The 2009 endurance season has come to a close for me and my little horse Sagebrush Nettie (AERC#H42993). Most northwest folks still have a few more races left in the season over in Idaho to attend, but my distance gear is hung-up for the year. Nettie is enjoying a nice break until December - after which we will once again resume conditioning.
What a fun year it was! One of my greatest enjoyments in life is endurance riding. When I was a kid I used to gallop my little shetland pony everywhere - even places where I shouldn't have been. Never did sit still on a horse for very long. I've dabbled a little bit in a few horseback activities throughout my life, (jumping, cutting, ranch sorting, trail, etc.) but have never found anything that I have enjoyed more than endurance riding. Being in the saddle for long hours at a time and getting to know your horse inside and out, with every emotion and trial and tribulation along the way. What a sport! It takes a tough animal to carry a person 50/75/100 miles in a day at a fast clip and stay sound and fit enough to continue going on.
When I'm in a race, my mind thinks back to the time when people actually had to use their horses for transportation. Today's big fat grotesque barrel-backed pony-footed halter horses wouldn't stand a bit of a chance hauling their riders over such distances without having serious break downs. In the 1800's, it probably would've ended with the scene of a smoking gun, a dead horse along the trail, and the cowboy packing his gear back into town to find a more suitable animal at the livery stable. Weaknesses were not tolerated for very long when people depended on their horses for transport.
I study a lot of other horses when I'm at the races, and it is very surprising to see which ones hold-up for a lifetime of hard use and which ones don't. I try to talk to as many folks as I can to find out how many miles their horses have under their belts. Two very memorable guys that I've chatted with own geldings that nobody would ever dream of in a million years as having such a successful career in distance riding.
One is a peruvian paso that was a flunkie at the trainers. He had been to several stables, and every professional that rode him said he was a total flop. Never would amount to anything and probably only be good for 10 minute trail riding. When I seen the horse at a race with his owner, I remember him as an ill-built short little 14 hh horse that required extra gimmicks for cooling. But...... when I engaged his owner in conversation about his horse, I found out that he had rode over 5,000 miles in cometitive distance events over the last couple of years. That little gelding was packing over 300 pounds worth of rider and gear every time he went out, and was still going strong at 10 years of age. Even though most of his physical traits were less than appealing to look at, he had some of the best feet I've ever seen on a horse. I imagine that the next time I see the little guy, he will be crossing the 10,000 mile marker with his rider.
The other horse that comes to mind is a bit of anomaly to me. He's a huge 16hh+ draft-cross gelding owned by a veterinarian who loves to compete. His owner always jokes - "Give me a fall day that's below 40 degrees, and every arab out here will be in serious trouble." I absolutely love it! Whenever I see that great big sucker out on the trail, I root for him every time. In the 2009 season, the big gelding accumulated more than 500 miles. That's fairly impressive for such an unconventionally giant type of distance animal. He is definitely one of my favorite horses competing in endurance. I always try to talk with his owner to see how the gelding is doing when I see him at the races.
I guess I have a soft spot for "non-arab" four legged competitors in endurance. The sport has been saturated with arabians for so long, that I find it refreshing to see other breeds/types out there competing. I always pull for them, and happy to see them out there doing a great job.