The Care, Training and Feeding of the Endurance Rider (1)

The endurance rider is an athlete. One who is going to compete at a high intensity for a long duration. We all watch the horses come in to the finish and we look very carefully for lameness and metabolic condition. We note the conformation and inquire about the training and conditioning. No one checks the rider who has guided this team through hours of intense competition. Besides the many hours spent in training the horse, a few hours should be reserved for conditioning the rider. This article shall give a few suggestions as to how to do this. Fortunately there are a number of parallel endurance sports such as bike racing and triathlons, from whom we can learn a great deal. Spend a little time at the local bicycle shop (racing bikes) and you will learn a lot about training, endurance drinks, power bars and clothing. Long distance bike racing and endurance riding have a lot in common. They use the same muscle groups, have similar fatigue problems and weather problems.

“Remember you are not a passenger you are part of a team.”

Each of us is given a body of differing ability and conformation. It is up to us to make the most of what we have. The goal is to prepare ourselves for many consecutive hours of maximum stress, maintaining a clear head and a sound body. Crisp, clear decisions, finding the trail markings, being alert for trail hazards, and helping your horse, all make for a successful finish. For the shorter races 80KM (50 Miles) or less, some of the suggestions presented here will not be necessary but as the ride lengthens to 160KM (100 Miles), proper rider conditioning and good nutrition can be the difference between the finishing position or even completion.

“The last thing a tired horse needs is a tired rider.”

Everyone knows they must train their horse if they wish him to perform at peak on race day and the same is true for the rider. Every endurance rider should strive to be as much help to their horse as they possibly can be. The endurance rider should be an asset not a liability. The goal is to be alert, energetic and helping your horse. You need to prepare your body months, even years before race day. As the race distances extend beyond 80 KM (50 MI) and the saddle time exceeds 5 hours these preparation steps become more and more important. Also there are the signs of unavoidable fatigue even for the best trained rider, and we should learn to recognize these. The following are a few suggestions that seem to work. You should consult your doctor before embarking on any strenuous training program. Each of us must design a training program to fit our needs and abilities.

Excessive rider weight places an unnecessary burden on the horse and limits the rider’s athletic abilities. The rider should determine his optimum weight considering athletic ability and the weight limits for F. E. I. rides and weight division requirements. The literature is filled with information on healthy, low fat diets, high in fiber. For any athletic endeavor you should reduce the fat intake and increase the carbohydrates.

A good work out each day is the key to good health. Weight training will develop your “core strength” which is essential for a successful rider and a big asset in the last hours of a long race. One of the biggest problems for long distance riders, bicycle and horse, is back strain. To avoid lower back pain, there is a simple stretch, that really works. Sit in a chair. Place you left ear on your right knee (or as close as you can get) and raise your right arm over your head and twist your body, hold for 15 seconds and relax and repeat on the other side. Next do 15 to 30 crunches, a modified sit up where you place the hands behind the head and raise your head to meet your knees. The old fashion sit up places a lot of strain on the lower back. Then 10 abdominal lifts and lots of stretching every morning when you get up. Stretch before and after riding. There are a myriad of books on stretching exercises. The goal is to strengthen the body core. This way you will be an asset instead of a liability. An aerobics class will improve you flexibility and the weight room will improve your strength.

Now to expand your aerobic fitness (here it comes, I heard someone say) you should do at least 20 minutes of some weight bearing exercise at 80% of your maximum heart rate. Use your heart rate monitor. The Polar, Favor is inexpensive and can be used interchangeably with your horse. In bad weather, a stationary bike works well and you can watch TV at the same time. Also since the same muscle groups are involved in cycling and riding you will be fit for horseback riding in the spring. Running will probably help endurance riders the most since they can use this training to advantage on race day. Just tie up your horse and run for 20 minutes. Running up hill will give you an idea of what the horse has to put up with during training and you will be more likely to get off and run in the race. Once you get used to jumping off and running and getting back on you will be able to use this technique in races going up steep hills. This is a wonderful relief for the horse to get that load off his back while ascending a difficult hill. Also it is a change of pace for the rider and you will wonder why you did not do this before. It really is refreshing, helps the horse and you feel like you are part of the team.

There are some special supplements necessary for long distance athletes, like endurance riders. Selenium is an overlooked mineral, be sure to take 50 to 200 micrograms(mcg) per day, (note; Selenium is cumulative in the body, so do not take too much too long or your hair will start falling out but it will help prevent muscle fatigue). Other minerals suggested are, Calcium 1000 mg., Magnesium 500 mg., Chromium 200 mcg.( for example you typically get 15 mcg of Chromium per 1000 kcal consumed). This means that if you are really training hard you are not able to get enough of the essential nutrients that you need and you can develop chronic fatigue syndrome which will probably show up about race day. Also you should take the usual vitamin supplements, take about three times the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance), with C at 500mg, E 400 to 800 IU, E is an antioxidant which gives cell protection from tissue damaging Oxygen free radicals which are created by exertion, and beta carotene 25,000 IU., and a good B supplement. Who knows if any of these help but at least you will feel like you are doing something positive. Only take the increased doses when you are really preparing for an important event. A normal healthy diet should provide everything you need except when you are sick or training hard.

