In which I reveal lessons learned from endurance (mostly the hard way)

In a recent blog post (HERE) Endurance Granny wrote about endurance riders who don't really talk about their difficulties and failures. 

Certainly it's more fun (and easier on the ego) to talk about successes, but part of my blog is to explore what doesn't work, as well as what does work. 

With that in mind, I jotted down some thoughts about lessons I've learned from doing endurance.  Being me, I mostly learn stuff "the hard way."  If I can spare somebody else a trip down the hard-knock road, I'm happy to do it. 

You will notice that almost all of the stuff I learned is NOT exclusive to endurance.  Coincidence?  Of course not.  If you haven't noticed yet that endurance is a metaphor for life, than you really haven't been paying attention!

1.   What I experienced: I needed help and didn't know anybody and felt awkward asking for help.

What I learned: People love to help! Complete strangers will actually be happy to assist you--just ask!  They will help apply an easyboot, change a flat trailer tire, or feed the junior that you picked up at the previous vetcheck when her other sponsor got pulled.  They will loan you a stronger bit on the day you discover that your horse Will.Not.Stop.  They will give you a ride home when your truck breaks, and buy you a cup of coffee on the way. 

Avoid my mistake: Ask for help. Ask anybody -- chances are, somebody who can't help you directly will know somebody else nearby who can help.

Bonus points:
This applies to a lot more than ridecamp life. If you need help, ask. You'll be amazed.

Extra bonus points: Pay it forward, and don't keep score. When somebody asks, help.  If they don't ask for help, offer it anyhow.


2.  What I experienced:  The help I've gotten doesn't actually solve the problem.

What I learned:  Get help elsewhere!

Avoid my mistake:   If what you are doing doesn't work, stop doing it!   Read a book on the topic, find a new instructor, take a weekend away from the situation and come back to it with fresh eyes after a few days, or ask an unbiased friend for advice.

Bonus points:  loyalty to a person (a trainer? a clinician?) or to an ideal (barefoot?  bitless? treeless?)  is important, but there's no need to be stupidly loyal.  Know when to say "enough."  No training technique or piece of equipment is a perfect fit for every horse.

Extra bonus points:  Figure out in advance how you will evaluate a situation.  Give yourself plenty of time before you decide that a "solution" isn't working...but don't feel obligated to stick with a solution that doesn't solve the problem.


3.  What I experienced: I have an entirely unique problem--nobody else in camp has a horse who does this thing!

What I learned:  Those people in camp with awesome performance horses didn't start with a perfect horse.  EVERY  horse has "issues" that a savvy rider will cope with, train out, and overcome.  Some issues are minor ("she spooks at the finish line").  Some issues are major ("he bites the vet"). 

Avoid my mistake:  Ask around.  Find somebody who has experience dealing with the issue, and ask for advice.  Don't overlook the vets--either in camp or at home!  They can, and will, offer advice if you ask for an opinion.  Just because a horse has "always done it" doesn't mean that you can never change the rules.  It's okay to decide that you will stop allowing  a behavior--and then take steps to fix the situation! 

Bonus points:  You train your horse every single time you interact.   Pay attention to what you're teaching--it's entirely possible that your horse is behaving badly because you gave tacit permission to be naughty!  Perhaps you haven't corrected a behavior or haven't corrected it strongly or consistantly enough. Pay attention to your behavior while the horse is misbehaving, and try to spot things you can change about yourself that will change the situation for the horse.

Extra bonus points:  It's okay to ask somebody else to help.  See #1.

4.  What I experienced:  Something seems Not Quite Right.

What I learned:  If something seems Not Quite Right, generally it's because something is WRONG. 

Avoid my mistake:  Stop what you're doing as soon as safely possible, get off and look top-to-bottom, front-to-back.  Maybe a shoe is loose.  Maybe your cinch is loose.  Maybe your horse has seriously pulled a gigantic butt muscle and will be lame and sore and out of competition for months.

Bonus points:  This applies to a lot of things, not just riding endurance.  Examples include, but are not limited to, the rock in your shoe, the sound of your truck around a corner, and your relationship with a spouse, a parent, a child, or a boss. 

