Cindy Young’s mental toughness and stamina as an endurance rider proves she can go the distance – and come out on top.
By Carrie Vittitoe | Photos by Noelle Snyder
If you’re not a horse enthusiast, you might think that endurance riding just means a rider gets on her horse and rides until she decides to stop, but it is more complicated than that. In an endurance riding competition, riders have a specific amount of time to do a certain mileage, and there are periodic vet checks to ensure the safety and health of the horses being ridden. Cindy Young is now almost 61 years old, but she has been an endurance rider since 1994 when she was 36 years old. She’s experienced some amazing things on horseback, and even met her husband on a horse.
Cindy has participated in various length rides but now mostly does 50-mile and 100-mile endurance riding competitions. Like any athlete, she has to prepare, and so does her horse. “One to two times a week is the minimum I like to train, and we train hills and flats,” she says.
Training is necessary because if you’ve ever ridden a horse for any length of time, you know that riding can make you very, very sore, and this is true even if you’re an experienced endurance rider. “It’s muscles that you don’t normally use when you’re walking or everyday living,” she says. “I do a 50-mile ride, and the next day I’m sore. I do a 100-mile ride, it takes me a week to recover.” When spring arrives, Cindy begins using her rowing machine more regularly and doing weight training to ensure her core muscles are ready to begin riding more regularly after the downtime of winter.
Endurance riding isn’t just physically taxing, though. It requires strategy work. Cindy has to pace her horse to ensure it can cool down and get its heart rate to recover in a timely fashion for the following legs of the race. There is always worry that accompanies Cindy on any ride. One bad step by a horse could mean the end of a race, or a horse could have an issue and is unable to communicate discomfort. “I was doing a 100-mile, [and] my horse got through 80 miles. At about half a mile to camp, he just stopped. I ended up having to have him treated. Metabolically he was not fit to continue,” she says.
Despite some setbacks, Cindy is pretty happy with her overall record of 181 rides and 158 completions. Like any partner or team sport, if one participant is feeling off, the other players are going to notice and respond. “There are days I’m not going to feel good, and that translates to my horse. My horse isn’t going to feel good, and that translates to me. It’s hard to describe the bond that you have with an animal like that,” she says.
Of course, participating in a sport requires travel whether it is driving to the golf course or taking the bus to yoga class, but traveling with a horse and trailer is an altogether bigger deal. Just as driving in a car for six hours is exhausting to humans, so is standing in a trailer for six hours exhausting for a horse. While endurance rides are held all over the country, the transportation logistics are part of the reason Cindy generally stays in the Southeast and Midwest regions.
“It’s a fun sport. I never thought I’d find anything this gratifying,” she says. Part of the fun is getting to see some amazing scenery in remote wooded areas of the country. She has seen bears, deer, and elk while riding in competitions. Plus, she loves to ride with other people, including members of Daniel Boone Distance Riders, the club of which Cindy is president.