In which a respected trainer makes me go "Wha-a-a-a-?" and I pose questions

I've been a fan of horse trainer Larry Trocha for quite a while, ever since somebody sent me THIS LINK to a post he wrote to a woman who was clearly overhorsed and undereducated.  If you follow the link and read his response to the lady, you can tell that he doesn't mince words.  He really does care about horses and about people, and he does his best to make the world a better place for both...especially when they hang out together. 

Mr Trocha specializes in competetive cow-type horses, and I daresay he does quite well.  His horse-training advice (video, audio, and text) are often available free on his website, and well-worth any time you spend there.  However, today I read THIS ENTRY about the need to spend quality money in order to buy a quality horse in order to win.

I read it twice, just in case I had mis-read it the first time. 
Both times, reading it gave me a bad case of "Pickle-head."

I grant you that competetive horse showing of any kind that is based on a "look" requires that you show up with a horse who fits the look.  After all, if the judges are giving ribbons to this:
Scottsdale arabian halter prospect
it would be a waste of everybody's time to bring them a candidate who looks like this:
Team Sensible head.
I get that.

However, Mr Trocha states his opinion as if it is a Universal Truth: 
"You gotta pay a bunch of money to get a horse who can (not will but can) win."

I respectfully disagree.  The sport of endurance is filled with VERY successful horses who were bought cheaply at auction, taken in trade for a bad debt, or adopted free from a friend.  These horses aren't the exception that prove the rule.  They are horses who were taught a skill, and then allowed to use the skill to the best of their ability. 

Endurance is not a sport of appearance.  The vets don't give an overweight rodent's rear-end if you have a blue-blooded Arab full-sibling to Valerie Kanavey's best horse, or if you ride in a million-dollar saddle with a gold-inlaid biothane bridle. If your horse is lame, he's lame.  And if he's lame, he gets pulled. 

Rocks and gopher holes can happen to any horse, no matter how much you paid for it.  The value of an endurance horse comes from his (or her) skill on the trail: the ability to move out for long miles and take care of him/herself (and hopefully take care of the rider as well) along the way.  Money can buy a horse with good conformation and some training that can aid in success, but only experience and practice with the horse and rider together is going to bring years of success in the sport.

As a rider of one of those "free to a good home" horses, I appreciate a sport where performance is valued above appearance.  Sorry, Mr Trocha.  (My horse doesn't chase cows, either.)

Enough preaching.  I've got questions. 

I'm writing some articles about endurance during NaNoWriMo this year, and I want to hear from readers and their friends:

1.  When you started endurance, what part of the sport confused you the most? 

2.  What do you know now that you wished you'd understood when you first started participating in the sport?  If you could go back in time to advise yourself, what would you recommend?

3.  When you see people new to the sport, what aspects of the activity do you think is most important that they learn first?


1.  What is the most scary/intimidating/confusing aspect of the sport?

2.  What do you wish you could learn or improve?


1.  What skill or knowledge would you like to have before trying out the sport of endurance?

2.  What would help you to try out the sport for the first time?

Please, folks:  in the comments, identify yourself by your experience level, and give me your opinions.  I want to hear from you!


  1. Dog-head-cock: we call it "Zuh?" We have been known to make the Zuh-face at each other. But not in public, we have standards!

    I think Trocha is probably right, and it's exactly why I participate in performance events, not judged events.

    I'm not experienced yet, but the thing that confused me the most was how to *know* how fast you were going. A lot of training guides/articles say, for example, "train at 6 or 7 mph, then ride the competition at 5.5 mph." I had no idea how to develop the innate sense of how fast I was going. It took a LOT of watching the GPS to start to *just know* how fast we are averaging.

    Beginner Q's:
    The only thing that scares me is hurting my horse. There's so many ways, both accidentally and negligently, to hurt your horse, so it's a big amorphous fear.

    I just want to keep improving as a rider. I want to be sure that I'm doing everything possible to be an easy burden for Dixie.

  2. I've been interested in endurance for awhile, I was just dazzled by the big guys first :) To answer your questions, the longest trail ride I was ever on was a full day, 15 mile ride. Not exactly in your league :P So I am a complete beginner, endurance wise, but I think maybe having a chance to develop a better stock/Western seat would be a good start. I've ridden Western occasionally, but all my lessons have been English, and most of my pleasure riding on our own horses was bareback (ever looked at the cost of a good fitting saddle for a draft? Ouch.)
    Second question, I think just having someone who was involved in the sport who wasn't standoffish, maybe someone who had a quality second horse willing to take a neophite out for a day would be a good taste of the sport...if I didn't fall out of the saddle after the 20 mile mark! Someone who would be willing to meet not at a show or big event-seems like when you try to talk to people at places like that, they are too stressed/busy/involved for an in-depth discussion of their sport!