Extra bonus points:  get your brakes checked.  Trust me.


5.  What I experienced:  This horse is nuts!  I'm scared every single time I ride him/her!

What I learned:  There's an old cowboy saying:  "There ain't no horse that can't be rode/There ain't no cowboy can't be throwed."   In other words, the horse might be an awesome mount...for somebody else.  You might be a terrific rider...for a different horse.

Avoid my mistake:  If you are riding a horse that frightens you, change something.  Sometimes, changing instructors will help.  Sometimes, changing activities will make a huge difference--a horse who is an idiot on the trail might be brilliant over fences or working cattle.  Sometimes you might need to admit that the combination of rider + horse is just not working, and for everyone's happiness and safety, it's time to find another mount for yourself.

Bonus points:  Empower your friends to speak up and make suggestions.  They may be really worried about you, but afraid to hurt your feelings by telling you about their concerns.

Extra bonus points:  Of course, you should always wear a helmet.  You knew that, right?

6.  What I experienced:  I'm all stressed out because I have so many goals and aspirations!

What I learned:  Do less.  Cut back on competitions, or cut back on the speed/distance when you do compete. 

Avoid my mistake:  There's a wonderful Zen story about the student who wants to achieve his black belt in half the ordinary time, but the instructor insists that the task will, instead, take twice the ordinary time.  The reason:  "With one eye on the finish line, there is only one eye for the journey." 

Bonus points: The endurance vet Dr. Matthew Mackay-Smith says, "Never hurry.  Never tarry."  No kidding.

Extra bonus points:  Endurance is a sport.  It's supposed to be fun.  If you aren't having fun--if you're worrying, stressing, and losing sleep over it, why do it at all?


Okay, Gentle Readers:  now it's your turn.  What have you learned?  What are you learning?   Do you have advice for the rest of us?   The comment box is open and waiting for you to share!


  1. Always, always, trust your instincts. If you don't, you will be sorry. This may be the only advantage to growing older - you learned to trust your gut because you have paid for ignoring it so many times :).

  2. ELLEN: Very good point! I used to tell my karate students that gut instincts are never wrong. The problem is that you don't get verification of that if you FOLLOW your gut instinct--you only find out by ignoring your gut and landing in disaster.

  3. don't have enough room in this dialog box. Really, you don't.

    But my lesson learned the hard way would be to LISTEN and FILTER. There are folks out there that have made your mistakes. They will try to offer advice. Listen when they say go slow for a season, or two. REALLY. Maybe go slow forever. It depends on your horse's talent, and the longevity you'd like from your horse.

    Some advice you will need to filter. It might work for your horse, and then it may not. Don't make sudden changes to feed, speed, or distance.

    Know your horse. Your horse is not a machine. It is a living, breathing, thinking creature. It feels pain, fatigue, fear, it may wake up on the wrong side of the barn. Love your animal and treat it with kindness. Can you run 50 miles today with a 50# pack on your back? Think about it. Personally, I'd drop dead about mile #1. I'd look like a turtle flipped over on its shell on the side of the road, legs in the air.

    Sometimes a horse needs rest. Sometimes a horse needs active rest.

    Listen the ride vets. They are your horse's VERY BEST FRIEND.

    When there is a hitch in your horse's giddy-up, there is likely something WRONG. Find out what, and find out in a hurry. If you don't believe me go to MONKS blog and see the horse down 1 mile from the finish. Is it worth it?

    Read my blog at endurancegranny.blogspot the chronicle of learning much, the hard way. ~E.G.

  4. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, electrolytes would be it.

  5. Excellent lessons and wise words.

  6. Great post Aarene! Everything you mentioned is so true. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying; "When you stop learning -- you'll be dead!" :-)

  7. This was a most excellent post.

    I learned that it's okay to let go of a horse that you love to pieces but that is not working for you. The world will not end. You are not a failure.

    It's also okay to change your mind either about your horse, how you should approach a problem — whatever.

    And what Ellen said — ALWAYS!!!


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