Friday, December 17, 2010

What's in a Name?

Terre O'Brennan

AERC, like every other National Endurance organization in the world, defines Endurance as ‘an event of 50 miles (80 km) or more’. Riders who participate in shorter rides may feel that this definition is an affront to them, since it differentiates the events they participate in from “Endurance”. They belong to Endurance organizations, and attend Endurance rides, and yet their sport has a different name. They believe that this definition is arbitrary and artificial, and exists only to enable a bunch of elitist snobs to feel superior. When riders in the 50 or 100 mile events refer to this definition, Limited Distance riders feel insulted. This misunderstanding has led to the single biggest source of disharmony in AERC.

Huge bodies of research have been done on the physiology of horses participating in Endurance rides; all of them agree on one essential point: the overwhelming bulk of water and electrolyte loss occurs during the first 25 miles (40 km) of work*. How the horse and rider manage the next 25 to 75 miles in the face of these losses is, in fact, the definition of “Endurance”. When the horse stops working at 25 miles, it never faces this challenge; what it has done is a valid sport, and a useful sport, but not the same sport as those horses that do longer distance.

It is important to recognize and understand this difference, and not just for intra-organization harmony. Riders wishing to ‘move up’ from Limited Distance to Endurance must understand that it is not just “more of the same”—their horses (and themselves) are actually taking on a whole new challenge. To illustrate by analogy…many of us occasionally undertake “Runs” of 5 miles or so, often for charity. If you are one of these people, picture yourself suddenly entering a Marathon—with no change of training, equipment, or strategy! How do you think you would make out?

Perhaps ironically, the more “successful” a Limited Distance rider may be (in terms of speed), the less likely they are to succeed at the Endurance distances, at least initially. Often, the horse has learned to make time at the expense of grazing and drinking on the trail; it may be difficult to change this acquired behaviour. These horses are often difficult to rate. The riders keep finding their horse hitting a ‘wall’ at about 35 miles—usually poor guts sounds and/or recovery. They resist the advice to return to doing shorter rides because they feel they can’t learn anything new at this distance; they are already succeeding there. What they fail to realise is that the problems they are experiencing are not developing between miles 25 and 35, they occurred between miles 1 and 25. It is only the effect of these problems that occur later—an effect that doesn’t occur if the horse stops working before they become apparent.

Horses that have done the shorter distances at a steadier pace will actually find the transition easier; they are more used to being ‘out on the trail’ for prolonged periods. Keeping “the fuel tanks”—water, guts, electrolytes—topped up on these horses is generally easier, since the horses cooperate!

A factor that unnecessarily discourages some Limited Distance riders from attempting longer distances is the issue of “fitness”. It is not uncommon to hear them state that ‘’they don’t have enough time to train sufficiently to do 50s”. I believe many people have an exaggerated idea of how much training Endurance riders do; if you look around at a typical ride you will note that the majority of riders in the 50 and even 100 mile rides are also ‘ordinary people with jobs, family, etc’. Most mature horses with a good base that have successfully completed several Limited Distance rides in a season are—by the very fact of having done that mileage—fit enough to attempt a 50. Fitness is far more important with regard to speed than to distance; ability and willingness to eat and drink are generally enough to allow most horses to walk and trot for many hours.

Many Limited Distance riders have, of course, absolutely no interest in riding Endurance distances. There is certainly nothing wrong with that! Having made that choice, they need to make peace with the concept that the sport they have decided to participate in is not the same sport as their friends who ride the longer distance. Many riders participating in the longer distances choose not to ride fast.  Many riders at all distances choose not to ride under certain weather or trail conditions.  Some riders may choose to ride only multidays, or only 100s, or only rides within a few hours of home.  All riders make choices which define which of the different challenges of our sport they wish to address. “Different” doesn’t have to mean “disrespected”—everybody has somebody, somewhere, who is doing more or better than they are. Maria Alvarez Ponton, two time World Champion, has only a fraction of the lifetime mileage of many Endurance riders. We must learn to embrace our differences if we are to maintain harmony; and that spirit of acceptance perhaps begins with understanding those differences.

* LINDINGER, M. I. and ECKER, G. L. (1995), Ion and water losses from body fluids during a 163 km endurance ride. Equine Veterinary Journal, 27: 314–322.May 1995
* Michael I Lindinger* , Gloria McKeen and Gayle L Ecker Effects of terrain, speed, temperature and distance on water and ion losses Volume 27, Issue S18, pages 298–305, May 1995
* Dane L. Frazier, DVM 81st Western Veterinary Conference V414The Distance Horse: Dragon Makers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So very true if only more people took these concepts on board....