  3. I agree and both disagree with Larry - I think a sport like Endurance is a lot more forgiving on body type variance than something like cutting. And I think too many people don't take stock of their horse's body type/mentality before they start a discipline. I would never expect to win endurance competitions on a Shetland pony. I doubt I'd make it very far in the cutting world on an 18h draft horse. You can mold horses, but only so far .... Kind of like Mugly's post about her Foundation colt vs her inbred cutting horse. Sometimes they're just more natural.

    That said, it reminds me of a quote my dad once said: "God makes sprinters. Long-distance runners make themselves." It sounds like it could apply to endurance riding, as well.

    Beginner Question:

    1. How do you guys avoid the stupidity of a bunch of horses all hyped up at the beginning of a race? That's something I hate, hate, HATE about group trail rides - I imagine it would only be worse in a sport dominated by well-conditioned athletic horses peppered with Arab blood.

    2. As far as what would help me try out: This may sound dumb, but a babysitting co-op? (Hintity, hinthint, Jamethiel) I'm sure I'm not the only rider out there with kids - what if people hauled their kids as well as their horses out to multiday rides and took turns competing? It's a nice daydream. I'd totally watch somebody else's kids in exchange for a chance to ride.

    3. Technical Question: So, every sport has its conformational no-nos.... are there any that are really bad for endurance prospects? For instance, back length makes a big difference for a cutting prospect, but probably not so much for an endurance prospect. What things should you avoid or look for when purchasing a potential endurance horse?

  4. I showed a cutting horse reasonably successfully for several years. I am absolutely evidence for Larry Trocha's point. I really knew very little--Gunner was the first cutting horse I'd ever trained--and yet we were competitive...because he was such a good horse. I had to take out a loan to buy him as a three year old with thirty days on him.

    I quit cutting because I could not stand the politics. I competed in team roping for many years because it is a timed event, not a judged event. Many great team roping horses were/are not fancy bred, not expensive. Like endurance, its all about what they could get done.

    I have never done any endurance rides. I currently trail ride with my young son, and three or four hours is a long ride for us. The longest ride I have ever done is thirty miles (in the Sierra Nevada Mountains) and it seemed pretty darn painfully long to me. Like Becky, I don't care for large group trail rides--I like to ride with four or five others at most. I guess if I had a friend who was into endurance, was supportive and willing to sort of babysit me, I might give it a try.

  5. De-lurking for this!

    I'm looking at doing my first 'fun' 15-mile ride in November.. on my lease-mare, a 16 year old Haflinger. Neither of us have any endurance experience, though her owner has done some NATRC with her other two several years ago, but nothing beyond 25 miles.

    I absolutely do not have a sense of how fast we're going. A GPS would probably be a good investment, but for what I have to work with right now, I just don't have the money for it (not my horse, no guarantee she can even complete 25s, college student budget, so on). I also don't have a good sense of how far we've gone; even estimating the distance of the local trails is challenging. I've looked at 'average speed' charts for horses - but I'm riding a large pony and my usual riding partner is a Walker. Neither of us fit into the 'average' category very well.

    Really, there's just the fear that I'm pushing us too hard, that I'm trying to go somewhere we're not ready for yet. It's always a challenge when leasing to balance the rider's perspective vs the owner's perspective; we're both 100% convinced that I can take her in a 15-mile ride easily, and the local presence of one of these 'fun rides' means that if all goes well, I'll be giving it a try. 25/30-milers will come next year if this 15-miler goes well.

  6. Thanks for you answers to the endurance questions, everyone--please, keep them coming. I'm writing articles JUST FOR YOU whenever I'm not working on blog posts, I promise. Figure, Jamethiel, Becky and Laura: y'all are my inspiration. Tell me more, and I'll do my best to help you. Funder, you too. I'm only ten years into the game, so now I know what I don't know, and I'll try to steer everyone away from the pits I fell into in the last decade.

