Endurance riding is a demanding equestrian sport that originated from military horse training. The race involves following a pre-established route while being timed and evaluated by a veterinarian. Any breed of horse can be used, but fitness is crucial. Riders dress for comfort, and both horse and rider need to have a good working relationship.
Endurance is an equestrian endurance event that was formally staged in the United States in the 1950s and brought to Europe in the 1960s, although it existed in a less formal form much earlier. 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 dangerous terrain. People and horses of all ages compete in endurance riding, and the rides vary in length from short pleasure rides designed for young, novice riders to treks that can last up to five days. Endurance riding is very demanding on both horse and rider in terms of physical ability and judgement.
During an endurance race, horse and rider follow a pre-established route after receiving a map indicating the route and any dangers they may encounter. The competition is timed, so riders must complete it as quickly as possible while also evaluating the horse’s strength and skill. Many endurance races award prizes simply for completing the race, while others award prizes based on how long it took to complete the endurance race.
Due to the physical demands of the race, the 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 stopped periodically during the race to be re-examined. The vet checks soundness by evaluating the horse’s pulse, the color of its mucous membranes and using other fitness indicators. If the vet has any doubts about the horse’s suitability, he is immediately withdrawn from the competition to avoid the risk of injury.
Any breed of horse can be used for endurance, although heavy breeds are usually discouraged. Most riders prefer light, brave and strong horses such as Arabian, Icelandic and Fjord Norwegian. Arabians are considered by many to be the riding horse of choice, as the breed was developed in harsh desert conditions and tends to be very loyal and strong. In general, horse and rider have an established working relationship that allows them to communicate well along the trail, which is crucial on long rides.
Unlike other equestrian events, endurance riding apparel is not heavily regulated. Both horse and rider are dressed for comfort, with the horse wearing a sturdy, lightweight tack and the rider typically wearing layers of clothing that can be removed as needed. At a minimum, a rider should wear riding breeches, riding boots, a collared shirt, and a riding helmet during endurance riding competitions, in order to maintain a positive image for equestrian sports. In addition to a light saddle and any type of bridle, the horse can be equipped with a breastplate to prevent the saddle from slipping.