Tarma’s view

Endurance is such a tough sport in multiple ways, but also utterly fulfilling…as long as your equine partner is willing. Limited distance rides are fun, a good training ground, and can be hard in their own ways…but you don’t quite know the answer until you hit 50 miles or more. Does your horse like endurance? Do they have those eagle eyes even at mile 40, ready to see what’s next? You can get a horse physically fit fairly easily, but you can’t change who they are. I can safely say Tarma is happy to be an endurance horse, even with everything that comes with it (lots of trailering and traveling, frequent bodywork, being solo with just me on trails she’s never seen…) She looked better at her last vet check than she had after the first loop, still trotting out just in front of me. I had fretted about her behavior heading solo out of camp without our comfort gelding…but she marched straight out like a professional (minus some hesitation when she did see her buddy for the second loop, but that was more in a “Cody should come with us!” way and not a “I don’t want to do more miles” way). To be able to sit deep and have speed and effort and willingness ready to hand each time I asked for it, ears forward and powering onwards, is a deeply satisfying high that’s hard to match. Equally reassuring is how ready Tarma was for another adventure after her two week vacation, walking up to me in the pasture, shoving her head into her halter and loading herself into the trailer.

Rest stop for sloppy beet pulp mash for hydration, we always do this for trailer rides over two hours

We did have a few disagreements during our camping trip to Cow Camp with a bunch of lovely folks I haven’t seen for awhile, mainly over speed. I was going for a non-endurance pace of chill and mosey, and she was going out for another race. It took several miles and parking her behind a friend’s horse at the back of the line, but she eventually got the picture…mostly. Her walk never has any mosey, so there’s a lot of halting and waiting for our friends to catch up. On our way home I stopped a trailhead I hadn’t been to for several years and Tarma’s never seen and we wandered, which she interprets my checking the map a few times to ensure we’re still more or less where we’re supposed to be as “lost in the howling wilderness”. This causes her trot to be arena slow and she keeps stopping to look behind her, convinced we’re not going the right way and she needs to take charge. The dog is oblivious to this conversation, throwing himself into dust baths while Tarma and I reach an agreement that we’re going the way I wanna go and I promise there’s food at the trailer when we get there. She’s never bolty or flighty at these moments, she’s not scared, just not entirely convinced I’m correct. I used to take this personally, and it did used to show a lack of trust, but with two years of adventures and work together under our belts I can see that it’s just Tarma, communicating with me in the space I’ve given her.

My husband added LED lights to the side of the trailer and now I can see Tarma in the dark!

It’s a delicate balance of “I hear you” and “We are gonna do it the dumb human way cause I said so and I promise there’s a reason your dramatic mare brain can’t quite follow but that’s okay, I love you anyway.” As our dressage instructor has pointed out, this can lead to Tarma taking charge a bit more often than she needs to, especially in the ring where she doesn’t see a purpose to the circles and bending and slowing down we’re asking her to do. She looks fantastic for a run in a straight line all day horse, but collection and flexion and bend is what will keep her strong for the decade and more to come and is harder for her, so our dressage lessons are straight up ugly with tiny moments of “Ahah!” brilliance.

The horse related highlight of that camping trip was a short evening ride the day we arrived, a friend I used to catch ride with went out with us with her amazing gelding she’s brought through so much (his mule buddy refused to go out with us as they’d already ridden that day). There were non-stinging pollinator bees at several points along the trail, and I discovered Tarma really HATES these. She was shivering and stomping, twitchy and barely held to the walk. If I had so much as thought “trot” we would have been bolting out of there. Tarma of two years ago may well have bolted, with or without me. Tarma of today held herself together and told me, quite clearly, that we were not going to linger but she wouldn’t leave without me, and we managed to get through the bees without dying, twice. As soon as we were passed those areas she calmed down (read, not slowed down but at least went fast in a calmer frame of mind).

Looking forward, I’m planning about one slow ride a week with one longer, 10-15 mile speed ride sprinkled in, but mostly rest. We’ve entered the phase of the year where overtraining is more on my mind than under training, and also part of the reason why most endurance riders have multiple mounts. Our next 50 will be over Memorial Day at the Mary and Anna Memorial Ride at Outback Station, a place I’ve always wanted to ride but never quite made it. That gives me three weeks to work on the bra and stomach problem, both of which I have pages of ideas and tips to try out. Tonight I’ll head to the barn after dinner and Tarma will yell at me for being late with her beet pulp mash, I ask her to stretch and give her a quick massage and tell her she’s wonderful.

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After years of borrowing horses, working to ride and catch riding, I finally have my own horse, a spicy chocolate mare...but also a demanding day job (who doesn't?), a nerdy husband, a soccer loving kid who needs to be parented (by me, duh), and the ultimate trail buddy, a chocolate Labradork!

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