    As for the Picklehead thing, maybe @Laura Crum can tell me: how is it a sport, if the only thing you need to win is a "good" (i.e. incredibly expensive) horse? Wouldn't it make more sense to just hang out in the bar and see who can write the biggest check?

    I'm sorta serious here.

  7. Aarene--You crack me up--or at least you made me grin. Cutting is very much about who can write the biggest check--if you want to look at it that way. But surely you realize that so is dressage (at the upper levels) and the same truth applies to judged show horses of all kinds--from western pleasure through hunt seat...etc. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I'm guessing you're smart enough to know them without a lengthy explanation from me about showhorse politics (if you want such an explanation, say so, and I'll do a post on it). The point Larry Trocha made--that a horse that is bred to be say a cutter (like my Gunner) is so much more easily trained to be a good one than a horse who is not bred to be one (and these well bred horses tend to be expensive)--is only one of the many reasons wealthy people are the ones who succeed in judged events (there are exceptions to this rule--they are rare).

    Events such as team roping and endurance are different. And the difference is taking out the human judge and replacing him/her with an impartial timeclock. I have no interest in judged events--period. Been there, done that. Endurance does interest me...but I'm not sure I'm tough enough.

    As for why cutting is a sport--despite its major holes--have you ever watched a good cutting horse? Or better yet, ridden one? It is an incomparable thrill. The horses are incredible athletes. Unfortunately, yes, you can win by simply having enough money to buy a really good horse and keep him in training with a really good trainer. I have seen plenty of completely inept people win this way. It kind of reminds me of gymnastics or figure skating. You see these incredible athletes but the whole thing is so political and the judging is so not impartial that the contests might as well be rigged. OK--end of rant.

  8. Oh, and if you are quite wealthy, the reason it makes more sense to buy that good cutting horse than to sit in the bar writing checks is that riding a good cutting horse is incredibly fun. Not that I mind sitting in a bar. But I'd rather ride a good cutting horse any old day. Just can't afford one--or the practice cattle to keep him tuned up.

  9. Figure - I have suggestions for you! Download Google Earth and see if you can't find a couple of your usual trails on it. You can click on the ruler and "draw" your trail - a bunch of little connect-the-dots - and it'll tell you how long your line is. That's what I did before I got my GPS, and I still use it sometimes to plot out new routes. I got my Garmin from an REI garage sale for $30. Joining REI just for that is dumb, but if you have any friends/family members who are REI members, you could ask them to keep an eye out. And as a last resort, most smartphones have a GPS function. It usually sucks battery pretty hard, but at least you can see that *this* trot is 7 mph and *that* walk is 3 mph.

  10. Also, Aarene, I think you're being kind of unfair.

    People can buy a better chance at winning* at endurance, too. The deep pockets lease a horse for Tevis from one of the racing teams. The long term (Arab) planners spend their money on, say, a Rushcreek horse. People who want to race buy a racehorse from GETC/Reynolds. Doesn't mean they're wrong, just that they're exchanging money for an increased percentage of success in their type of competition.

    *Winning: Non endurance people, we have a bajillion ways to win. To name just a few: win the race, win Best Condition, top 10 all season to win points in your region, ride for 10 years for Decade Team.

    I think the ability to buy a "better" horse is just more pronounced in judged sports. Laura knows more than me, she might disagree?

  11. Funder--I don't know ANYTHING about endurance so can't comment about that. But I agree with what you said, in general. In team roping for instance, buying a better (read usually more expensive) horse will increase your chances of being competitive. But you still have to throw the rope and catch the steer and your money has no influence on that timeclock. So you really can't buy a win. I'd venture to guess its the same in endurance. You can buy or lease a truly competitive horse if you have money, but you still have to do the riding. Which I'm sure is not that easy. Cutting is a little different. With the coaching of an experienced trainer, a not very good rider on a great horse can do pretty well. That really lends itself to buying your way in.

    I think the bottom line is that money is always helpful. But it speaks a lot more loudly in judged events. Or that's been my impression, anyway.

  12. Laura and Funder and everyone else, y'all are the reason I write this blog: so YOU can educate ME. Truly, this is fascinating stuff.

    Laura, you inspire me to ride a cutting horse someday. I don't need to win anything, I just want to try it. It sounds like fun, and I'm always up for fun.

    Funder, you make good points about "buying a better chance of winning". That sort of thing is NOT what the sport is about for me, but I can see the attraction for people who have more money than long as everyone understands that you can buy the kit, but you gotta build it yourself.

