Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Endurance athletes of the horse world train, compete just like human marathoners - Full Article

Pam LeBlanc, Fit City
Oct. 15, 2011

ROUND MOUNTAIN — Toodles doesn't look like a long-distance runner.

She's sturdier and more stout than most marathoners. But this four-legged endurance athlete — a Polish Arabian mare — has plenty in common with her human counterparts.

She spends months building endurance. She tapers, easing off on training in the days before an event. And her owner carefully monitors her nutrition on game day, giving her electrolyte paste and the equine equivalent of energy bars to keep her from bonking.

"It's just like a human athlete," says Elaine Swiss, a retired high-tech executive and Toodles' owner and partner in competitive trail riding, one of two types of long-distance riding events popular in Central Texas.

At competitions, Swiss and Toodles follow a marked trail, tackling obstacles along the way. Judges lurk in bushes, scoring each horse-rider team as they pass through gates, scamper up and down steep hills, cross streams and negotiate special tasks. Teams must finish within a designated time window, but the first team across the finish line doesn't necessarily win.

Endurance races, the other type of long-distance riding event, are pure races. The winning horse is the first to cross the finish line.

In both types of competition, veterinarians check the horses periodically, looking for pink, healthy gums and sloshing belly noises to make sure the animal athletes are well-hydrated and capable of completing 25, 50 or 100-mile rides...

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