What is Endurance Riding?

Mary McMahon

Endurance riding is a test of equestrian endurance which was formally organized in the United States in the 1950s, and brought to Europe in the 1960s, although it existed in a less formal form long before that. Like many equestrian sports, endurance riding has its roots in the training of military horses, which were often required to travel long distances over highly varied and hazardous terrain. People and horses of all ages compete in endurance riding, and rides vary in length from short pleasure rides designed for young and beginning riders to treks which may last for as many as five days. Endurance riding is highly demanding for both horse and rider in terms of physical ability and judgment.

Some endurance riders travel over several days with their horses.
Some endurance riders travel over several days with their horses.

During an endurance ride, horse and rider set out along a pre-set trail after they are given a map which indicates the course and any hazards which may be encountered. The competition is timed, so riders must complete it as quickly as possible while the strength and ability of the horse are also being judged. Many endurance rides award prizes simply for completing the race, while others award prizes based on the amount of time it takes to complete the endurance ride.

Ideally, a horse trekker should have regular access to a horse to build up his or her endurance.
Ideally, a horse trekker should have regular access to a horse to build up his or her endurance.

Because of the physical demands of the race, the physical fitness of the horse is of paramount importance. Typically the horse is examined by a veterinarian at the start of the race for fitness, and the horse will be periodically halted through the race to be re-examined. The veterinarian checks for soundness, assessing the pulse of the horse, color of its mucous membranes, and using other fitness indicators. If the veterinarian is in doubt about the fitness of the horse, it is immediately withdrawn from the race to avoid the risk of injury.

Any breed of horse can be used for endurance riding, although heavy breeds are generally discouraged. Most riders favor light, plucky, sturdy horses such as Arabians, Icelandics, and Norwegian Fjords. Arabians are considered by many to be the preferred endurance riding horse, as the breed was developed in harsh desert conditions, and tends to be highly loyal and strong. Generally, horse and rider have a long established working relationship which allows them to communicate well along the trail, something which is crucial for long rides.

Unlike other equestrian events, the attire for endurance riding is not heavily regulated. Both horse and rider are dressed for comfort, with the horse wearing sturdy, light tack and the rider typically wearing layers of clothing which can be removed as needed. At a minimum, a rider must wear riding breeches, riding boots, a shirt with a collar, and a riding helmet during endurance riding competitions, in order to maintain a positive image for equestrian sports. In addition to a lightweight saddle and any type of bridle, the horse may be equipped with a breastplate to prevent the saddle from sliding.

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