  13. Also - I think non-Arab people still have so much to learn. There's always a nontrivial chance that your nicely conformed endurance-bred Arab just won't work out for some reason, but they seem to have a narrower set of criteria. The non-Arab riders don't have enough successful examples to follow. I'm on a gaited endurance list, and we talk about this a lot. There just aren't enough gaited horses yet to statistically say much about them.

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  15. 2nd try...
    1. To figure out the "in's & out's" of a loop!
    2. To have realized that the mare I was riding would Never have the feet for the sport... Never! To take a longer view.
    3. The "Ride your Own Ride" mantra... Yes... We all know that your horse is the best! So are all of ours! :-)

  16. @Jamethiel (and everyone else local to the area of Portland OR, ahem, Becky!): consider yourself formally invited to the Pacific Northwest Endurance Rides annual convention, held at the Embassy Suites Airport in Portland, Jan 20-22, 2012.

    There will be PLENTY of opportunity to learn stuff about our sport, to shop for shiny tack and toys, and to meet all the fun folks.

    Please say that you'll come and party with us!

    As for your responses to my questions, stay tuned to this space.

  17. I"m in the agree and disagree category on the Must Have Billion Dollar Horse.
    What I read in Mr. Trocha's response was "genetics matter". Not so much famous names, as *why* they became famous. Certain lines have better depth perception or balance, speed or smarts, the ability to absorb multiple points of input, process it, and spit out "I've GOT this cow."

    That said, yup, you can do it with an inexpensive horse and win. (And I'd take Fee any day over the Scottsdale arab.)

    I heard "increase your chances of winning by buying from a line (i.e. expensive) that has proven get in this sport. Then add the training." But uh, I think Laura said this stuff so I'm going to shut up now.

    I'm in the no zilch-o group of potential Endurance riders :). This is what I'd want to know:

    1. Is the (overall) sport friendly? Do people like helping each other and riding together? By that I mean is the competitive aspect along the lines of: "I want to win really bad, but if I don't, I'm going to be SO happy for YOU"? Or is it grumbly at the finish line?
    2. What are the rules - written and unwritten? (It seems to me every horse sport has unwritten rules you learn along the way)
    3. Is there a way to try a short taste of what it would be like? (Laziness alert) I don't want to have to train for months and then find out it's not right for me the first hour in.
    4. If I had a "babysitter" who could explain things to me as we rode, I'd try it in a heart beat. I'd have no idea how to rate myself or my horse, etc.
    5. What skill would I like to have first? Hmmm. I think I'd want to work a lot of vet checks before I actually rode competitively. I'd want to see every level of condition, and know why a (fit) horse could fail a vet check (not from lameness) and how to spot/prevent those things before they happen.
    I'm sure there's more, but I kinda hit the "novel" level here...

  18. I'll definitely be there! I went to look at the group page, and realized that volunteering might be a good way to be introduced to the sport. What volunteer positions put you in the thick of the event?

  19. @Jamethiel: The Best Volunteer position for learning what makes endurance horses tick is Vet Scribe. If you work every vet check, you'll see every horse about four times, or, as I like to say, you'll see 400 horses in a day. Each horse will be professionally evaluated by an experienced veterinarian in about 10 minutes or so. You'll watch every horse trot out and learn to spot lameness. Do it long enough and you can spot lameness at the walk AND know why the horse is off.

    The next best position is Pulser for pretty much the same reason. As a pulser, you get a lot more chance to interact with riders, which is both good and bad, depending on the person and the day.

    There are other jobs, but ride managers will start you out with these. It's not entirely altruistic. There usually aren't enough pulsers or scribes to go around.

  20. Funder - I tried Google Earth, but one of the disadvantages to riding mainly in a forest is that, well, everything looks like trees. I can map out the first mile or two, and after that, I can't even pick out a path. At least I have it for that now though - thank you!! Garmin may make it on my Christmas list this year, since I'm still using a non-smartphone. Hm.

    Jane - Yes! Absolutely volunteering at the vet checks. I helped out at a local ride this past summer, saw the good, bad, and the ugly. Chatting with the vets and the other volunteers helped convince me it was worth trying sometime, too. (Some riders who flew on through and clearly knew the routines - as did their horses. Metabolic pulls, lameness pulls; one in particular comes to mind where the rider spent probably a good five minutes arguing that her horse was always a 1/2 of 5. She got pulled, much to her disgust and our relief. One gaited horse whose gait was strange enough we couldn't figure out if she was sound 'til the rider finally got on and rode her out and back - totally different movement then!)

