Nicki Thorne, who was the world’s number-one endurance rider in 2014, shares her top 10 tips for success. Thorne represented GB at the Europeans last year aboard LR Bold Greyson and is currently listed for this year’s World Championships with LM Bolena. As told to Julie Harding.
1. The right horse
A nervous novice horse paired with a novice and/or nervous rider won’t give you the best pleasure ride, so the key is always to be partnered with the right horse for the level you are competing at. One of the main aims in endurance is to go across terrain you wouldn’t usually tackle — and have fun.
If you have aspirations to compete at FEI level, it is essential that the horse you ride has athletic ability and soundness.
2. Welfare is crucial
The welfare of the horse is paramount. It is really important that you understand how your horse will react while on a ride or a race and prepare accordingly.
Consider working on desensitisation at home before you even go to a competition as if your horse is frightened of the flags, the vets and other horses at the vet gate you’re not going to get his heart rate down.
If you are increasing the ride distance, work on your horse’s fitness at the speed and distance of your planned ride. There is no point training at a lower speed and having to ride twice as fast during the competition. That is what leads to accidents.
3. Know the risks
Endurance is a serious test of both horse and rider and it can be a very long day. It’s essential to read up on what can affect your horse, such as dehydration.
Don’t be afraid to ask advice before you go, talk to your vet, trainer and other riders and ring your feed manufacturer’s advice line to enquire about diet, supplements and electrolytes.
4. Train for obedience
If you have a horse who you think may become excited at the start or when there are other horses around, it will be beneficial to find a trainer and school your horse to maintain control.
Be aware, though, that even quiet horses can become lit up in company, especially if it is their first experience, so be prepared. A horse who becomes over-excited can be dangerous. It is only by staying safe that you will have an enjoyable day. Also school to perfect your rhythm, another essential element for a comfortable ride.
5. Be prepared
Packing early will keep stress at bay. If you’re not sure what to pack, speak to other endurance riders and see what they take.
If you feel you are missing something useful at a ride, make a note when you get home and add it to your list. Also make a travel plan so that you arrive early and have plenty of time before the off.
6. Know the basic rules
Do some homework to ensure that you understand the basic rules, whether you are a first timer at the sport or are planning to step up a level. Confusion can cause things to go wrong.
7. Take a crew
Endurance is a group event and once you reach a certain level it will be essential to have a crew. Even at the lower levels it is fun to take along other people, such as a friend or partner. It is, after all, a good way to get them involved in what you do.
As you progress through the levels, it is also important that the person accompanying you has been through the learning curve with you. What many people don’t realise is that endurance is an incredibly sociable sport and there are always people around to advise and help you, such as vets and farriers, and they will always be on hand once you reach national level competitions.
8. Study your route
Be aware that you are going to ride a route and you will be given a map. Make sure that you study it. I always write the colour of the loop I have to ride on my hand, or use a similar coloured band on my wrist.
I invariably ask the secretary or the ride organiser how the course is marked — sometimes this will be with arrows on the ground or sometimes with signs on trees and often there will be different colours for different distances. Getting lost will undoubtedly ruin your race.
9. Pick tried and trusted tack
Never use anything on the day that you haven’t used before. That lovely new girth is likely to rub when used for the first time. Therefore ensure that your tack is comfortable for you and your horse.
Any safe saddle and bridle is acceptable, but know the rules regarding spurs (they are not allowed), whips (they can only be of a certain length at lower national levels) and weights, as there are restrictions.
10. Feed your passion for progression
Don’t be afraid to try something new or go up a level. It’s common to have doubts about progressing through the ranks.
My advice would be to do your research, speak to other riders, train for the new distance and be prepared. Stewarding a ride and talking to those in the know is a brilliant way to learn what goes on.
For more information on endurance, including the rules and dates of fixtures, log on to www.endurancegb.co.uk.