Endurance riding is competitive equestrian sport in which riders race in a long-distance competition. The races are generally at least 80km long and are usually along trails. Endurance riding events can be one day or multiple day events. Throughout the ride, horses undergo safety measures such as required veterinary tests to ensure their health.
Many endurance riders undertake long-distance competitions in order to finish the race rather than to win. The winner in endurance riding goes beyond the first to cross the finish. Much like a marathon runner’s goal, the goal of an endurance rider is simply to finish the race with the continued safety and health of the horse.
Beyond traditional training for equestrian sports, endurance riding requires a great deal of conditioning. Many training schedules are intensive and involve a build-up of distance so as not to over-exert the horse. When training a horse for distance riding, the rider will begin riding three to five times a week to begin building stamina. The beginning training should take on place land, rather than trail terrain, so that the horse can begin to build leg muscle strength.
Once the horse has begun to build strength in walking, the horse should begin training at a trotting speed, then moving on to more difficult terrain. It is very important to allow the horse to rest in between training to avoid hardship on the horse’s body or undue stress. Vet assessments in endurance riding are very serious and failure to meet veterinary standards will result in disqualification. It is recommended for people hoping to try endurance riding to start with a shorter race both to learn about pacing, and allow your horse to practice as a less arduous race.
At the outset of an endurance riding competition, each horse is carefully assessed by veterinarians and judges. The vitals of the horse are recorded and the horse is tested for its physical ability to run the course. This usually occurs the night before the competition. The race will begin in the early morning.
Sometimes, a horse will need to train years before it is ready to complete an endurance ride. In the days before trains and cars, horseback was a common means of transportation. People would often ride long distances at quicker speeds over rough terrain. Through this riding, horses with greater endurance experienced greater success. Because horses are not used in the same capacity now as they were then, horses must undergo endurance training like any athlete looking to participate in long-distance competitions.
Endurance riding distance courses are divided into multiple phases. At the end of each phase, another vet assessment is required. Horses must be hydrated and have a lower heartbeat in order to continue. Many stops along the way of an endurance ride offer water for the horse. The support crew on endurance rides are essential people who help care for the horse. This crew is responsible for hydrating the horse and rider, as well as cooling down the horse and assisting with equipment. Many rider’s count on the support crew for continued success.
Trail rides take place across varying terrain. Endurance riding competition will cross a variety of natural obstacles and can experience any type of weather. Some obstacles are marked with flags, and the rider and horse must defeat the obstacle in the race. An experienced horse and rider will be prepared for any circumstances. It is also of upmost importance for a rider to understand pacing. Competing against the clock is impossible with proper execution of pacing techniques. While keeping a quick pace is important, a good endurance rider understands when the horse needs to stop for a feed or drink break.
Oftentimes, the scoring structure in endurance riding is more multi-faceted than a simple award to the rider who crosses the finish line first. At each compulsory vet check, horses are scored on their level of fitness and health. These scores, combined with the speed at which the horse finished the race and the amount of weight it was carrying determine the Best Conditioned award. Thus, the first horse to cross the finish is the first place winner, but any close finishing horse can take home the Best Conditioned award.
Tack and Equipment
Endurance riding is slightly different from other equestrian sports. The competition is more informal. While riders maintain some of the equestrian style, clothing is more comfortable and casual than that worn in show jumping or dressage. Equipment is designed to be light-weight, comfortable and freeing for the horse in order to best keep the horse at ease for long distances. Many horses will use a bit-less bridle or endurance bridle for increased comfort and ability to eat and drink along the way.
Enduring Riding Outside the US
Australia’s premiere endurance racing competition is the Tom Quilty Gold Cup. Inspired by a 100-mile cross-country race in the west of the United States, Australia endurance riding enthusiasts put together their own race. The prize money, donated by Tom Quilty, and golden cup were awarded to the first winner.
Many Australians have taken to the exciting sport of endurance riding since that time. The Tom Quilty championship is now the national title race. The Tom Quilty race takes place from state to state each year. There are many other races that take place across the country, with varying degrees of difficulty.
Endurance riding holds high appeal to the adventurous side of Australians. Endurance riding is more than a competitive sport because riders compete not against time and opponents, but against their own will and determination. Both rider and horse must dedicate years to training in order to complete and endurance riding competition.
Endurance riding competitions do not have as many spectators as other equestrian sports, but the growing popularity has ranked it among the top equestrian sports. The endurance races began at a competitive international level in the 1950s and since then have snowballed into an exciting worldwide competition.
The success of endurance riders relies heavily on the relationship between horse and rider. Though the ride is long and strenuous, if horse and rider are in harmony, the finish is rewarding for both. An upmost sense of mutual respect in necessary. The horse respects and obeys the rider and will continue to ride at a vigorous pace. The rider respects the horse and attends to its health needs so that the horse can safely continue. This relationship of trust is paramount to the successful completion of the endurance ride.