On The Trail- Dr. Mary’s Endurance ride blog

We move down the trail in consistent one-two-one-two rhythm—a steady, forward trot. It’s the beginning of the ride, and my horse Scooter’s ears are pricked forward and keen on keeping up with the horses ahead of him. I am riding in a 25-mile competitive trail ride. It will take about 4 hours to cover the distance at a trot with a 50-minute hold and vet check midway through. It’s not the Olympics, but it took time and dedication to prepare for the ride. I tell myself, all I want is to complete the ride safely and soundly.
Like any athletes, we had to condition ourselves for the task ahead. This meant I had to ride my horse consistently during the week, even when I had late calls and just wanted to go home and eat dinner and go to bed. To stay on track, I developed a schedule with goals, and gradually increased Scooter’s trot interval sets to increase his fitness level. I stayed in-tune to any changes in his pace or gait that may indicate a problem was brewing, and I adjusted his feeding schedule and nutrition to provide him fuel for his increasing energy requirements.
Throughout the process, I saw Scooter transformed. His muscles became stronger and more developed, and the fat pads that like to develop behind his shoulders disappeared. But conditioning him also

Dr. Mary and Scooter on their endurance ride this past weekend. Photo credit Bob Zimmerman

helped me develop my perspective as a veterinarian. It reminded me of the commitment my clients make as they set goals for themselves and their horses. This is important for me to keep in mind as I approach cases, whether it be for preventative care, lameness, or emergencies. All of our clients have a commitment to their horses, whether for trail riding, companionship, or competition. Whether we rely on our horses for our livelihood, or our sanity (or both), it’s our dedication that makes it all happen. As a veterinarian, I see myself as part of the team that helps keep the commitment going.
My involvement in endurance riding also reminds me of the bond I share with my horse and how the goal I establish for both of us keeps us connected. It forces me to pay attention to the minor details that may be affecting his health and wellbeing. It helps me stay connected to the dreams I had as a child, which stabilizes my mental health. And, it gives me a companion with whom I share many beautiful evenings and wonderful moments viewing the country side and breathing the fresh air. For many of us, our horses play an integral role in our lives. For me, the many roles Scooter plays in my life, continually refreshes my perspective and my commitment as a veterinarian and a horse owner.

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