Endurance Riding

Jan 28 2011

Endurance Riding

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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 of all ages and horses who are at least 5 years old compete in endurance riding, and rides vary in length from shorter pleasure rides (called limited distance) designed for beginning riders, or for young horses in training, to treks which may last for as many as five days (multi-day rides). Endurance riding is highly demanding for both horse and rider in terms of physical ability and judgment. Most endurance rides are held in the backcountry, and horse and rider teams camp before and after the ride.

During an endurance ride, horses and riders set out along a pre-determined trail after they are given a map which indicates the course and any hazards which may be encountered. The competition is timed and horse and rider teams must finish the miles required in the time alloted. For example, in the U.S., endurance rides sactioned by the American Endurance Ride Conference require that 25 mile rides be completed in 6 hours, while 50 mile rides are given a 12-hour time limit. A 100-mile ride must be completed in 24 hours. 

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, as well as the metabolic status of the horse, assessing pulse, color of its mucous membranes, gut sounds, and muscle tone, as well as 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 If the veterinarian is in doubt about the fitness of the horse, it is immediately withdrawn from the race to avoid the risk of injury and/or metabolic damage.

Any breed of horse can be used for endurance riding, although heavy breeds are generally discouraged. Most riders favor light, but sturdy horses such as Arabians. Arabians are considered by many to be the preferred endurance riding horse, as the breed was developed in harsh desert conditions. The breed tends to display loyalty and strength; Arabians are often very willing partners. However, many other breeds have been successful in endurance, including mules! Generally, horse and rider have a long established working relationship which allows them to communicate well along the trail, something which is crucial for endurance.

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. Some endurance riders wear traditional breeches, whereas others prefer brightly colored riding tights, and others still wear bicycle shorts and sneakers. The key is comfort – and safety. A riding helmet is always recommended during endurance rides.


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