What is Endurance Riding?
Recognised by the FEI, endurance riding features long-distance races during which horses receive regular veterinary checks. Events take place worldwide and vary in length. The longest is the Mongol Derby, which is 1000km! Most rides are single day events but the longer races take place over a number of days.
Any breed of horse can compete in an endurance race but Arabian horses generally dominate top-level events due to their natural stamina. Your horse needs to be fit, well-prepared and in excellent health to participate. A vat checks the horses before they compete and then regularly throughout the event at pre-arranged points on the route.
Humans have required horses to travel long distances since we first domesticated them. Endurance riding was formalised as a sport in 1955 in the USA when a group of equestrians rode from Lake Tahoe to Auburn over the Sierra Nevada in less than 24 hours. This event became the Tevis Cup and remains the toughest 100-mile ride on the planet due to the rough terrain, heat and high altitude. Endurance riding appeared in Europe in the 1960’s and the FEI recognised it as a discipline in 1978.
Following veterinary checks, riders receive a map or the GPS coordinates for the course. They are informed of natural obstacles and told where they must perform compulsory halts. The rides have different sections or legs at the end of which vets perform further checks. These include monitoring the horses’ resting heart rate which must be below the prescribed limit for the event. The horses are then held for a period of time, usually 40-60 minutes, during which time they are fed and watered. Riders also receive supplies.
Leading riders have crews to prepare their horses for the veterinary checks and to take care of them during the "holds".
Riders choose their pace for the event and this will depend on the terrain and the condition of their horse. It is important to know when to speed up or slow down during any race. It is also permissible to dismount and walk alongside the horses as long as riders are mounted when they cross the finishing line.
Endurance is less formal than other equestrian competitions. Riders are often able to choose their clothing for comfort and there may be no other equipment requirements other than helmets for juniors. However, the organisers of specific events may set certain rules such as the need to wear a helmet. In FEI competitions, riders must wear an equestrian helmet, riding breeches or riding tights, correct footwear, and a shirt with a collar. Most riders will use a lightweight saddle and there are styles designed specifically for endurance events.
Declaring the Winner
The first horse to cross the line and pass the final veterinary check is declared the winner. In some countries, but not in international events, the winner is determined by a combination of speed and recovery rate. There also tend to be awards for the best-conditioned horse. Many riders compete merely with the aim of completing the course. Some events have time limits and most feature mainly amateur competitors for whom the sport is a hobby and a means of improving their horses’ fitness.