My first 50s were ridden in the 2012 AERC season on my then 16 year old Arabian mare, GE Blazun Haatdesire. The full write ups are linked below and please do read them if you have the time and inclination!
Cache Creek Ridge Ride 50—completion
Hat Creek Hustle Day 1 50—completion
Hat Creek Hustle Day 2 50—lameness pull
Trinity River Challenge 50—completion
I had someone ask for a few salient points on riding a competitive/hot horse, so here’s what I learned on Desire, who top 10’d her first 2 50s before I owned her and then had to learn to Slow Down:
1) BE FIT: Bottom line, a hot horse is a lot of work to ride. Whether they just want to go mach 10 speeds or they also throw in fantastical spooks to ride out along the way, you need to be physically able to be WITH IT for 50 miles. Hopefully your horse will settle down in the first 5 or 10 miles, but if he/she doesn’t, are you prepared to ride, really RIDE, for 50 miles?
2) BE REALISTIC: For the sake of you and your horse’s sanity, don’t try to make a Turtle Horse a Top 10 or a Top 10/mid packer a Turtle Horse. Deny the horse’s basic nature at your own peril. No, I was not interested in our average speed being 16 mph as Desire intended, but neither did I expect or try to make her go the 6 mph average my Rushcreek naturally does.
This is our *Day 2* Hat Creek Hustle 50 ride photo, after completing the Day 1 50 in 8 hours. She came up lame/foot sore after this pic at 40 miles on day 2 and was still jigging lame, le sigh. GOGOGO!
3)Choose your Trail buddies Wisely: Even though your best friend lives next door and rides endurance too, her fire breathing dragon may not be the right trail buddy for your feisty partner. Your time spent alone dictating pace is very important in your relationship with your horse, but you can throw all your good work straight out the window if you pair up with a horse of equal or higher drive. Find a horse to ride with that rates well with yours, neither pulling you back nor driving your horse to higher levels of excitement. If you can’t find that partner on a ride, don’t be afraid to pull off, dismount if necessary, and find yourself a quiet niche in the traffic. Your brain might tell you safety in numbers but that often isn’t the case with a hot horse. No really. My mare pulled my arms out of my sockets for 2 50s straight at Cuyama XP 2012 because I was riding with a great friend on an ass kicking stallion. It was a rush but um, not very conducive to horse brain development!
4)The Manners Box: If your horse is forward and competitive and you’re wondering how to deal with it, there’s a good chance that when you hand walk them they try to drag you down the trail often too. Desire sure did. To keep her at, let alone even close to behind-ish my shoulder, I helicoptered my reins in front of her nose for miles and miles, sometimes it took just 5 times and other it felt like 500. Bottom line that’s the type of horse she was and I had to keep my shit together and deal with it, or get really really frustrated. She got better with each 50 ridden, while still having special throwback moments on each occasion. Be sure to practice and maintain the Manners Box all the time, whether coming in the from the pasture, wandering around vet camp, etc. It takes time and miles, and more miles, and more time. And has to be adapted for each horse–for example I also have a gelding that will drag at the end of his reins and that is no more acceptable. I ground drive him to wake him up and for him the Manners Box is actually with me at his shoulder, to keep him moving. That is what works for him. Figure out what works for you and your horse and stick to it!
5) Never Let your Guard Down: This goes hand in hand with the first point, actually. In Desire’s case, she was not only physically fit and well aware of it, she’s smart as a whip and will take advantage of any weakness, from sensing my inattention in the reins and taking off/spooking, to using that one time I let her walk a little ahead of me to the vet check against me. Without fail, if I let her out of her Manners Box when hand walking her, she was an impossible shit for a good while after. Maintaining boundaries and attentive authority with Desire was always important, she was simply not a passenger horse.
6) LSD miles: Though Desire top 10’d those 50s before I owned her, and snapped back into shape quite impressively after foaling, I rode my conditioning miles at a pretty conservative pace. Though she was fit and fast and forward, we didn’t do much zooming around the trails at home. Trotting yes, having fun, yes, but not a lot of high speed or high mileage-at-a-time stuff. We ended up with 700 trail miles to our 305 competition miles. She already had it in her tank to go fast and long but what she needed to figure out was quieting down and taking those walks on the trail, being a little more leisurely about things.