Endurance Riding

Half the failures in life arise from pulling in one”s horse as he is leaping.Augustus Hare (1792-1834) English Theologian

If you enjoy the great outdoors and love being out there on trail rides, alone with nature and your horse, you might enjoy the sport of endurance riding. Of course, this sport is essentially a race against the clock. Having a horse that has a great deal of stamina, is easily trained, is responsive to your cues and is able to move gracefully and with great speed is of prime importance.

Endurance riding is an unusual sport. To be successful, your horse must undergo veterinary examinations throughout the race to determine whether he is fit to continue. Endurance rides can be from 25 to 100 miles in length, with one to four phases of approximately 25 miles each. The race can be spaced over two days. At the end of each phase, riders must wait until the horse”s pulse returns to an acceptable rate, then have the horse formally checked over for pulse rate, heart rate, weight, and overall condition (mouth and back sores or abrasions). Horses that are too exhausted to eat or drink may be eliminated from the race.

Thus, the goal is not to be the first to cross the finish line, but to make the best time possible while the horse remains in excellent physical condition before and during the race. The rider who can read the signs of fatigue and pace his or her horse according to its capacity is most likely to excel at this sport.

Prior to the early 1950s, when endurance became an international sport, it was a form of delivery that pushed horses to collapse. In the later part of the 20th century, the sport was regulated and focused on measuring stamina and speed, as well as riders” ability to judge pacing and demonstrate good horsemanship. Riding as fast as the horse can go over rough terrain, up mountainsides, across streams, and winding along narrow trails while dodging trees and bushes requires stamina from both the horse and rider.

Tack and Turnout for Endurance Riding

Picture of endurance saddleThe saddle is by far the most important piece of equipment in endurance riding. Many riders like western saddles because they are comfortable and sit further back on the horse. Others like English saddles, particularly hunter saddles, because they”re light. McClellan saddles were designed for endurance riding, but many riders claim they”re designed for the horse”s comfort and the rider”s discomfort.

A number of specially designed endurance saddles are available on today”s market. They blend the comfort of the western saddle with the lightness of the English saddle. Your choice of saddle should be the right combination that fits you and suits your horse. For example, if your horse is large and strong, weight is a minor issue. You should consider the safest, lightest stirrups you can afford.

Picture of endurance helmet.Another important piece of equipment is the saddle pad. Special gel pads and custom pads can keep your horse comfortable for a full 100-mile race. Natural wool pads with foam linings are also a good choice. Remember that an ill-fitting or inadequate pad may cause injuries that could have your horse disqualified from the race. Professional endurance riders often choose a hackamorealso known as a bitless bridle. Both you and your horse must have plenty of time to get used to it, but the absence of a bit is likely to prevent mouth sores. Be cautious, though, as a misused hackamore can cause its own damage.

Grooming for Endurance Riding

No one will care how you or your horse looks as you dash about the open fields and winding trails. Do dress for safety, however, and consider changing weather, especially since some races can last two days. A safety helmet is required.

Use your skills as a groomer to keep your horse comfortable before and after the race, and during the rests between phases. Cooling your horse down too fast, for example, will cause his pulse to race and cost valuable minutes (remember, the vet will check your horse only after the pulse slows to an acceptable rate).

The Endurance Horse

Endurance riding is one of the equestrian sports that place unusual demands on the horse. Not all horses can handle this grueling race, but a broad range of horses can do so if their riders are effective in gauging their stamina. Knowing whether your horse is best in sprinting across flat land, weaving among trees on narrow mountain trails or doing some surefooted climbing up rocky terrain is a good start in perfecting an area of specialty within endurance. As some experts say, “If you know what your horse is good at, make sure he”s the first to arrive there.”

Setting out to buy a horse that will be a good endurance horse isn”t easy. After all, stamina and metabolism aren”t directly observable until after the horse has been trained. A horse with a low pulse rate and a great appetite is likely to have a good metabolism for endurance riding.

An endurance horse need not be large; think of endurance as a marathon rather than a strength contest. Many riders choose Arabian horses. Several Arabian horse organizations sponsor endurance events and many Arabian breeders choose endurance as the sport for their horses.

Look for three general factors: stamina, strength, and personality. If you can determine that a horse has excellent balance, you will find this characteristic of great benefit on tight turns and tricky climbs. A horse that is ready to run and loves to race is a good bet (some horses have no enthusiasm for keeping up with the others).

Finally, your horse should be in good health and have a sound medical history. Healed broken bones and past pulmonary infections would put you and your horse at risk.

Competing in Endurance Events

In 1950, endurance riding was recognized as an equine sport by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) headquartered in Switzerland. This is the organization that sets up rules for Olympic equestrian sports. Endurance is not yet an Olympic sport, although an annual World Championship title is the endurance rider”s dream.

Endurance had its start in the Western United States, where challenging trails were easily available. In the last 50 years, though, it has become a world-class sport on all continents.

In North America, these are the major Endurance Riding organizations:

  • The Canadian Long Distance Riding Association
  • The American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC)
  • The Arabian Horse Distance Riding Association (AHDRA).

European endurance riding is popular in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Besides the FEI, some of the major organizations in Europe include:

  • the British Endurance Riding Association
  • the Endurance Horse and Pony Society of Great Britain
  • the Scottish Endurance Riding Club (SERC)
  • the National Committee of France Endurance Riders
  • the Italian National Association for Equestrian Riding.

Not many Asian nations have equestrian interests but, obviously, the breeders of Arabian horses are the likeliest participants in endurance events. The Saar Arab Arabian Endurance Horses are located in Germany. The United Arab Emirates Racing Federation also supports endurance riding.

In the southern hemisphere, endurance riding is of national prominence in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Look for these organizations:

  • the Australian Endurance Riders Association (AERA)
  • the New Zealand Endurance and Competitive Trail Riding.
  • the South African Endurance Ride Association.