments…so tell me I’m not alone!  Have you had your “tough” moments that you later regretted?

4 thoughts on “Endurance Up

  1. I love this. I'm not an endurance rider (yet). My longest ride was only about 20 miles, but… one day.

    I thought more of my life as I read this. All the times I pushed through just to be tough, but I didn't need to. It was actually my horse that taught me to slow down and enjoy the scenery a bit. Have FUN!

    Thanks for the reminder. :)

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