Amount of conditioning before the first ride
I wanted to take a moment to dispel a rumor I keep seeing pop up:
It does not take a year to condition a horse for endurance. Not even close. There are always exceptions to the rule, but here's a general guideline:
A regularly ridden and worked horse (as in, actually breaks a sweat every now and then) can usually be conditioned for a Limited Distance ride in about 2-3 months, Arabs and other breeds built for distance being on the shorter end of that time range. Heavier and more muscly horses tend to take a little longer. However, if you ride your horse regularly, then you've already gotten the first half of conditioning done: fitness. Now, all you have to do is start conditioning over distances so you and your horse know what to expect from one another during a distance ride. Moreover, you do not need to condition at the distance you intend to ride - doing anywhere close to that will actually wear out your horse and do more damage than good. Instead, try to break your conditioning up into 2-3 rides totaling 20-30 miles per week.
I highly encourage anyone considering endurance to start out with the LD rides. Though they started out as "training" rides, they have their own crowd that likes to compete over these distances. In my area, more people enter the LD's than any other distance.
As for endurance, it can take 4-6 months to condition a regularly ridden horse for the distances. However, as I recommended above, I suggest getting comfortable at the LD distance, and then progressing to full endurance after you've got a few LD's under your belt.
If your horse is not regularly ridden and worked (or is only ridden lightly), add another month or two onto this of non-conditioning work. This includes arena and round pen work and of course trail riding won't hurt - but make sure your horse is actually working out and getting fit. Once you've got your horse into decent riding shape and it's not exhausted after regular work at a moderate trot and some cantering, then you should be ready to begin your distance conditioning.
In other words, most everyone looking to do endurance can more than likely have their horse race-ready in time to compete this season. I purchased my Arab almost exactly a year ago. Before I purchased him, he spent most of his time in a stall and was put on a hot walker for exercise. He needed a tune-up in addition to regular riding, but we were on the trails doing conditioning rides by March/April and successfully competed in our LD at the end of May. September, we'd completed three more LD's (totaling 105 miles) and a fifty, for a total season of 155 miles. We could have done more, but finances and a poorly fitting saddle cut our season short. When you're getting your horse ready, make sure you have a mentor and volunteer at a ride or two to see what this is all about as well as talk to experienced riders to find out how they condition and how to know when your horse is ready for the rides in your area.
I know that they are physically capable of doing an endurance ride after a few months of conditioning, but I have also read that it takes 3 years to make a real endurance horse (as it apparently takes that long to build bone density and ligament strength?) It's just slightly discouraging as my Appendix would be 21 by that time, and probably close to retirement. :?
Also I have a question about days off. I am reading that you should probably be giving your horse every other day off (or every a day off for every 10 miles). If this is the case, I was probably pushing my pony a bit too hard? After a little over 3 weeks of "conditioning" (he was getting ridden about 2-3 days a week before then), I had progressed to taking him about 2-5 miles a day at least 4-5 days a week...about 3/4ths was walking and the rest trotting.
Yes, the long haul - successful 100 milers and such need that time - the people who like to consistently finish top ten or BC. JillyBean is talking more about how to get any horse ready to ride if you have a sound horse and the time to commit to it and it's an easy ride not a fast cantering the whole way trying to get BC on a 50.
For me, it takes a minimum of 3 months if not 6 (depending on how much life gets in the way) just to be able to condition for an LD with a 3.5hr finish time (I don't like being in the saddle longer than that) so I take a little longer with my conditioning so they can go a bit faster AND I can only squeeze in maybe three rides a week so while conditioning, so I'm limited on my hours in the saddle.
But JB is right - you can condition for an LD in three months. Won't be a fast one with the front runners, but if you are careful and your horse is in decent shape to begin with, you can get a decent completion and placing for sure.
I second almost everything that CC said above.
Distance, speed, and the time it takes to develop each are separate, so I'm going to address them separately.
It takes 3 years to develop a 100-mile horse. The lungs, muscling, etc. can condition quickly and are only a matter of working your horse out and getting them used to the distance. For the shorter distances, such as LD's and even 50's, that's all you need and so it takes only a few months to get them ready. Many riders I know condition their horses and successfully ride them in 25's and 50's quite a bit their first year, but don't over-enter them in rides and give them adequate time off as well as ride them at a medium pace that the horse is comfortable with and not pushing for placing. For instance, I did do one multi-day ride where I rode my horse in a 25, had a day off, and then did a 50. Then, the second year, they start doing rides more often and start doing back-to-back rides, still taking it slow (but not TOO slow, as that can sometimes lead to more issues as well!). Finally, in the third year, they start adding more distance, like 75's and 80's, and maybe even testing their luck in an elevator ride for a 100, but I probably wouldn't do a 1-day 100 until the fourth year. This would be a rough plan for a rider who really wants to progress as safely, but most riders I know take their time knowing they and their horses are in no rush.
Now, for speed. Here's the best quote I've ever heard about adding speed, so I'm just going to copy and paste it. I've posted it in another forum, but it's just so good and lends a lot of perspective to how and why you should add speed:
If your horse is comfortable with what you're doing, you'll need to step up his conditioning program to being longer distances at a faster pace. In your pace, I'd get him to mostly trotting the distances you're already going, and then adding distance little by little. Once they're capable of sustaining a working trot, I don't push any faster because you can really start to do some damage when asking for speed (see previous post). Of course, you can also do damage by asking for too much distance too soon, so you just have to check that your horse is ready for it before you add more to your conditioning program.
I took 5 months on mine newest walker. She hadnt been ridden at all prior and not an ideal breed. What concerned me was the studies that show cardio gets in shape much faster than ligaments and connecting tissue. Plus we have alot of sand. If you can move at 6mph plus for 15 miles or so and pulse down to 60 in under 15 minutes, I dont see any reason you couldnt turtle an LD....
hahah Endurospeak jargon,:
Turtle, come in last but still finish in time.
LD, limited distance,, IE 25-35 miles.
I'm pretty new to endurance, so definitely not an expert, but from an eventing background and working in the veterinary field, I am much more concerned about tendon/ligament strength than I am with cardio fitness. My horse will tell me loud and clear if I am working her harder than she can handle from a cardio perspective, however, I have no way of knowing for sure that her legs are fit and strong enough to handle the stress of the workload... therefore, I condition more slowly and conservatively, just in case ...
I've been through a suspensory ligament rehab with a previous horse... not something I ever want to have happen again.
Better safe than sorry, IMO. I don't mind taking longer to get there if it means my horse has a better chance of staying sound longer. :-)
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