I am now over the halfway mark for my first season in Endurance riding and I have to say, this is the most fun I’ve ever had in my 20 year riding career. I thought competing in eventing and show jumping was “fun” yet my years in those sports was hovered by nervousness, anxiety, and stress. The anxiety of showing doesn’t just stem from showing itself, it was a combination of ridiculous expenses, my status as an amateur competitor, and constantly comparing myself to those who had more. I did have some fun times, particularly as a Junior rider growing up in a barn of with other Junior riders and was the main source of my social life as a teenager. However, as an adult, it started to become stressful and people started to become more into themselves. The expenses started becoming burdening, and showing was not fun anymore.
I frequently question in my head what my sisters is doing. She is basically a working student for an asshole of a grand prix show jumper and is afraid to speak up or stand up to him. She works like a slave, about 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and really struggles with expenses. I remember her coming over and staying at my parents house near a big horse show for a week and being so thankful to use conditioner in her hair as it had been a long time since she had done so. She is doing this intense labor, so she can further her skills and move up the ladder to get closer to becoming a horse trainer. Here I am, I’ve had two months off as a teacher, and meet up with my mentor and her friends several times a week to go on fun trail rides all over the valley. I love exploring, I love socializing, and I love that my horse is happy. If it truly makes her happy, than I have nothing more to say, but I’m glad I ditched that lifestyle.
It’s interesting though how endurance is kind of the underground equestrian discipline. Anyone with a horse has heard and seen a variety of equestrian disciplines but speaking of endurance the only thing other horse people tend to reference to is “Arabians”, “Hidalgo”, and “Desert”. Want to know the only thing I knew about Endurance? I learned about “tailing” while scrolling around on Tumblr and thought it was a really interesting thing. Then, I started to research a little more. I think the reason we don’t SEE the sport of endurance is because it doesn’t take place in an arena, the main difference between “Us” and “them”. When I boarded for 5 weeks in southern California away from my “Zonies” (our Arizona endurance group) I was at a multi-discipline large public boarding barn. There were eventing, hunter/jumper, dressage, reining, and western pleasure trainers riding around in arenas every day and so they expose themselves to each other. In Endurance, our training/conditioning mostly takes place out on the trail and obviously our competition. I think that mostly explains why the general equestrian population is clueless about endurance as I once was (and still am learning). I was actually in a food line at one of my sister’s horse shows over the summer. In front of me was a woman I used to ride with and still follows me on FaceBook. She turned around and hugged me and said “So, you are doing Endurance riding now!” and nearly everyone in the line turned around and looked at me.
Going back to having fun; I am still in awe over some of the incredible experiences I’ve had on my “retired” show mare. Annabel has honestly been a better trail horse than she was a show horse. She too, experienced anxiety of the show life. I love seeing how happy she is out in pasture with her gal pal and training partner Lily. Her show life, as well as most show horses experience 23 hours a day in a 12′ x 12′ box stall for the fear of injury, lack of space, and helped keep her physically clean and free of battle wounds from playing with other horses. I think she loves going out and exploring trails just as much as I do, and she loves the company of other horses. So far this year I’ve completed three LDs with her and as much fun as they were I’ve done so many other fun things! In addition to our weekly meet ups with other Zonies in the valley, and regular conditioning at two Regional Parks both within 10 minutes of my barn with my mentor, I’ve been on a camping trip with my mare which consisted of riding during the day and campfires at nights and I’ve gone out to the lake to play in the water and swim with my horse. Annabel’s mane is growing longer, her whiskers and ears remain uncut and I allow her to just be a horse. I no longer have to get judged by what I am wearing when I’m riding or the tack being used on my mare.
I think the endurance community is a bit cultish; and I don’t say that in a bad way. I say that in a cool, swaggy, “Fight Club”, kind of way. The general equestrian population hears about us but never sees us, and we get to do really fun things with our horses. So far, I think it’s been a great community to get to know. In the winter, there was some arguing in the Facebook groups, and there can be drama, but in person I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and socializing with awesome people. Everyone I’ve met is all about having fun, exploring, and making sure their horse is well-cared for and put first.
My entire riding career has never really worked in my favor except one year. Other than that, majority of the barns I’ve ridden at were an hour away from where I lived, and struggled to get to horse shows. I’ve ridden with many different trainers and have worn the colors of many show barns and while I had great experiences with a few of them, I also ended up calling bullshit on “trainers” too many times. This year, has been easy for me. I’ve had no problem getting to rides, they are affordable to me and in the region and don’t require you to stay a certain amount of days. If you can do 5 days, great, if you can do just Saturday, that’s fine too. My training and conditioning includes hauling off and riding between two regional parks on a weekly basis, along with meeting other groups around the valley for rides. My mentor is also a fellow boarder making rides and communication easy.
I wasn’t trying to bash on other equestrian disciplines earlier and I understand that everyone has something they truly love. I remember rolling my eyes at my mom who frequently would tell me “Why don’t you just ride for fun?” and my argument would be how I can’t have fun if I am not goal-oriented, and goals directly related to proving it in the show ring. But she was right, and I was wrong. I just needed to find that way to have fun, and now I have, and invite others along for the ride to see that too.