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Endurance riding isn’t necessarily always about competition; it’s really about stamina and fitness. Training for endurance is good to do for any discipline as it is important for not only stamina but muscle development and strengthening as well. This kind of training can be boring to do in an arena or other limited space, but the pros outweigh the cons. Take these steps as a good starting place for your endurance program (these steps should be considered for horses that are coming off of a long period of rest, but the principle is the same for any horse):
- Start small. Start with small distances at the walk. You can throw in things like circles, serpentines, and poles to make this part more interesting. It really is as simple as it sounds—just walk around!
- Add the trot. After a few rides, depending on your horse’s fitness, start to add the trot to your workout. Do half of the walking distance, complete the trotting distance, then finish the other half of the walking distance. The bookend walking distances work as the warm up and cool down. At the trot, you can also do things like circles, serpentines, and poles to mix things up. Slowly increase the distances at this stage; the trot is a great gait to build stamina.
- Add the canter/lope. Do half of the walking distance, half of the trotting distance, complete the cantering/loping distance (starting with just a few laps in each direction at first), then finish the other half of the trotting distance and the other half of the walking distance. You don’t really want an extended canter/lope at this point, it should be more relaxed and collected.
- Make trail rides more than just pleasure rides. Use routine trail rides as an opportunity to get in some endurance training. Map out your trail ride, marking the distances to be ridden at each gait. Even just making note of the miles ridden on a relaxing trail ride can help you track your horse’s progress.
The idea of this kind of endurance training is to increase the distance possible at each gait. It can be a long, slow process that requires time, commitment, patience, and organization. It is very important to keep track of you and you horse’s progress for this kind of training; keeping a log of gaits, distances, and times would be beneficial to your program. You also want to keep a close eye on your horse’s health, wellness, and body condition through the whole process, especially before long or difficult training sessions or competitions. Be sure to work with your trainer, vet, and farrier to create the best endurance program for you and your horse!
The nice thing about endurance training is that it’s possible even for horses that are coming off of injury, illness, or just an extended break. There are also some really fun and exciting competitions and events available, mostly through endurance or trail riding associations.