Horses · Lessons from a Mule

Lessons from a Mule #3- Endurance isn’t for me.

Last weekend I took my mule Ellie to an intro endurance ride. Endurance is something I’ve wanted to try for a couple years now, and I was so excited to finally be crossing it off the bucket list, even if I was only doing the 10 mile intro ride. I had a great experience at ride camp, but during the ride I quickly discovered it isn’t the sport for me. Ellie could totally do it. It’s me that’s the problem.

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Ellie is an experienced camper and she settles right in to life on the high line with a hay bag full at all times.

First, ride camp. I adore ride camp. It’s a sea of horse trailers and horse people and horses! Everyone is focused on caring for their horses, getting them ready for the ride, taking care of them like the athletes they are. There’s a certain energy at ride camp that’s hard to explain. It’s not like regular horse camping where people tend to be relaxed and taking it easy.

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Trailer, tent and mule at our little campsite

Endurance is like a marathon for the horse. If you’ve ever been to a big race like the Boston Marathon or the Peachtree Road Race, you’ll remember that energy at the start. That’s what ride camp is like, and Ellie could feel it. When the 50 mile riders took off at 7 a.m., she was trying to go with them. Luckily my high line is very secure, but she sure did try and follow the parade of horses and riders that passed by our campsite on their way to the trail.

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The people I met were fantastic. Like an idiot, I forgot to bring bottled water for myself, and a new friend loaded me up with enough bottled water for the whole weekend. My campsite neighbor let me take a shower in her LQ trailer. After my long, hot ride, that was the nicest thing anyone could do for me!

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Ribbons marking the trail for the different distances

The trails we rode were beautiful and well marked. It was some of the prettiest trail riding I’ve done, and our campsite was right on a lake. There are worse ways to spend a weekend!

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I got very little video because we were rarely walking.

So why don’t I want to do endurance? One reason. I don’t want to go that fast. Ellie started off at a brisk walk. I was mounted and at the starting line early, and Ellie was ready to go. I walked her up and down the dirt road through camp to burn off some energy. When we were cleared to go out on trail, she knew it was on and she was game!

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Cooling off about 8 miles in

I would have been happy walking and trotting the whole thing. Unfortunately Ellie did not agree. She did not come on this ride to see the sights and sniff the flowers. She came to work and she was going to carry me down that trail at a speedy pace, God bless her. When I say that she is a trail machine, I mean it. She knows her job and she wants to do it.

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Pre Ride

We were riding with another horse and rider, an Arabian who was also amped to go. When he trotted and cantered, there was no holding Ellie back. I really wish I would have waited and gone out alone after everyone else. Then I think we could have ridden our own ride instead of letting the other horses influence her. There are over 50 people riding on the same trails though, so even if I had started alone, eventually I would have been lapped by the 25 and 50 mile riders and Ellie would have wanted to keep pace with them.

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Post Ride

That was the struggle of the whole ride. I did not want to go fast, but Ellie did. I got tired of fighting with her, so I got off and walked for a couple miles until I felt like she had calmed down enough to let me rate her speed. I got back on for the last couple miles and she did eventually calm down. We rode across the finish line and that felt great! I wish I had a picture of it.

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Her post ride snack

Ellie wanting to go fast is a GOOD thing in the endurance world. You want your horse to go fast enough to make the time limit, but not fast enough to wear herself out prematurely. Ellie has the trail experience to know how to walk that line. It’s me that’s the problem. We trotted the first 4 miles and I was tired! I wanted to walk for a while, but she wasn’t having it! I ended up with blisters on both hands from holding her back.

This is the first time I’ve ridden her when she didn’t listen to me like I wanted. I know it was the feeling of being passed and “left behind” by the other horses. For her that was very stressful and she didn’t understand why I wouldn’t let her keep up with them, even pass them!

I have a bad back. I have pretty serious scoliosis and I’m in pain a lot of the time, on an almost daily basis. My back just cannot handle posting a trot for more than a couple miles. I hurt too bad. I just can’t do it right now. I would have to really condition myself by riding Ellie at a faster pace for longer periods. I’m the problem, not her. The thing is, I don’t particularly want to ride fast. I want to walk most of the time and mix it up with some trot and canter. That makes me a trail rider, not an endurance rider.

I am glad I checked endurance off the bucket list, but I know it’s not for me, at least not right now. I just want to ride beautiful trails with my mule and enjoy myself instead of competing. During the weekend, I stopped and noticed the times I felt happiest. I felt happy sitting in my tent listening to her snuffle through her hay bag for the right stalk of hay. I loved taking care of her and preparing her meals, fetching her water and chopping up apples and carrots for a special treat. I like the parts of the ride when we were alone and walking through a beautiful forest with no one around to keep up with. I enjoyed drinking my coffee in the early morning light while she had breakfast. I really enjoyed the scenery on the drive. I don’t need to compete to do any of those things. I can just camp and trail ride for fun and have all of those experiences.

I’ve been blessed with a good, sound mule and I want to soak up every minute of her ride-able years. There will come a time when she’s too old to do much. Until then, I just want to enjoy her without the pressure of competing or keeping up with anyone. That’s a big statement from someone like me who used to be obsessed with competing. It’s just one more lesson I’ve learned from the mule!

 

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