The Tevis Cup is the worlds oldest modern endurance ride, first held in 1955, it is
"the world's best-known and most difficult equestrian endurance ride."
Historically only 50% of the starters each year will finish the event.
The narrow trail was flanked by a sheer cliff on the near side and straight drop-off on the off side, riding a horse in those circumstances is not for those that are ill prepared.
Navigating those terrain features it is necessary for the riders to be fully engaged with their mount, using skills that are all but forgotten in the modern world, while put great trust in the horse they are riding. The horse can trip, or slip while on the lip of a cliff, it could be disastrous.
Tracy McIntosh of Glidden, Iowa and Amigo, her Iowa-bred dark bay Arabian gelding, took up the challenge of the annual Tevis Cup, often considered to be the pinnacle of endurance horseback riding in the United States. The 100-mile course, which takes horse and rider over a series of extreme and demanding demanding set of terrain features — mountains, canyons and switchbacks — all covered within 24 hours.
Starting at the Robie Equestrian Park near Truckee, Calif., the trail takes the teams across the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to the finish line at the Gold County Fairgrounds arena in Auburn. Right out of the gate the horses left the 6,200-foot elevation at Squaw Valley and climbed to Emigrant Pass, at 8,750 feet.
For Tracy McIntosh, that was a grueling start but also the favorite part of the ride.
“That was really beautiful climbing. And the scenery was beautiful up there,”
That change in elevation, right at the start was hard for Amigo. But his bloodlines and training were evident in his performance. Tracy explains that Amigo is from true cavalry stock, the progeny of Polish-bred Arabians that were brought to the United States by that famous cavlryman, US Army General,. George S. Patton.Jr. She observed that Arabians used in endurance riding are quite muscular and fit, when compared to their show horse cousins.
“In Iowa, there’s no place you can train for those elevations,” she says. “You can’t really train for the altitude. You just have to put in your miles and try to do some hills.”
“You don’t have a lot of trail space,” she says. “The trail can be barely a foot wide. They’ve widened it a little bit, but you have cliffs and you have dropoffs, so you can’t add too much.”
With the course crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, she remarks,
“It’s tough stuff. You just have to trust your horse you won’t slip and fall.”
Canyons also are some of the toughest parts of the trail.
“They go down for three miles, then up for three miles,” McIntosh says. “That’s tough on a horse at that elevation.”
“Some people say you get to know your horse even better than you do your spouse,” she says. “And trusting your animal, that’s pretty neat being out there alone your horse. You understand your horse if he’s not feeling well. Looking out for each other is part of the game. You’re aware of what’s going on with your horse.”
Preparing Horses for an Endurance Ride.
There are many different ways to condition both horse and rider. The best methods have a slow beginning, with an increase of the distances ridden, then as the horse’s conditioning improves, so too will the rider’s. When both are ready, begin increasing the speed. Pushing either member of the team too hard, too soon merely increases the likelihood of injury to horse or rider.
The principles involved in this specialized conditioning program predate the modern sport of endurance riding. As with the rest of the American Cavalry Method this ancient knowledge does not change with the wind, Considering that it is built upon the solid foundations of equine physiology. It is a method adapted for preparing a novice horse and rider for their first endurance ride.
A rider can proceed in confidence with this program, knowing that it is a time proven method of preparing healthy novice horse to complete an 80km ride. Laying a foundation of fitness that the rider can build upon, developing a personalized program on the initial results of this training.
Definition of Terms
Conditioning: Working the horse to a state of fitness that allows it to complete endurance rides without damage.
Hard work/ workout: This is a relative term that refers to work where the horse is asked for a greater effort than he is accustomed to. After ‘hard work’ tje horse’s pulse rate will be higher than its norm, for twenty minutes after the workout. The elevated heart rate is an indicator that the horse had been physically stressed.
Recovery day: These training sessions ar scheduled for days follow hard work sessions, permitting full recovery from the previous day’s physical stress. Light work can include twenty minute longe sessions (ring work) at a steady trot, schooling, a gentle hack or outside ride.
Rest day: Typically a Sunday. No work at all.
Exercise: A work session that does not physically stress the horse.
Introduction to the Long Slow Distance Ride
The varied periods of time that are required for different parts of the body to adapt and condition are known:
Heart and lungs - Ninety days
Muscles - ninety to one hundred and eighty days
Tendons and ligaments - six months to a year.
Hooves - Seven months to year
Bone – one to three years
Begin working at going a Long Distance - Slowly
Most modern horses have led a life of comparative leisure, this program will lay down foundation of stamina, core strength, simply by training horse and rider over long distances - slowly. As with the horse’s preliminary training, the Cavalry Method continues to mix arena and outside work. The horse should be worked on the longe, at the trot, one day a week. Arena sessions for basic schooling should be scheduled for one day a week. Workout sessions are done on outside rides.
PHASE 1 (WALKING) lasts 6 weeks
We start to prepare the horse both physically and psychologically for the intensive exercise to follow. Starting by conditioning the legs and tendons of horse and rider. To improve the mental attitude of the horse, improving the disposition and obedience. For the horse to become familiar with the open road.
Work at the Longe
Start with Outside Work – Four times in the first weels, building up to two or hree hours of active walk per session. The objective is for the horse to walk with purpose and not lag. The training is to walk properly and not jog, move on a loose rein with his head down and neck extended, allowing the back to move freely and develop the back muscles. Terrain features should be varied as possible – rough ground, up and down hills and ridges. Working in sand is beneficial, even tar roads for limited distances. These work sessions are done at a walk – the horse can trot on the longe. Work at the trot and canter is done in the arena sessions. The preliminary outside work sessions are performed at the walk, even up hill.
