By: Kara Popplestone

Pony wins over arabian for this rider

As the craziness that is 2020 comes to a close, it has me thinking about my first full ride season and the wild ride that was 2019. I attempted to, and eventually did, start my distance riding journey with a fire breathing dragon of a horse. I bought him because he was an Arabian cross and clearly you need an Arabian for distance riding (spoiler alert: you don’t!). I finished the year with a spicy but quiet Quarter Horse Welsh cross pony.

In June of 2019 I decided to try my first distance ride at Birds Hill Park. To make a long story short, I was ready for the ride, but mentally he was not. We rider optioned (pulled ourselves from competition) after he got away from me and was found on the other side of the park. After getting him back, and having the vet look him over I thought our excitement for the day was over, but alas, it was not. After relaxing at ride camp for a few hours to try and make it a more positive experience for him, we packed up to go home. However, Smokey blamed the trailer for the results of the day and refused to get back in it. From the point I started trying to load him by myself to the point he was finally loaded with the help of SO MANY people, it must have been an hour or more.

This is where, if you ask my husband, my endurance riding career should have ended. For me the day was a disaster, BUT it was not discouraging it was actually very encouraging! At no point did anyone say one negative thing about the disaster zone that me and my horse were. It was always words of encouragement and other people’s stories about disaster zone horses or rides. So, we went home knowing what we needed to work on, and hopeful for another shot at a completion.

Over the course of the summer it became apparent that this was not going to work out for Smokey and me. We were simply a bad combination for this type of sport. However, around the same time a friend acquired Charlie—a Welsh/Quarter Horse cart pony with energy to burn and not enough miles spent burning it. My friend suggested I try Charlie in the sport to make sure endurance was a good fit for me before I started searching for another endurance horse. So, I decided to try the September ride at Birds Hill Park with Charlie. Let me tell you, after keeping up with Spartan—Shannon Lightfoot’s Arabian—for approximately the first 10 miles, he learned just what a long fast ride was! But he finished that ride strong and healthy and also learned that we likely way over-conditioned for that ride.

This year we started conditioning early. In March we were regularly doing 10–15 mile rides and had high hopes for doing a 25 mile ride in May, but we all know how the 2020 spring rides went. So through May, June, and July we dialed back our training and focused on just having fun on the trails. Taking some young kids on their first trail rides, and exploring the small forgotten trails at Spruce Woods took up most of our summer, with lots of long slow miles. But when rides started back up in August, we were ready!

After turtling our way through our first 25 mile ride, I was asked if I would sponsor a junior for her first DRM ride without her mom. I agreed and we set out with Shannon Lightfoot, who was sponsoring another junior. Shannon is a mother, so she was the real adult in this situation. I was mostly along for the ride. After that ride I was asked to sponsor another junior, Elsie, with more experience than me. Sure that would be fine. I ride with kids lots. But halfway through our 15 mile loop I realized I was the adult, and this was a kid not related to me. She wasn’t one of my siblings that I could be like “oops sorry I broke her”. I had to make sure we got her back to ride camp in one piece, and not just once, I had to do it twice! Thankfully her pony, Ginger, is a saint and Charlie was just happy to be moving at a good pace and covering some ground, which meant we all made it back in one piece still aboard our ponies. I must not have done too badly because I got to ride with Elsie for two more rides this fall.

I was very happy to have ridden at every DRM ride this year. Charlie and I completed 125 Limited Distance miles, including a weekend of back to back 25 mile rides. And let me tell you we learnt a TON! Everything from mistakes cooling out; to the fact that tack that works for slow trail riding might not work for endurance; to feeding tips like when and what feeds are most popular. When they say any horse can ride endurance if they have the heart for it, they are not joking. Charlie is a chunky little pony measuring in at only about 13:3 hands. We don’t come in first and that is not our goal but we do finish what we started with a smile on our faces.

We don’t know what 2021 will bring, but hopefully we will get to keep our ride schedule and, who knows, maybe Charlie and I will dip our toes in the world of 50 mile rides. I know with all the advice and tidbits I pick up from the more experienced riders I am in good hands because they will always offer words of advice when I don’t know what I don’t know.


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