Age of Starting an Endurance Horse

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Age of Starting an Endurance Horse

This is a discussion on Age of Starting an Endurance Horse within the Endurance Riding forums, part of the Riding Horses category

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  • 1 Post By jillybean19
  • 1 Post By Houston

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    02-15-2013, 12:36 PM
Age of Starting an Endurance Horse

A quick question.

I'm currently taking lessons on Dressage and have a lease mare under my care right now (although she is out of commission for the time being ). But when I am on the search for my own horse, I also want to a horse willing and open to start Endurance riding. Perhaps a LD ride every 3 months or so when that horse is in condition. I don't see myself doing 100 milers, but a ride I did with an Endurance rider was a blast and I want to continue to do it along side Dressage. I can certainly see myself doing LD, maybe even a couple of 50 milers down the road.

Which has me curious...

A lot of good horses I'm looking at (can't help myself to look...) are around 8-11 but most are trained Dressage with a little work on the trail thrown in.

How old is too old to start a horse in Endurance? For example, the horse has only done arena work up until now. At what age (although I know all horses age differently) would that be a big no-no and too much physically or too difficult mentally for the horse?
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    02-15-2013, 12:42 PM
Green Broke
Its never really too late. There are horses who do endurance rides into their late 20's, I even met one that was 31 and still doing well. Not winning, but completing.

One boarder at my barn bought an arab she beleived was 10, but turned out to be 20-24. He will start doing 25 milers this year.

Just get them in shape slowly and listen to your horse, only go at a pace they are comfortable at.
    02-15-2013, 12:54 PM
IMO the horse shouldn't be much older than 6yo to start endurance. At that point even the big breed's have their bones set, so you can start conditioning the pounding that creates bone density.
I've been on long rides. When DH and I did the 1st "Red River Campaign" in 1994, we took my lesson horses, who were in excellent condition with 5 days/~10 hr lessons/week of work before we went. One horse was 18yo, one was 9yo, and the others were 12yo. It was a planned 12-15 miles/day forced march that was supposed to take us one week. By Wednesday morning the Cumberland Guard Infantry got hypothermia after the temperatures (in April, in LA) dipped to 34 degrees F, so they all bugged out after the National Guard shoed up with their Army Trucks. We couldn't. We had to ride out. It was supposed to be 20 miles, according to our maps, but one of the bridges was washed out, so it ended up being a 36 mile ride to our parking area, with the horse trailer.
None of my horses were injured or pulled muscles, but you could tell--they were T I R E D.
Get on the part of the forum with endurance riders and ask them for conditioning advice.
Btw, just watched an excellent program on the 2010 Tevis Cup. They interviewed several repeat riders, many of whom had finished the race multiple times. They said most of the horses were Arabians, but there were a few gaited horses, and QH's. One horse that year was an Arabian mule.
    02-16-2013, 12:41 AM
An arabian mule? What does that combo look like...haha I bet its strangely cute :)
    02-16-2013, 11:07 AM
Originally Posted by cowgirl928    
an arabian mule? What does that combo look like...haha I bet its strangely cute :)
Arab Mules are super cute! I have seen one.

IMHO, you are ahead of the game with a dressage base. It is good to have excellent control and be able to rate pace and stride out on the trails. I don't think there is really any age that is too old to start, but definitely take it slow, and, if say your horse was 19 and totally unconditioned, I would be saying you might want to reconsider unless the vet gave you a green light.

If your mare hasn't done a lot of hacks, you could have some spooky issues so really start with long, working walks just to make sure she is OK with some of the 'scary' stuff out there on trails, you know, like bushes and rocks (lol). Endurance is not only physical, it is mental, too, for the rider and the horse. The horse needs to build up the mental stamina to pay attention for hours and hours and not get bored, frustrated (getting passed by horses can build horsey angst if they aren't used to it) and then stops eating/drinking. I worked with a good friend and we would have our horses "leap frog" each other so they wouldn't get panicked or change pace when passed. Very helpful.

I think the best thing I did to start was long working walks, and I carried baby carrots in my pocket (still do). Whenever my mare drinks water at a water crossing or station, I gave her a baby carrot - she's pretty smart so she got the picture and hydration isn't too much of an issue but that can be a problem if your horse isn't normally a good drinker (when you give the carrot from the saddle, alternate sides and it will help them stretch out their necks, too). It helps to ask them to eat at places so they get used to when you stop, it is time to refuel. Many horses have trouble with these on the trail because they get worked up and that leads to metabolic issues. But after good working walks build up to trotting and trotting for long periods of time (every horse is totally different so there is not a set "start trotting now" point - tracking resting heart rate with a stethoscope will help you figure out her condition). When you can mostly trot a good "loop" (10-15 miles) and have a the heart rate drop below 60 relatively soon after stopping, you are good to go.
    02-16-2013, 11:30 AM
OK, I didn't read everyone's responses, but my friend is just about to submit her book, America's Long Distance Challenge (revised edition) - which is a very popular and highly regarded book on endurance, and I had the privilege of reading the conditioning basics a few weeks ago. It covered this very question, so here's the summary:

Ages 5-7 are prime time to begin conditioning for endurance if you want a life-long endurance horse. As noted above, they are fully developed and can handle the stresses that endurance puts on their body.

Most people say that you can still start an endurance horse up to age 11, but she argues (from years of experience and research), that many horses 12 and up can be successfully started in endurance, especially if they have a working past. That makes the biggest difference.

Long, slow distance is important on older horses, but you'll find they condition a little differently and even hold it better.

And... if you want the awesome full-length explanation (as well as everything else you'll need to know about endurance), you'll need to buy her book. It's SUPER good! The old version is available on amazon and ebay, etc, but if you wait another month or so, her revised edition is coming out on e-book and in print :)
Houston likes this.
    02-16-2013, 07:20 PM
Thanks for the responses guys! I don't think I'll be doing any conditioning on my current lease mare as I'm about to end this lease, however I'm still thinking about the (hopefully) near future.

Jillybean19 I'll be sure to keep an eye out for that book!
    02-16-2013, 07:23 PM
Green Broke
I think its all about the individual horse when you are starting one at that age and about your goals. Do you want to enjoy some rides at a reasonable pace or do you want to win?

If you are looking for a fun second hobby to compliment dressage, I don't see any reason your older horse couldn't be conditioned (assuming no glaring conformation issues), as long as its done slowly and with care.
    02-16-2013, 07:59 PM
Originally Posted by phantomhorse13    
I think its all about the individual horse when you are starting one at that age and about your goals. Do you want to enjoy some rides at a reasonable pace or do you want to win?

If you are looking for a fun second hobby to compliment dressage, I don't see any reason your older horse couldn't be conditioned (assuming no glaring conformation issues), as long as its done slowly and with care.
I just want to ride, compete, and finish. Later down the road if I were to become more serious I would probably look for a horse specifically for Endurance.

Right now I'm interested in a horse that is 80% Dressage 20% Endurance if that makes any sense, ha!
phantomhorse13 likes this.

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