    I volunteered as a scribe, loved it, learned lots, would do it again in a heartbeat. Highly recommend.

    I know the junior riders have sponsors; I'd love to have some kind of 'new riders' sponsor.. of some sort.. for those of us who come in totally clueless and would love some guidance on the way.

  21. I am not an endurance rider, but I've always been interested in it. I may be in Oregon the weekend you mentioned, as I am going to be visiting my filly in Philomath. I'll swing by if I can squeeze it into my schedule.

  22. Beginning rider here (although I've only done LDs I want to do more)
    Biggest fear: Injury to my horse
    Thing I would most like to learn : how to properly condition my horse and pace.

  23. I just read Trocha's post and it sounds like his focus is on cutting, reining, and working cow horses, which tend to be bred specifically to compete and work at those jobs. Lots of time and research seems to go into those cow horse breeding programs, so it makes sense that people who are interested in winning any cutting,reining or working cow competitions would want to have a horse with those genetics in their backgrounds.
    That being said, Trocha only seemed to mention spending lots of money on one of those horses when he saw people focusing their money on very expensive towing vehicles/trailers and not on a quality horse. But earlier in the article he just says that it's most important just to have a good horse, which tends to make the horse more easily trainable for the cow horse type job he has been bred for.
    A good horse, with the well-bred cutting, reining and cow horse genetics can sometimes be found for not a whole lot of money if someone is in the right place at the right time (hard luck situations, too many horses, not enough time, wanting to trade for something else, payment for work done, etc), so a good horse doesn't have to always cost a lot of money.
    I think that's what Trocha was trying to say.
    I don't think Arabians were bred as a Endurance horses, although they have a long history of endurance in the hot, dry desert. But I think you can look at any specialized equine sport and realize which horses are best suited for competition. Good breeding is always helpful as is proper training and conditioning, but if the horse doesn't have the mind for it, it won't excel, not matter what you do....or how much money you spend. JMO.


  24. @Jane: Before I start my epistle, I wanted to answer your question about people being friendly. I have only ever ridden in the PNER region, but I've found people uniformly friendly and helpful. Some are in a hurry and can only give you a second's attention, but I've never been snapped at or ignored by anyone in the 15 or so rides I've done. I think that is saying something since I have been to exactly one dressage event (as a groom and a volunteer score runner) and practically got my head bitten off.

    When I first started endurance, I was most intimidated by the vet checks. I wasn't sure what *exactly* they'd be looking for, and I was scared of getting pulled for sheer ignorance of the rules. There was a ride fairly early in my career that my horse came out of the trailer with a big ugly scrape on his butt. He was missing a lot of hair. I was worried that they wouldn't let me ride because he had a visible injury. As it turned out, they didn't seem concerned at all. Just marked it on my card so it wouldn't count against me later. But I spent tons of time worrying about it. I had never heard of lameness grading before I started doing these rides.

    I am grateful that I read Julie Suhr's book before attempting an LD on my own. That was the only book I had found up to that point that literally walked you through every part of a ride from pre-start to post-finish. Yes, the ride was the Tevis, but the basic structure of every ride is the same.

    I'm still very much in the "learning" phase of the sport, but if I could go back to 2007, I'd have given electrolytes and insisted that my horse eat and drink. There are parts of a ride where you hurry, but water stops aren't one of them. I'd also have done more work riding with large groups and crossing water of all sizes and shapes.

    One of the things I did differently this year was coordinate with my farrier to always shoe about a week before every ride. I lost a lot of shoes the previous year, and shoeing the week before seemed to give us the best chance of having the shoes stay on and stay comfortable for competition.

    It seems like every new rider faces some equipment challenges. And there are some mistakes you only have to make once. DON'T TROT IN JEANS, for instance. Use body glide or monkey butt. Wear layers, and get your horse used to you changing clothes/drinking/eating/stretching on his back.

    The thing I'm striving to improve now is my own athleticism. Bad riding contributes to so many of the challenges I face with my horse(s). The more balanced I can be, and the more sharp my reflexes, the more I can help him be his very best on any given day.

  25. RUTH: "There are parts of a ride where you hurry, but water stops aren't one of them."

    I am SO going to steal this sentence!


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