Riding out a "MUST WIN" Mentality

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!

Cuyama XP: 50s Days 1 & 3completion

Whiskeytown Chaser 50the dream ride: completion and unintentional top 10 

Cache Creek Ridge Ride 50completion

Hat Creek Hustle Day 1 50completion

Hat Creek Hustle Day 2 50lameness pull

Trinity River Challenge 50completion

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!

This is my Rushcreek *just 20 miles* into a one day 50 that I then RO’ed coz I felt him take 10 funny steps. See the attitude difference?
I  always tried to let most, if not all, of the pack go ahead of us at the start to try to avoid the hyper front runner energy she fed off so intensely, but if we ended up in a solid trot and passed a lot of people, fine. Our best ride was Whiskeytown Chaser where we found a harmony and despite losing boots and much to my surprise, crossed the finish line in 8th place and showed for BC. Desire was a forward goer with a great instinct for endurance so I toned that down from an insane death charge to a dull roar with good results. 

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.

5 thoughts on “Riding out a "MUST WIN" Mentality

  1. #1 and #2 are definitely lessons learned from Fuega at her 1st and my 2nd LD (and reinforced after) – she was going to make me work for it, and we had to compromise on pace. I had been told and liked the idea of starting late and keeping slow, but she was expending more of both our energy fighting me until we reached a 'move out within reasonable parameters' agreement. Mare negotiations!

  2. great write up. And exactly as I had feared! You mean there is no solution to make him want to go down the trail at 6mph? ha! 😎 We work on the manners box all the time (love the helicopter reins description, never thought to call it that, but perfect!)

    I'm going to do even more LSD at home. We do some trotting rides, though we never average over 6.0 mph for the ride (our rough trails won't allow it) and can only canter small stretches at a time I do feel like this puts me at a disadvantage at rides, where speed becomes a factor (though I do not allow cantering when he is ridiculous, too much chance for the bad behavior you mention).

    I'll give him credit that he is honest and not dangerous, just fast. Just wants to go. And I have to become that rider, though I think I'm more a mid-to-back of pack person!

    thanks for the thoughts, I shall ponder some more…

  3. OMG, I have yet to do my first endurance ride (my goal for this year) but you describe my mare to a T, based on my experience with her on trails. I am convinced she will be great at endurance, but your tips are SUPER helpful! I'm always happy when I finish a ride and my arms are not a foot longer than when we started. Luckily we have a dressage base and the half halts and other techniques are helpful in schooling the trails. Thank you for your advice!

  4. Thank you so much for writing this! I feel better knowing I'm not alone with a hot, forward, and sassy mare! Nahla tests my patience, but she does her job beautifully. She Top 10'd on two 50s before I got her last year, and all she's ever known is go! and GO FAST! We are working on Go…moderately…
    We are going to do as many multi-days as we can this year. Even if they are LD multi-days. I'm sure wet saddle blankets and long slow-ish miles (like you said, trotting…fun…but not ripping down the trail) will get her on track. We've only done 1 LD together – a very challenging 30 miler in Capitol Forest, Washington. It was either up or down. Hardly any in between. She was a rockstar. She will be great for 50s this year! 🙂

  5. GREAT post. Especially the point about knowing the nature of your horse. Farley is NOT a turtle horse. However, we can go a “bit” slower than she wants and do mid pack, which is what I'm comfortable with. And #3 is a great one as well. I never agree to ride with anyone because of some bad experiences with agreeing to start and ride with someone. Now I smile and say “if it works out on the trail, GREAT”. And you know how much i *love* the manners box. Great post and very timely for me as my 3 year “napoleon” syndrome horse arrives Monday.

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