A humorous introduction to the trials and tribulations of life in the endurance world.
Beginner's guide to endurance
Many equestrian sports conjure up images of genteel and well-dressed spectators, giant-shimmering Warmbloods decked out in fine hand-crafted leatherwork competing in perfectly manicured arena locations- well. Endurance isn’t one of those sports.
In fact, it could be considered the antithesis of other equestrian disciplines, yet that’s not to say it doesn’t have its links to glamour and royalty, (think Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan), but it’s much more rugged, more arduous and far more extreme - even for non-riders!
What’s the Point?
At its core, Endurance is a true test of teamwork, horse knowledge and downright grit and determination.
There are several approved distances in endurance, however these differ depending on the country. Here in the UAE, horses and riders starting out in the discipline aim to complete several 40 km and 80 km distances, before moving onto the really impressive distances of 120 km, 130 km and the real biggie – 160 km.
Each race is broken down into several loops. Take for example the 120 km, it will consist of 4 loops with riders aiming to complete the distance both quickly, and very importantly, safely. However, riders musn't go too quickly, as they will be eliminated. On completion of each loop, the rider dismounts and has 15 minutes to reduce the horses heart rate to a safe level of 64 beats per minute or below and then proceed to the vet check. If the horse is in excess of this, they are penalised and must go through the process again.
The final loop is generally faster as riders aim to beat their competitors times, but they must still follow the rules of the vet check. All can be lost at the vet gate if the horse shows any signs of lameness, heat-rate above 64 bpm, or any signs of metabolic issues.
The Horse and Equipment
Ever wondered why endurance tack is only available in impossibly garish colours? Ok, well, try finding your 15.1hh, grey, endurance Arabian in a field of 150 other grey, 15.1hh endurance Arabians all covered in mud/sand and general filth. Makes sense now doesn’t it!
Ok, we’re being honest here, endurance is really not a great spectator sport. The horses and riders vanish into the horizon for what seems like hours at a time, only to return and be immediately swamped by a cast of many (the crew) in preparation for the vet check and to ready horse and rider for their next loop.
Even the first through the finish line, might not actually be the overall winner, as time of departure needs to be added to the overall performance and the horse still needs to pass the final vet check.
One way to get more involved in the sport is to ‘crew.’ This means helping the horse and rider team throughout the race.
Not for the faint hearted, crewing generally involves preparing for the vet check and driving onto the course to dispense water (the highlight of the activity).
Sounds easy right? Well it’s not. A little like orienteering in a car, you will be given a home-made map (its quality entirely dependent on the Google map skills of the event’s organiser), you will then use this to career through unknown off-road tracks looking for the designated water point and hopefully ‘your’ rider. Then there’s the actual passing of the water, an act far trickier than you might imagine.
Essentially, by the end of the race you, your fellow crew members (and your vehicle) will have also completed a kind of personal assault-course race along the lines of a Tough-Mudder, however, we should warn you now, it is very poor form to mention any of this to your rider as they sit hollow cheeked, voiceless and dripping in sweat/mud/and even at times, blood!
Rules for Water Distribution
Understand the water is not to drink but to cool the horse down. If your coordination skills are good, it will be grabbed by your rider and poured over the horse as they gallop past.
Have prepared water bottles. In the UAE this is commercially packed water, in many parts of Europe however, the container of choice is a large fabric softener bottle (large capacity, large opening, easy grip handle). You need to have them filled and your crew standing at appropriate distances along the route to hand to the rider.
Identify your rider (not easy depending on how much mud/sand they are currently covered in plus the undeniable fact nine out of ten endurances horses are the same size, shape and colour).
Pass the container to rider as he/she gallops past (this does take practice), congratulate yourself on your successful pass, then locate where the rider has flung the container and spend an additional 20 minutes trying to remember where you put the lid, then refill…
Ensure other crew are prepared in 20 metre distances along the track to ensure numerous bottles can be poured over the horse.
Throw everything into crew car and race to finish line to help rider when they appear.
Repeat up to five times depending on how long the race is.
What to Wear
While every other discipline harks back to the genteel days of old, when people changed their headwear at mid-day and wore perfectly tailored jackets for breakfast, endurance doesn’t. Given the entire event is more along the lines of a personal assault course, you have free rein to hit the Lycra, sportswear and trainers. Basically, anything goes, as long as it's comfy, sporty and most importantly - EASY CLEAN!
Ever wondered why endurance is associated with vehicles like the Nissan Patrol and Toyota pick-up? While other disciplines are linked to the newest Range Rovers and Audi SUVs?
At this point, a very important word of warning should be given about your choice of endurance vehicle. It is absolutely not a sport for your beloved, pristine, much-loved, family car. By the end of the race, both you and it, will never quite be the same again. While it will look like it has recently returned from a tour of duty in a war-zone, you will look and feel like you’ve just completed 12-hours of shooting on a zombie apocalypse movie.