Walking uphill develops a strong muscle base .A few weeks of this work and there will be observable improvement at the end of the first phase. Take and compare before and after photos of the horse’s haunches. Taken from behind, with the tail pulled out of the way, be sure to observe the inner thigh muscles too.
In between the outside rides, one day lunging, one day school.
In the last 2 weeks of Phase 1 you can begin trotting short distances during the walking sessions in preparation for Phase 2.
PHASE II (Trotting) lasts 4 to 6 weeks.
In Phase II the objective is to develop stamina of horse and rider. Training to trot overlong distances in cadence and at a constant rate of march. The development of the trotting muscles and teach the horse to move freely at the trot. Not allowing the horse to break into a canter, but to stay at the trot until asked to canter. Developing the rider’s legs to be strong enough for riding long distances at the trot. While preparing the horse for the more physically intensive work to come.
Three to four outside workouts per week. -.Begin trotting slowly and alternate with periods of walking when the horse becomes tired or shows signs of respiratory distress. Gradually increase the work until the horse and rider can move freely at the trot for two hours without a break. With younger or unconditioned horses the longer this level of performance may require. Incremental improvement should allow for a gradual increase in the rate of march in this phase. The horse must move freely and relaxed at the trot, with with the head low, neck extended and back rounded. When moving this way the horse will develop long powerful strides.
It can take years to master the ground-eating trot that a competitive hundred miler makes look easy. The objective in this training is not speed, do not ask the horse to pick up the pace. Typically it will throw the inexperienced horse and rider off balance and then onto the forehand. In that position the horse will begin to hang on the reins, it gets harder to stop and turn, all the while putting strain on the forelegs.
Better to collect the horse, and then move in correct balance. The horse will start pushing the pace, as the physical condition of horse and rider naually improves from the work. Maintain a steady cadence, find the rhythm in the trot. Remember, this phase of the training is still at the trot, if the horse breaks into a canter the muscles that we are conditioning will not develop to their full potential.
In between the outside work - Two days for recovery, inclusive of one longe work session, and one saddle session in the arena
A rest day is essential. For both horse and rider. When the horse is ‘off’, starts the work with low energy, a few days off can be beneficial. The horse could be ill, or mentally overwhelmed by the work.
There is no hard and fast rule, at this point in the training, horses, like people are not of uniform ability in adapting to the work. If the schedule is overwhelming either the horse or rider, fewer outside rides each week could be the answer. Judge each horse’s condition, individually. Chck their respiration rates, before and after the work, as well as the horse’s heart rate. These physiological signs, as well as the ‘feel’ of the horse, will all need to be in good condition before you go to an endurance ride.
PHASE 3 (Canter) lasts 2 weeks or longer
Conditioning the horse’s heart and lungs is achieved in this phase of the program. The horse will learn canter rhythmically and a constant rate.
Cantering – Two sessions each week, with up to five sessions over the course of fourteen days. Start out at the trot and begin to canter for short distances. At this point alternating the gaits will begin to clear lactic acid built up in the muscles. Increase the distances gradually, the objective being to canter for a one hour during the two hour training session. Movement at the canter, equalling the time spent at the trot. The horse must be able to move at a controlled canter when in the company of other horses. Cantering relaxed on the rein at a constant rate of speed. Do not sprint the horse at full speed, if the horse feels fit and is in good physical condition, longer rides can be taken.
After the outside work there should be two to four days dedicated to recovery, longing and arena work on those days will be sufficient.
Days off are important. At least one day of total relxation, and up to three. Monitor the horse closely, if there is any sign that he is ‘off’ do not hesitate to add another day of resst or minimal activity.
PHASE 4 (Building reserves/Tapering) lasts 1 week.
In the week prior to the Endurance Ride, work the horse lightly, keep it excercised but do not stress it before the competition.
To prepare both novie horse and rider for their first, slow 80 km Endurance Ride will have taken three to four months of steady, methodical work. For the first time Endurance rider, on a novice horse it is certainly acceptable to ride a shorter distance, entering thirty or sixty km events prior to that first attempt at eighty km. The experience will improve the rider and subject the horse to the stress of the longer distances over a greater period of time.
A novice horse is allocated five to six hours to complete the 80 km course, depending on the terrain. The novice rider should consider finishing the equivilent of winning that first 80 km ride. The experienced rider mounted on a novice horse will be building on the foundation laid in the training program, adding the first of many accomplishments to come in the horse’s career. It won’t be until the third season of endurance competition before it will becoe clear what level of performance the horse is truly capable of, with regard to speed over long distance.
Maintain a Record
Track the horse’s physical condition as training progresses. Monitor the heart and respiration rates, before and after each training session. The pulse can be checked by placing a hand behind the horse’s left elbow, a stethoscope or a heart rate monitor can also be used. Check the horse’s heart rate before each training session. Typical ‘at rest’ heart rates range between 28 and 48 beats per minute.. At the start of the conditioning program the typical resting pulse, could be 42. As the training progresses that resting pulse rate will drop, down to 38 or 36. High resting heart rates, around 66 would be an indication of excitement or fear, it can also be a symptom of pain or fever often associated with colic or biliary fever.
Five or ten minutes after each work session monitor the horse’s heart rate, as the program proceeds the recovery times will decrease as the horse becomes fitter. Weather conditions can influence the respiration and heart rate recovery times.