Preview: The sport of endurance

September 25, 2010

Endurance riding has a history that dates back to when horses were first used to travel long distances as a means of transport. As a form of competitive sport though, endurance riding first emerged in the USA in the 1950s, and reached Europe in the 1960s.


Reining champion Miguel Vila Ubach on Hungares (Spain) at a watering point during the World Games in Aachen in 2006. © Kit Houghton/FEI

In 2010, it is a real test of both horse and rider fitness with events covering distances of up to 160km, which means many hours in the saddle.

Endurance is a fast growing sport and attracts riders of all ages, with events ranging from pleasure rides, sometimes called training rides (up to 40km), competition rides (30km - 80km) completed within a set speed and endurance rides (65km to 160km) completed in the shortest time.

All horses are required to pass veterinary checks during and after competition and endurance rides.

It is a social sport with riders often completing much of the ride in groups, the challenge being to complete within a set speed and for the horse to be passed fit and within the set heart rate at the end of the ride.

Although a test of stamina for both horse and rider, endurance riding also requires a lot of precision planning and strategy to make sure the horses pass the compulsory veterinary stops.

Each rider has a crew of three people to prepare the horse before it is presented to the vet.

They need to ensure it has been sufficiently cooled down and has a heartbeat of less than 64bpm. If the horse fails at any of the vet stops, it will be eliminated.

The clock will stop running only once the horse is presented to the vet, so it's important to recover quickly. After the veterinary check, there is also a compulsory stop during which the horse will be fed and watered and the rider will also eat and drink.

In order to complete the course in a good time, the horses often reach speeds of 20 to 24km/hr, with an average of 18km/hr, following a pre-determined course which can be rough, rocky, steep and involve crossing rivers. Riders are given a map of the course at the start which indicates where any hazards might lie. Although most breeds of horse can compete in endurance races, Arabs tend to dominate as they have natural stamina and are very tough.

Video from Endurance GB of the British National Championships
at Cirencester Park earlier this year: