COMPETITIVE TRAIL is a timed and judged event. You have a certain amount of time to finish a marked and measured course. You lose points for finishing too fast or too slow, and the horse is judged on his fitness. Penalty points are subtracted from a perfect score of 100 for both time penalties and horse condition. MOTDRA does not do judged obstacles as do some CTR groups. MOTDRA CTRs usually are set at a 5 to 6 mile per hour pace, but this can vary with the condition of the course and weather. The pace is usually in the slower range for limited distance rides (usually 15 miles) and faster with the open rides (usually 30 miles.) Mandatory hold times are added to the ride time. If you have a ride time of 5 hours with a half hour vet check, the total time allowed is 5 1/2 hours.

ENDURANCE rides are races, but you can choose to ride for miles/completion instead of speed. There is a maximum time to finish the marked and measured course, but no minimum time. The first horse across the finish line that meets the veterinary criteria and is judged fit to continue, wins. Riders often place in the ribbons by maintaining a slower, more steady pace and NOT racing. All horses that complete the ride within the maximum time and meet veterinary criteria for “Fit To Continue” will receive completion miles and a completion award.

Technically, an ENDURANCE ride is 50 miles or more in one day. Many ride managers offer 25 mile distances. These are called LIMITED DISTANCE (LD) rides. You have 6 hours to finish a 25 mile ride, 12 hours for a 50 and 24 hours for a 100. The total time allowed includes the mandatory hold (vet check and rest) times. Thus, on a 25-mile ride, you have 6 hours, minus the hold time of 30 to 45 minutes, or 5:15 to 5:30 hours of actual ride time. For LD rides, the first horse across teh finish line that is judged “fit to continue” may not win the race. LD rules require the finish time to be when the horse meets pulse rate criteria. Endurance and Limited Distance rules can be found at theAERC web site.

No, but use common sense! We see riders from 6 to 70, but there are few rules about age. Junior riders, those under 18, must have an adult sponsor who is also a competitor in a MOTDRA event, and juniors must wear safety helmets. The ride sponsor and junior rider must ride together.

In MOTDRA, horses can be entered in limited distance CTRs, a 15-mile distance, by the age of 3. They must be 4 to compete in the open division of 25 miles or more. In endurance, a horse must be 4 to be entered in an LD ride (25 miles) and 5 to be entered in an endurance ride (50 or more miles). There is no limit on the other end of a horse’s life. Use your best judgment. Many distance horses continue to stay fit and compete into their 20s.

Distance experts shun heavy sweet feeds and go for lots of fiber, such as hay and beet pulp mashes. Grains burn up quickly, leaving the horse with no reserves. Hay and beet pulp burn a long time in the hind gut, giving the horse fuel for the long haul. The mashes also supply valuable liquids. There is debate about whether alfalfa is a good feed for distance horses. Some riders feed it and others don’t. There also are some good extruded feeds that use beet pulp as a base. No two horses are the same, so nutritional requirements will vary from horse to horse.

Most horses ridden in distance, especially in Midwestern competitions, benefit from electrolytes. This is especially important on hot and humid days. MOTDRA does allow and encourage electrolyte use. You may have to experiment to find an electrolyte formula that works best for your horse. Most are varying combinations of potassium, magnesium, salts and calcium. Some have added sugars. You want to avoid the formulas with sugars.

It depends on the ride. MOTDRA rides are small enough to be friendly and big enough for good competition. We usually see between 15 to 30 riders at MOTDRA competitive trail ride. MOTDRA endurance rides may have 50 riders or more. The really big endurance rides, such as the Tevis Cup in California, may have more than 200 riders.

Ride entry fees vary, but you can expect to pay $1.50 to $2.00 per ride mile. Where does this money go? Ride managers have to pay for one or two veterinarians to be on site during a ride, buy ride prizes, pay for dozens and dozens of trips to the ride site to mark and trim trail. They often have to pay a fee to reserve a camp ground. In short, it is expensive to put on a ride and very few ride managers actually take home any money at the end of a ride. They put on rides for the love of the sport and to give others a chance to get out and compete. Some campgrounds require an additional fee for camping. Others do not. Usually the ride flier will let you know if there is a camping fee in addition to the entry fee.

No. MOTDRA rides are open to any breed of horse or mule. Arabians have unique physical characteristics that help them excel at this sport, but other horses do well, too. It is important for a horse to move efficiently, with a powerful rear “engine,” and long, comfortable stride. Heavier bodied horses may need more rest and longer cool-down times. You can compensate with good nutrition and conditioning.

Start by joining an organization such as MOTDRA.

The American Endurance Ride Conference is the sanctioning organization for endurance rides. You can contact the AERC at: AERC, P.O. Box 6027, Auburn, CA 95604. Toll-free number: 866-271-AERC, Fax: 530-823-7805 www.AERC.org

There are many good books and resources. AERC publishes a monthly magazine called Endurance News. MOTDRA publishes a newsletter called Tales From the Trails. Both publications come with memberships in those respective organizations. Donna Snyder Smith, a centered riding instructor and distance riding coach, has a good book, The Complete Guide to Distance Riding. As does Nancy Loving, DVM, Go The Distance.

Three letters. LSD. No, not the 1960s drug. This means long, slow distance. Get used to doing the miles. Start out at 2 to 4 miles a ride, several times a week. Then add miles. Finally add speed work in short spurts, called fartleks. Teach your horse to eat and drink on the trail. A horse that won’t eat well will have poor gut sounds. A horse that won’t drink will get dehydrated. Good distance horses learn to take care of themselves. An often overlooked training item is the trot-out. Your horse needs to learn to trot in-hand for 125 yards out and back. In a CTR, he will be asked also to move in a circle right and left. The vet wants to see a trotting pace to check for lameness and to monitor the horse’s attitude and impulsion. Also, teach your horse to stand quietly and relax while his pulse is being taken and the veterinarian checks his legs. Mostly, you need to just get out and ride, ride, ride!

Several things have to happen at once. You need to set up your camp, visit the ride secretary and pay your entry, and get your horse to the vet for the vet-in.

Camping can be as simple or elaborate as you care to make it. For people camping, you may see anything from tents, people camping in the back of a pickup truck or horse trailer, to RVs and super fancy living quarter trailers. Nobody really cares how you chose to camp (besides you, if you are the one in a tent and it’s pouring rain!). There are several different methods for horse camping. The most popular are tying to the trailer, High ties, picketing, portable pens, and electric corrals. Any safe method is OK. All have their advantages and disadvantages.

If you are riding in a CTR, you will be given a score sheet where you note any pre-ride nicks and booboos your horse may have. You don’t want those to count against you after the ride. You will get a similar form to take to the vet for Endurance and LD rides, but you will not mark dings and booboos on the form for these rides. When you and your horse are ready, you will present your horse to the vet for the pre-ride check. Your horse will get a number on his rear drawn in cattle crayon.

The vet will give your horse a once-over. He or she will look at the horse’s gums, check for dehydration, check the animal’s legs, gut sounds, anal tones, and heart rate. Finally, you will be asked to trot your horse out in-hand, in a straight line and sometimes you’ll be asked to circle him right and left. Your horse will need to know how to lounge, or you will need to run in circles with it. If you are not physically able to run alongside your horse, you will need to find someone willing to do it for you.

After that, there is a ride meeting. At MOTDRA rides, these usually coincide with a potluck dinner. The ride manager gives out maps for CTRs and some Endurance rides, discusses the trail, sets times and pace. The vet will offer advice and set the pulse criteria. This is the maximum heart rate your horse will be allowed to have and continue the ride.

On ride day be prepared to get up before dawn to feed your horse and get ready to ride. On CTRs, the ride manager often will send riders out one at a time, 30 to 45 seconds apart, or will send riders out in small groups. In endurance, everyone starts at once when the trail is announced open.

Once the ride starts, maintain as steady a pace as possible considering the terrain and weather. RIDE YOUR OWN RIDE. Don’t worry about what the speed the other horses and riders are going. You do what is best for you and your horse! Make sure your horse is eating, drinking, peeing and pooping throughout the ride. (EDPP)

Typically, the trails are done in loops of 10, 15 to 20 miles. You will usually ride a loop, come back for a vet check and mandatory hold time, ride another loop, and come back for the final vet check. Some vet checks are out of camp. For out of camp checkes, you will need to send buckets and other equipment out to them before the ride starts. Ride managers will let you know if there are out of camp checks, and will usually help you get your stuff there.

Following the completion of the ride and tabulation of scores there is an awards ceremony and sometimes another potluck!

You really don’t need anything special. MOTDRA allows the use of any kind of humane tack. However, there are some things that make distance riding a lot easier and more enjoyable, including:

  • A very well-fitted saddle. It can be western, English, Australian or a specially-made saddle. It helps if it has extra D-rings for hanging stuff from. A saddle-fit problem may not be noticeable in the arena, but will show up after hours of distance riding.
  • A good bridle. Biothane is nice. Halter-bridles make life easier at the vet checks. Leather or nylon are OK, but require more cleaning.
  • A riding helmet. Many ride managers are requiring safety helmets on all riders. MOTDRA requires helmets on junior riders under the age of 18. You only have one brain. Visit a rehab hospital if you don’t think you need to use a helmet.
  • Water bottles. These come in containers you can hang on your saddle, or in fanny packs to hang on you. Carry at least one to drink from and one to pour water over your horse.
  • A sponge on a string. Dip this into streams and ponds to squeeze water on the horse for cooling. Make sure to practice this at home. A LOT!
  • A fanny pack, cantle bag or other way to carry “stuff,” such as horse and people snacks, a hoof pick, car keys, a pocket knife, horse bandage, map, rider card, compass and whistle.
  • Riding tights or breeches with no inner seam. If you want your thighs shredded like hamburger, wear jeans. Even the guys wear breeches or tights for distance riding, or they wear pantyhose under jeans.
  • Wide comfortable stirrups. There are several brands made for distance riding.
  • A rain slicker – we ride in all weather!
  • Horse clothing appropriate for the weather – you might need a rain sheet, cooler, fly sheet, winter blanket and/or rump rug.
  • A cushy saddle cover. Not a necessity, but definitely helps (unless it’s pouring down rain and it becomes a sponge!)
  • Necktie coolies. These are wonderful inventions that you soak in water and wrap around your neck to keep you cool on hot days.
  • A sweat scraper. Many riders hang one on the saddle. It is the evaporation process that cools the horse.
  • An E-Z boot for lost shoe emergencies.
  • A heart rate monitor. This helps you track your horse’s condition as you ride.
  • Ice boots are nice for longer rides, but some horses don’t like them much.
  • Camping gear. Rides start at dawn. It is a lot easier to arrive at the ride site the day before and camp out than to try to get there the morning of the ride.
  • Camping food. Most MOTDRA rides offer a potluck dinner at the rider meeting. However, many endurance rides do not. Be prepared to feed yourself!
  • Buckets. With lids. Lots of them. Many camp sites are primitive. You need to bring in the water you and your horse will use. Ask the ride manager to see if horse and/or people water is available.
  • A pooper scooper. Good trail riders clean up after their horses in camp.


Tips from an Old Timer

If you are new to MOTDRA or to distance riding, or if you are just thinking about trying a ride, we welcome you to our sport. We want everyone to be successful. The other riders, the vets, the ride managers and volunteers root for everyone! So please, come join us. But, don’t think this is…