The stars finally aligned, and Fetti and I took part in our first 25-mile endurance ride in September 2012. It was a hot, sunny ride where Funder was kind enough to ride with me. We finished, but in hindsight there was so much that could have gone better. It took almost the full half-hour for Confetti to pulse down. She did - eventually - but it took stripping tack + hosing her off + more time to manage it. Clearly, we hadn't prepped as well as I thought.
Ride your own ride. I have a pony with a pony walk. She does not walk at normal-horse walk speed, let alone gaited horse or Arab-speed. If they're all walking ahead, she's not going to keep up at a walk - she'll alternate walk-trot. Not only is she working harder, her heart rate is going to stay up, and there is never a true 'break' for her. It's not realistic to ask folks to stay at a slow walk, so Fetti needs to learn to walk politely by herself.
Even aside from the walk, I need to listen to her. She's a smart horse who doesn't want a terribly elevated heart rate. If she's refusing to go above a walk, I need to (for the most part) listen to her.
How do I improve on that? I bought a heart monitor. I will be using it to know when I can push (stubborn, opinionated pony) and when I can't (tired pony). I'm hoping to do our next 25 at whatever speed she wants to go, and not try to stick with a group.
Train faster than you compete. Somehow, I think I missed that part. Most of our rides are done at Haflinger speed, a nice casual sitting trot. That's not 5mph. If I had to guess, I'd say 3.5mph, maybe 4. Riding with our Tennessee Walker friend, we probably do get up to 5mph. I can think of three horses we've ridden with off the top of my head that can go on a ride faster than that - an Arab whose riders and I keep vastly different schedules, Funder and Dixie, and a Thoroughbred/Quarter cross that I need to ride with more often!
How do I improve on that this year? Ideally, we do a lot of training rides solo. Works best if the pony will go above an irritated mincy walk for more than ten steps when headed out alone. Still working on that part.. Currently, I've found that our little tiny back-woods trails allow us to be out by ourselves and traveling at a nice brisk endurance trot. For the time being, it'll have to do.
Train in the conditions you'll be competing in. Duh! It was a hot, sunny ride. Most of my conditioning rides last year were in the evenings and in the forest. Very few were in 90 degree weather.
How do I improve on that? On my weekdays off, I'll be riding in the afternoons this year! Might do an evening ride also, but no more riding only in the evenings.
Clip. I did a small clip job (lower half of neck + chest) about a month after the ride. In hindsight, that might have been wise to do prior to the ride. She was good and furry in October, and I imagine good and furry in September as well.