If you enjoy spending long hours in the saddle, riding in open country, and like a challenge then endurance riding may just be the sport for you. Unlike a lot of other equestrian disciplines endurance is open to most riders and horses and can give families a chance to ride together at the same time.
Endurance riding is a long-distance race that’s run over challenging terrain with races covering anything from 10 to 100 miles in a single day. It’s a test of fitness and stamina with horses being checked regularly to make sure they’re ‘fit enough to continue’ and withdrawn if they’re not.
Being a controlled race there’s a lot more to endurance riding than just racing as quickly as you can to the finish line. It’s a test of how well a horse and rider work together as well as a demonstration of the trust they have in each other. Read on to find out more about this ultimate test of horse and rider.
What is endurance riding?
While modern day endurance riding can trace its roots back to the 1910s when the sport started to become popular in the US its origin lies in the First World War when cavalry officers needed a way of testing their horse’s ability over long distances. The idea was that if a horse could carry 140kg over a distance of 100 miles (160km) in a single day then they’d be okay on the battlefield.
Today though endurance riding has evolved into a hugely popular sport that is officially recognized by the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale, the international governing body of equestrian sports), although it hasn’t changed a huge amount since its inception. While endurance events can be as short as 10 miles (16km), the pinnacle of the sport is still 100 mile (160km) races that need to be completed in a single day.
What do you need to know about endurance riding?
As the name suggests endurance riding (or racing) is a real test of endurance and stamina, not just of the horse but of the rider too. Your horse needs to be fit and healthy enough to be able to maintain a steady pace over rough terrain (and for many hours) but you’ll also need to be fit yourself. If you’re not able to ride properly for prolonged periods of time it’ll be harder on your horse. On top of this if your horse throws a shoe or injures himself then you’ll have to dismount and lead him to the road so that you can be picked up. This can sometimes be many miles away so you could be walking a long distance.
Most horses that are in regular work will be able to compete at lower levels (up to 25 miles), so if this applies to your horse want else do you need to take into account before starting out in the endurance world? Of course, it goes without saying that you need to be happy spending long hours in the saddle but you need to be able to read a map too. Many races, especially the longer ones, will issue you with a map and you’ll have to find your own way to the various checkpoints.
You also need to be able to control your horse’s pace, not just so that you maintain a steady pace but so that you don’t tire your horse (or yourself) out. You should also know how to administer basic first aid so that you can deal with any minor issues or injuries that might arise.
Do you need any special kit for endurance riding?
Safety and comfort are crucial for both you and your horse so it’s important that you have a comfortable saddle that fits your horse properly. As you progress in the sport you may want to buy a specialist endurance saddle but to start with any saddle will do. It’s also a good idea to invest in saddle bags that allow you to carry a first aid kit with you because believe me, at some point, either you or your horse will need it.
When it comes to you, a riding helmet that meets the latest standards is an absolute must, as is an appropriate body protector but that’s it, everything else is optional. That said though I’d recommend long sleeves rather than one with short sleeves. Long boots or half chaps are also a good idea as they’ll help to protect your lower legs from branches and bushes. It’s also a good idea to wear multiple layers rather than just one thick layer, you’ll get hot quickly, and being able to remove layers will help.
I know it’s technically not classed as kit, but electrolytes are also a must, they’ll help both you and your horse replace minerals that you’ll lose along the way.
What are the levels of endurance riding?
There are four main levels of endurance riding, limited distance, graded, competitive and FEI each with their own limits on distance and sometimes speed. On top of those, there’s also pleasure endurance and extreme endurance.
As you can imagine these are rides that are organised purely for fun. Their distance can be anything from 10 to 20 miles (16km to 32km) with no time limit set. They’re designed to give people a chance to experience the sport without having to commit to it in any way.
Sometimes called luxury distance they can be anything from 20 to 35 miles (32km to 57km) and have a time limit of six hours although you’re not allowed to exceed 9mph (15kmph). They’re generally non-competitive and, like pleasure endurance, are designed to give you a feel for the sport.
Graded events are the first competitive endurance events and involve vet checks before, during, and after the race to make sure the horse is fit and healthy enough to compete (and continue competing in the race). The distance and time allowed will vary from event to event but your speed should be somewhere between 5mph and 9mph (8kmph to 15kmph).
At the end of the race, your horse’s heart rate and the time you took to finish the race are taken into account and you’re awarded a ‘grade’ for the race. The grades are given from 1 to 4 or Completion, with 1 being the best.
Competition events start at 50 miles but can go up to 100 miles and can last for one day or more. Like graded events, the horses are checked at various points during the race and can be withdrawn if the vet thinks they’re not fit enough to continue. Unlike most other levels there’s a minimum speed limit of 6mph (10kmph) although there’s no maximum limit.
FEI events follow the same rules as the competition events but the distances start at 75 miles (120km) for riders under 21 and 100 miles (160km) for riders over that age. FEI events also tend to be international events that take place around the world and are open to everybody regardless of nationality.
There are a few races that don’t fit into any of the levels mentioned above and are considered to be extreme tests of endurance. These include:
- Tevis Cup – a North American event that covers 100 miles (160km) in one day, with riders taking around 18 hours to finish.
- Shahzada – a five day event that covers 250 miles (400km). This is often considered the ultimate endurance test because each rider is only allowed to ride one horse.
- Mongol Derby – lasting ten days the race covers an astonishing 621 miles (1000km). Each rider has to change their horse every 24.9 miles (40km), although they’re given 25 to 27 Mongolian Horses at the start.
What are the rules of endurance riding?
The most important rule of endurance riding is that the horse is fit and sound, both before, during, and after the race. Before a horse and rider can even start the race a vet will check their heart rate with horses having a rate higher than 64bmp being withdrawn immediately.
During the race horses are checked again at regular intervals to make sure they are able to continue. These vet checks also include a compulsory ‘hold time’ where you’re not allowed to continue until the time is up. Hold times can vary from 15, 20, 30 to 60 minutes and won’t start until your horse’s heart rate is 64bmp or lower (this normally happens within 10 minutes). These hold times give both you and your horse a chance to rest as well as allow you to get some food and water.
If your horse’s heart rate hasn’t dropped to the required rate within 30 minutes of stopping they’re automatically withdrawn from the race as they’ll be deemed not fit to continue.
After the race, the horse’s heart rate is checked again to make sure they are still fit to continue, again if this doesn’t drop within 30 minutes they’re withdrawn.
Not sure what horses are good at endurance? The world’s best endurance breeds.
What are the goals of endurance riding?
Endurance riding is a challenging sport which is why the main goal of many endurance riders is to finish the race, this is why many people say that to finish is to win.
That said though when it comes to competitive endurance the ultimate goal is obviously to win but this isn’t always as simple as it sounds. Of course, you can ride flat out and finish ahead of everyone else but doing this runs the risk of tiring your horse too much. Riding slowly so that your horse doesn’t tire as much also has its downsides as you’ll be unlikely to finish in a decent time.
Instead, the aim is to pace your horse and to ride as steadily as you can for as long as you can, this will ensure that you finish within a good time and that your horse is still fit enough to continue.
Want to give endurance riding a go?
If you’re interested in endurance riding then I’d suggest trying a few competitive trail or pleasure endurance rides first so that you can get a feel for the sport. These will not only give you an idea of what to expect but will also help you to learn how to pace your horse. Riding over varying terrain and on steep tracks will also help you to get used to some of the challenges endurance riding can pose.
The American Endurance Ride Conference is also a great place to start. They’re extremely welcoming of newcomers and will help answer any of your questions as well as help you to get started in the sport itself.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