Endurance riding

Want to get out of the arena and build a stronger partnership with your horse? The sport of endurance riding might be for you!

While not considered one of the most “glamorous” sports in the equestrian world, endurance riding is a fun and challenging discipline that deserves more attention. After all, what other sport involves you and your horse working together to overcome a 100-mile obstacle course in 24 hours? Endurance riding is a great way to get out of the confines of the arena and challenge your partnership with your horse, and it’s easily accessible to horses and riders of all ages and types.

A bit of history

It’s commonly supposed that the origin of endurance had its roots in the short-lived but much remembered Pony Express. But it’s more likely that it relates back to the time when the US Cavalry tested its horses on five-day, 300-mile (483km) tests, with each horse carrying over 200 pounds (91kg).

In 1955, Wendell Robie of Auburn, California, and three of his friends, took up the challenge of the historic Calvary ride and traced a 100-mile route from the shores of Lake Tahoe to Auburn. They completed it within 24 hours. It was recognized that this could become a competitive sport. Soon after, this route became the home of what is now known as the Tevis Cup.

Interest spread over the borders into Canada, who adopted the American Endurance Riding Conference (AERC) rules. By 1983, the Canadian Long Distance Riding Association had been incorporated. CaLDRA became the national long distance representative until 2006, when endurance was received under the umbrella of Equine Canada as Endurance Canada. Endurance is also recognized as an official discipline by Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) and is also accepted as a discipline at the World Equestrian Games (WEG).

What is endurance riding?

Endurance riding is about the horse – first, last and always. Endurance riding involves a horse and rider team completing a marked course between 50 and 100 miles (80km and 160km) in length. There are maximum times assigned to each distance within a 24-hour period. For example, if 100 miles is to be done within 24 hours, proportional divisions would be 50 miles in 12 hours, and a Limited Distance ride of 25 miles (40km) in six hours.

Endurance horses must be fit and sound, but also obedient to their riders and compliant to veterinary examinations. The mental and physical demands of endurance training lie in preparing both horse and rider for challenges of terrain, footing and weather. Besides training and conditioning, pace and strategy also play an important role in making it to the finish line.

The horse’s welfare is paramount. At veterinary checks along the route, horses receive a soundness exam to ensure they are fit to continue. Cause for concern can be things like excessive fatigue, signs of lameness, and even poor attitude.

The goal is no different from that of any other race – to finish first. However, you can be pulled from the race at various points for a number of reasons. If you push yourself and your horse too hard, you could become too fatigued to finish. Weather, lameness, and equipment failure could all prove problematic. And if your horse does not pass the health/soundness examinations at the start of the race, during the vet checks in the middle of the race, or at the end of the race, you will not be able to continue or win.

Top tips to get you started

It’s not hard to get started in endurance riding. That said, it’s still hard to go in “cold turkey”, so there are a few things you can do to make sure the transition goes smoothly. Most conscientious riders are already practicing these things:

  • Make sure your horse is prepared for optimum herd health, as he’s going to be close to other horses in camp, and at water holes and troughs. Make sure appropriate shots are up-to-date.
  • Neglected trimming and inappropriate hoof care over the long haul will cause lameness. Learn what to look for in a balanced trim and use hoof protection when necessary.
  • Your feed program will likely be much the same as it is at home. A mix of grass and dry hay is a good combination that will condition his digestive system for travelling and on race day.
  • A basic fitness plan for an introductory distance such as 25 miles can be as simple as what you would ride during a normal week. There are as many conditioning plans for horses as there are levels of competition. It can vary depending on the age, experience, and body type of the horse. Building your endurance horse up to the 25-mile division is a good place to start. The horse must be at least 48 months of age. You will have six hours to finish the distance with about an hour’s rest halfway through, so speed will not be a consideration. Any horse ridden 25 miles per week at a walk/trot should easily be able to finish.

There are lots of things you and your horse will learn the first time out, such as how to follow trail markings, deal with commotion on the trail and at the vet check, cool your horse properly, and become familiar with procedures at the vet check. If you can, it is a good idea to just go on your own to start and observe one or two endurance rides, or tag along as someone’s groom. Endurance riders are a friendly group, and will be happy to help show you the ropes!