In which I muse a bit about legging up a a young endurance horse

I don't want to pretend to be an expert horse trainer, nor an expert endurance rider. I've done some rides. I've learned some stuff. I guess I'm only wondering what I don't know.
My first horse was an off-track standardbred mare called Story. We plinked around on trails for a few years before I started riding with a friend who not only wanted to try out the sport of endurance, but she also had a truck and trailer, which I lacked.

Off we went. Story was calm, quiet, sure-footed, and smart enough to stay out of trouble. She wasn't tremendously fast, but she could trot all day, and she flat-out refused to trot at a speed faster than her metronome all-day pace. She didn't have much of a canter--her track training has strongly discouraged the gait, and quite frankly, I wasn't a very good rider. She was a nice horse in spite of me, not because of me.
My friend knew more about riding, and she taught me some stuff. She didn't know any more about endurance than I did, and we all learned together.

After a few years of LD rides (25 miles or more, but less than 50 miles), I started wanted to bump up to longer rides. 50's, 75's and possibly 100's. Alas, Story had some old injuries--probably souveniers of the racetrack--that limited her ability to do long miles.

Enter the Toad.
My friend bought the Toad as a glow-in-the-dark green 7 year old. Unlike Story, he was bred for the sport of endurance: a CMK Arab gelding with impeccable breeding. His parents, siblings, and most of his close relations were succeeding brilliantly in the sport. "If he has half a brain, he'll be fabulous," said my friend.

Famous last words. He had exactly one-half of a brain.

Unlike Story, he wasn't calm, and he wasn't even vaguely inclined to stay out of trouble. He bucked, he pronged, and he spooked at things like leaves, ferns, branches, and his own thoughts. Despite my inexperience and his lack of useful grey cells, we hit the endurance trail together. We completed more than 2,000 miles together. We finished a bunch of 50's, a handful of 75's and one 100-miler.

But I missed sensibleness.

Less than a week after Story died, I got a call from the standardbred rescue people up in Canada. One of Story's cousins needed a home.
What have I learned? What did I do right? What would I do differently to improve the endurance careers of the horses? What am I doing differently with Fiddle?

With Story, the years spent puttering around on trails were the best base we could have engineered. We not only learned to cover a huge variety of territory gracefully, but we also learned to trust each other. I did that part right.

I would have gotten her more chiropractic work, earlier and more often. I would have taken more dressage lessons. I would have loaned her out less, and ridden her more myself.

With the Toad, I played lots of games. He loved to play "follow me", where I would run in crazy patterns and he would be just one pace behind every step of the way. He even would step in time with me--in many photos, I see that his left front foot steps forward at exactly the same time that my left foot steps forward, and the right front was exactly in step with my right foot. He trusted me. But truthfully, I could never trust him completely. He was just a little too squirrely.

If I could go back and start over with the Toad, I would take a lot more time to plink around on trails. I would have spent a year or more doing shorter distance rides with him, and spent more time teaching him skills other than trotting down the trail and spooking at ghosts of his own invention. I would have taken more dressage lessons.

With Fiddle, my intention is to apply what Story and the Toad have taught me. We have already spent almost 3 years plinking around on trails. We have been to several gaming playdays, we have built trails, we have played tag, we can do tricks, we have camped in the backcountry. We have learned to trust each other.

And I will keep taking riding lessons, I promise.

How about you, Dear Readers? What have you done? What have you learned? What would you do more of, and what will you do differently next time? I look forward to your wisdom.


  1. Wisdom? Mm, 'fraid not. I have learned to not let my heart rule my head. My heart brought me crazy Poco. I'm lucky it's working out as well as it is. Would I ever buy a horse like him again? Nope.

  2. i admit, i hate it that you call billy "the toad". that's what some used to call blaze. billy doesn't deserve that name! even with those spooks at "his thoughts" (rotfl), hehehehe. yah he was hot, but you brought him around in the correct way. you actually did bring him up slowly. you went overtime, you went fulltime. you were so careful!

    story, god bless her. someday i hope to have the honor of visiting her unique space in heaven.

    fiddle, i have one thing to say. "you lucky thing."



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