It is essential to keep a balance of electrolytes in your system, particularly sodium and potassium. We all get lots of sodium from almost every thing we eat that is processed, dried, pickled etc. So you have way too much sodium and not enough potassium in a normal diet. There is a product available at the supermarket, in USA it is called “lite salt” made by Morton Salt Co.,(2) in Denmark it is called “Seltin” by Ederroth.(3) These products contain approximately half sodium chloride and half potassium chloride. We use this lite salt for all our household needs. This is also just right with a little Epson salt (magnesium sulfate) for your horse. (Lew’s Mix) It is a cheap and effective electrolyte.

Live a good healthy life, stop smoking and cut down on other drugs, and get plenty of sleep.

In summary, watch your diet and reduce fat intake, take some vitamins and selenium, work up a sweat for at least 20 minutes a day and don’t forget the sit ups.

If you are thirsty it is already too late.

On race day we change from building up the athlete to using up the athlete. We want a peak performance.

The single most important thing any athlete can do is DRINK water or electrolyte replacement fluid, when ever you can. Carry a water bottle, preferably secured in a belt around the rider’s waist, not bouncing on the horse. Almost all rider failure is caused by dehydration. Your blood thickens, your brain becomes muddled and oxygen can not get to the muscles where it is needed. The solution is simple, drink. Drink the night before the race and during the race. The down side is frequent urination but you will have to deal with this. If you are thirsty it is already too late. Thirst is not a criteria for dehydration. Always drink before you get thirsty.

The day before the race try to relax and rest. Eat a big breakfast of pancakes or bread or cereal, a mid afternoon meal of pasta and salad and maybe a light evening snack. Fruits are good substitutes for those wonderful Danish pastries. Avoid meat and high fat foods and no deserts, coke or coffee. In fact it would be good not to consume any caffeine for several weeks before a big race.(This idea will never sell.) This will raise your sensitivity to caffeine so a little bit on race day will help a lot.

Race day morning only carbohydrates like pancakes, cereal and a can of “Ensure”, made by Abbott Labs.(4) This product is available at most drug stores and is used for meal replacement for patients and the elderly. It comes in two forms, one a complete nutritional supplement which has 250 calories, and is probably the best choice for endurance riders. The second form is a high carbohydrate food source of 360 calories and would be better if you plan to get off and do a lot of running where you would need a larger supply of carbohydrates. These supplements work very well at the vet checks where time is short and they are a liquid and are well balanced. Hamburgers, meat sandwiches, fries and coke are out. In your water bottle you want to be drinking a high energy replacement drink, a re hydration formula. There are a number of very good ones on the market (at the bike shop), but be sure it contains complex carbohydrates such as maltodextrin. These are digested at an even rate. Coke and high sugar drinks are quickly absorbed and you get a sugar high followed by a low. You want to avoid the low and that is exactly what the hi-tech drinks are designed to do.(5) But Coke has both caffeine and sugar so if nothing else is available Coke will help a tired rider. For food try to stay with simple things like bread, soup works very well and no fat. Pretzels are great. On the trail, a Power Bar or two will provide enough energy to get you through the day with out filling up on hard to digest foods.

Ibuprofen and good old aspirin as recommended, during and after the race is quit useful. Caffeine at about 100 milligrams per hour, (one cup of coffee 100mg or a Vivarin 200mg) will brighten the day and help metabolize all the high energy foods you are eating. An antacid such as Tums, will settle the stomach and provides a good source of Calcium.

After the race, the good news is you should eat enough to replace the lost carbohydrates as soon as possible. This will speed your recovery. Again sports drinks can be a quick source of fluid and carbohydrates.

In summary DRINK and keep a steady input of carbohydrates.

Remember you are not a passenger you are part of a team.
The last thing a tired horse needs is a tired rider.
If you are thirsty it is already too late.
Get in shape.

Anyone want to go running?

1. This article was presented at the ELDRIC, European Long Distance Rider’s Conference, February, 1995 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
2. Morton Inter, Morton Salt, Chicago, IL. 60606-1597 USA
3. Ederroth A/S, Rovang 1, 2620, Albertslund, Denmark
4. Ross Products Div., Abbott Lab., Columbus, Ohio 43215-1724 USA
5. Body Fuel, by Vitex Foods, Inc. Los Angles, CA 90058 and Endura, by Metagenics Inc. San Clemente, CA