Ride 10, 25 or 50 miles….You Have Got To Be Kidding!!
An Interview with Foxcatcher Organizer, Holly McDonald and veterinarian, Nick Kohut

Hey there all equestrian enthusiasts! Have you ever considered cross training at our own Foxcatcher Endurance Ride? It is happening April 6, and the fun is ready to begin!

So, who is the Endurance Ride right for. Holly feels that any equine discipline can benefit from, as she puts it, “getting outside the sand circle.” Now that the competitions offer the shorter distances it is more acceptable for first-time competitors. The hill work that is involved with almost every ride is a great conditioning tool and having a vet to evaluate you and your horse after doing the mileage on uneven terrain is a fabulous learning tool.

Nick chimed in that nothing beats spending time not only with your horse but also your friends in beautiful locations is a great opportunity. There are lots of prizes to be won such as overall mileage, and the longevity in the sport is amazing with equine athletes competing over the age of 20 years. They are proud to have many members whose horses age added to their own age is well over 100 years! All sorts of breeds can be successful. In Virginia there is even a Zebra who competed in an Endurance ride. You guessed it…his name is “Barcode.”

The America Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) tells us, “In endurance riding, the equine and rider are a team, and the challenge is to complete the course with a horse that is “fit to continue.” A panel of control judges supervises the equines, each of which must pass a pre-ride examination to start the event. During each ride are set hold times, which vary in duration from a simple gate-and-go to one-hour rest holds. During these holds, the equine’s physical and metabolic parameters are checked. The horse must pass the exam to continue on the course. Each horse must also pass a post-ride exam to receive credit for completing the course.” That said, Fair Hill International sat down with the Foxcatcher organizer, Holly McDonald, and Nick Kohut, the Endurance competition vet, to find out all the details about this very exciting equine sport.

Nick has been involved with horses since working with his grandfather raising Appaloosas and ponies. He then worked as an Equine Vet Tech all through High School and vet school. Nick started competitive trail riding in 1992 and attended his first endurance competition in 1997. He has never looked back. He now is co-owner of Gap Veterinary Association and works with large animals, mostly cows but not horses. His weekend stints as an Endurance vet are a welcome change!

Holly and her husband, Hugh, own a 30-acre farm in New Jersey where she started working with her first instructor, riding her bike over to work in order to get on a horse! Her instructor introduced her to competitive trail riding.  Now that they own the farm, it is a natural extension of their 30 acres to hop on her horse and enjoy the acres of pristine state forest next door. She was sold on this kind of riding: going out into nature and taking the beauty all in!

Does it seem overwhelming to consider competing? Absolutely not! Break it down.  A horse walks an average of four or five miles per hour. For a twenty-five mile ride a competitor has six hours to complete the course. There is a safety check which takes about an hour midway in the ride. That means the rider has five hours to complete the twenty-five miles. If the horse walks five miles per hour the twenty -five miles can be done at a walk!

What is the training process? Do you need a lot of fancy equipment to monitor your horse? No, you don’t, and training is not as technical as you might assume. It is a process of long and slow work to build conditioning. Riders need to start by learning the pacing. Measure out a one-mile course. Time how long it takes your horse to walk it and then to trot it. Time your horse on a five-mile course with all three gaits. Once you know that you can plan how you will ride a course to finish well.

It really is just common sense and building a relationship between the horse and rider. The rider needs to know the horse’s ability, health and fitness. You try and ride three or four days per week, perhaps six or seven miles per day. Throw in one long day, perhaps eighteen to twenty miles once your training really gets going. Keep up a six to seven mile per hour gait and add a bit of walking into that. The rider can also help the vet evaluate the horse. Vets rely on the rider to know what is going well and what is not.

So, what is the secret to winning??????  The Vet Check is the best place to put yourself in a position to do well in the competition. The standard heart rate the vets are looking for is sixty to sixty-four beats per minute. The sooner the horse heart rate gets down to that level and trots up sound the sooner the competitor can get back on course. Quick recovery is the key to competing.

Behind the scenes there are about 30 volunteers who make the ride happen. For the Foxcatcher event there is one evaluation vet per twenty-five riders, Trail volunteers, a treatment vet on site in case of a problem, timers, Parking assistants and hospitality. It takes a village to pull it all together.

Come on out and give it a try. All comers are welcome!

Triple Crown Feed will be hosting a Rider, Owner, Groom Hospitality tent and will be on site Friday afternoon for Registration and Vet Check, and will be back on Saturday too. Stop by after your ride for some snacks and some “Stress Free Feed” for your equine partner.