Written by Jacob Melissen
A justification for why the endurance sport with horses in relation to the horse is still a completely acceptable discipline within the framework of the well-being of the horse.
Part two - The Horse
In his brochure, Van Overbeek also discusses the horse. He writes that it’s best to choose a thoroughbred if the distance is limited to 100 – 150 kilometers. A thoroughbred has speed and stamina but is less suitable for longer distances. This is because a thoroughbred has a strong tendency to go on, making it difficult to determine when the horse is going beyond its limits. In addition, thoroughbreds react strongly to changes, especially temperature and food. Over longer distances, half-breds are the most appropriate horses. Fine in build, skin, muscles and bones. Sharply defined joints and lively in absorbing impressions from outside. Irish are mentioned as favourites, but many other types of horses, also with an unknown pedigree, showed excellent performances. Calm complexity, great stamina, as well as a strong heart that quickly regains its normal rhythm after great effort are pre-eminently found in the Irish horse. As a good long distance horse, one should choose a horse not younger than 8 years and not older than 14 years. According to most writers, Van Overbeek writes, a preference is given to a gelding with high blood, not too big, strong back and of course strong legs and hooves. A good pastern suspension is also recommended because of the suspension needed during the gaits. The horse should be well trained, light in the hand and have strong legs. Also important, the horse should be a keen eater that digests its food well and can therefore get fit and be kept in good condition. There were in-depth discussions about whether one should choose a horse with a good trot or a good canter. At first it was thought that a good trotter was preferable, but during the Brussels – Ostend competition it was found by experience that the horses with a good canter performed better. In this way they also gained the experience that walking turned out to be of little importance during competitions. It was also experienced in practice that it was better to observe an absolute rest period of five minutes after an hour of riding and a rest period of 20 to 30 minutes after 20 to 25 kilometres of riding. It is very good for rider and horse to walk and trot side by side. Walking is very important in training. The canter should be brisk, but preferably still fast and the trot should be calm and controlled.
The horse had to be properly prepared for a long or short competitive ride. This also applies to the rider who not only has to be able to sit on his horse for a long time but also has to be able to run considerable distances next to his trotting horse. That is why cavalry commanders were very interested in the mental and physical training of their riders. Looking at the training sessions, there were some elements that kept coming back. Practice of long distances took place with the riders handwalking their horses, during these training sessions the loose sand was not shunned. Swimming upstream was also strongly recommended, but the lack of suitable water meant that this form of training was limited. In addition, training was also carried out on hard roads and of course the amount of feed was gradually increased during the training.
For the possibility of taking care of the horse during the ride, a distinction was made between long and short journeys. Organized assistance was not allowed on short rides, but the horse was always allowed to drink water. The training had to have been sufficient enough to make assistance considered unnecessary. Different rules applied for rides longer than a day. During these longer rides the night’s rest also played a part.
Excessive muscle work had to be avoided because it could cause a build-up of harmful substances in the blood, which could have serious consequences for the horse. The night’s rest shouldn’t last too long to prevent stiffness in the horse. During long distance rides one had to be aware of the risk of a heat stroke at high temperatures. The horse’s gait had to remain smooth but above all regular (no signs of lameness). Digestive disorders can be fatal for a horse. A horse’s heart rate is between 28 and 40 beats per minute. The heart rate should not exceed 55 beats per minute and should have dropped significantly within 20 minutes. The temperature of the horse should not exceed 40 degrees Celsius. This is alarmingly high. Also the hooves should not get too hot. The hoof action makes the temperature rise, especially on hard roads. Regular cooling is a necessity. A horse had to be well shod before it could start a long distance ride.
On long rides it is necessary to take spare horseshoes with you. It is important that these shoes are made in advance. There was a lot of discussion about the composition of the material from which the horseshoe should be made. Around the turn of the century, for example, one could choose between a fine-grained iron, a steel iron or a horseshoe made of mixed materials. Steel turned out to be strong but has the disadvantage that it becomes slippery. Godin de Beaufort was of the opinion that a combination of fine-grained iron at the front and steel irons at the rear proved to be very effective. The fine-grained iron could be reinforced with inlaid steel. It was important that a long distance rider not only had to be able to take off a horseshoe, but also be able to put on a horseshoe that had been made in advance. The use of soles made of cork or other material was not recommended. Van Overbeek could not find much more than rough estimates about the supplies on the way. To keep a horse in shape, the following amounts were mentioned. 8 to 10 kg of oats, 2 to 3 kg of hay and 1 to 2 kg of molasses. Molasses was fed for the sugar. It was also recommended to offer water with sugar along the way. There is mention of feeding 12 kg of oats a day when they were ready for 6 to 7 hour training rides. However, the emphasis was always placed on a gradual increase in the quantity as well as a similar gradual reduction. At shorter distances little food was given, only hay or grass but also some sugar water. In addition, it was important to provide the food especially in the evening and at night.
Next Saturday in part 3 of “The History of the Endurance Sport”, written by Jacob Melissen, you will read more about the history of the long-distance ride from Brussels to Ostend.