I guess Endurance Riding is the same as Endurance Anything – not to be tackled lightly and definitely to be trained for – so let’s look at a few areas of importance:
Rhythm is the key, and staying in one will be the most efficient way of getting from urtuu to urtuu. Some horses will be happy to canter all the way. Some will want to trot all the way. Some need to trot up a hill, some walk, and some just blast. But remember if the horse you’re on is a trotter then he will probably be faster trotting than if you insist on cantering.
Even if you vary between trot and canter, your ground speed probably won't change significantly, so observe what is most comfortable for the horse. If you can't trot, you need to learn by August, because you definitely can't win with just gallop and walk.
If you pace the horse well you can trot straight up to the vets and achieve the target heart rate of 56bpm.
Conversely if you have scorched the horse's heart and lungs for 30kms and then walked it in for 5kms, you might still have a struggle to recover.
Once more in case it sticks this time - rhythm is key!
So whilst staying in a rhythm is economical for the horse, how is it going to be for you? Actually pretty knackering if you haven’t worked out how. Here are some tips for conditioning you in the saddle.
Firstly, ride as many different horses & ponies as you can in the coming months. Lots of time in the saddle, and over different terrain will be invaluable, so pick up spare rides wherever you can. Whilst out, really try and incorporate some of the following exercises.
- Start by changing your rising diagonal every 10 strides in trot, then change every 5 strides. Your horse will start to feel lighter and more balanced and so too will you (once your thighs have stopped burning that is!!). This is such a great fittening exercise for riding distances, and also works both sides of the horse equally. Even over 40kms this could make the difference between bringing a horse home sound or unsound.
- Next lift forward from the hip and post gently on your knees – no cheating by resting on the withers – this will help you to create an independent seat.
- Get up in those stirrups and post for a good distance – again, no leaning on the horse – this is designed to rest him and you (once you’re balanced enough)
- In canter get used to a “polo or SJ Canter” sit 3 rise 3 – get into a rhythm and you can go for days
If at all possible get some lunge lessons – there’s nothing better for a sound seat than no reins, no stirrups and someone standing in the middle of the circle critiquing your technique. The less effort you need to stay central and balanced, the more effort you have left to navigate/make camp/look after your horses/make that last urtuu by sundown
Get used to having 2 or even 3 stirrup lengths as 'normal', and switch between them regularly. Do this on the race and you will really save your knees and ankles. It's a hard habit to get into, so start now.
Sore knees and ankles are probably the main complaint from riders post-Derby and they'll still be shot long after the saddle sores have scabbed over so this really is one to take note of. Ask any veteran and they will tell you this for free.
You should all have this – you’ve entered this crazy race anyway BUT in this case I mean the bottle to go with the flow!
There will be times when you are careering wildly out of control across the Steppe you need to find the “Bottle, Balls whatever it takes to just look in the right direction and “GO” – tugging wildly at the head or as was once suggested tugging on one rein will most likely finish you on the deck eating dirt. The horse is aware of the ground and usually where the marmot holes are but if you have it’s head high in the air or facing backwards it sure won’t be seeing the hole! Just enjoy the ride and wait for it to settle. Talk to me if you want to discuss this.
Ultra Distance Mentality
Well we all know it’s 1000kms, however if we start off counting back
wards from 1000 or towards 1000 it will be a very very long way especially in the middle of a grotty day. You need to learn to break it down.
Start practising measuring how far you have gone, ideally with and without a GPS. When you ride out get to feel what 1km is and then 10km, and, ideally, even 40km.
40km is generally the distance between Morin Urtuus and therefore just about the longest (depending on your dexterity with the GPS) you should be riding in a hit. Most are actually closer to 36kms, to allow a bit of wiggle room in navigation. If you know how it feels to go that far you’ll have all kinds of mental safety nets built in: how far you’ve gone, how you need to go, how far you might be wrong if you've taken a bad line, how far before a rest. If you‘re horseless or either you or horse injured, which is better, backwards or forwards?
That 40km will start to build and before you know it – you’ll be just 2 or 3 x 40 from the finish – a day?!
Finally, a brief "Sermon on the Mount"
Mounting and dismounting; whilst etiquette often demands our horses stand obligingly by the mounting block, gate or similar, the Mongolian Horse has not heard of this westernized custom. It’s a matter of getting on and getting off lightly, quickly, efficiently and still holding on, even if they are rolling. (See above re: BOTTLE)
Practise this art as a matter of course from now on. Mount everything from the stirrup, and don't be too precious- UP! Remember you’ll have your world with you - maybe a backpack, maybe saddle bags. You’ll need to get pretty nimble and learn to mount with a lot of weight hanging off you and clobber on the saddle.
Crucially, the Mongolians step down rather than jump leaving a foot in the stirrup as the leg comes over (those of you who are western riders do this too) those of you who don’t - practise, it’s pretty un-nerving when you’re not used to doing it and again you need to be slick. What's more un-nerving, though, is jumping down with an almighty thud which sends your horse running for the hills in terror.