About Endurance Riding

Endurance riding is defined as “an athletic event with the same horse and rider covering a measured course within a specified maximum time.” Great effort and courage are required from the horse and rider, who travel together for great distances over varying terrain, altitude, and weather conditions.

History

Distance riding began during westward expansion in the United States. Organized endurance rides began in the mid-1800s, but not for sport. Pony Express riders delivering mail, the settlers seeking the promise of land and a new life, and the U.S. Army Cavalry needing to maintain order in the vast land expanse of the West—all practiced endurance riding, although not always with today’s concern for safety.

The first known modern and organized competitive ride held in the United States was sponsored by the Morgan Horse Club of Vermont in 1913. In the 1920s, the U.S. Army Cavalry introduced the United States Mounted Service Cup competition. Endurance riding, as an organized sport, is thought to have had its official beginning in 1955 at the Tevis Cup, the Western States Trail Ride, a 100-mile grueling ride from Nevada to California that follows the Gold Rush trails. In 1987 the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) sanctioned 646 rides with 2,300 AERC registered riders participating for a combined 700,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) covered. In the late 1980s, approximately 250 competitive rides were held in the United States annually, with a combined membership of nearly 4,000 people.

Rules and Play

Endurance rides fall into three categories: (1) 25 miles, a “straight out horse race” and takes approximately 1.5 hours; (2) 50 miles, with two check stops of 1 hour each and two spot checks, lasting about 4.5 hours; and (3) 100 miles, which contains three 1-hour checks and several spot checks and takes about 11 hours. All three rides occur in a 24-hour period, and the horses are under strict veterinary control. The first horse to finish in acceptable condition—that is, the horse is able to continue—wins. An additional award is presented to the one horse who does not necessarily have the best finishing time but is judged to be in the “best condition.”

Veterinarians are also gathering information on how the ride affects the horses’ health. Horse owners use this information to improve health and conditioning practices; veterinarians use the data to guide them in keeping the horses fit and healthy. Many European countries boast their own championship rides. In 1979 the European Long Distance Rides Conference (ELDRIC) was formed. The competitions are based on a point system and are open to riders from all participating nations. Member countries include Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway. The United States and Australia are considered associate members.


The sport’s popularity owes much to the allure of being outdoors on horseback, away from the noise and stress of the world, and to a feeling of connection with those who lived under rougher but simpler conditions. Too, endurance riding is a challenge, yielding the satisfaction of completing the distance involved. The long hours together in unfamiliar places bond horse and rider, and a contest primarily against natural forces creates esprit de corps among the riders. Anyone can participate. The horse is the equalizer, freeing each party from role expectations and age differences. It is a generalist sport with few professional participants; personal training and athletic stamina count most. No specific type of horse is required for endurance competition, although several breeds do very well.

Although a relatively new sport, endurance riding has changed since competition began in the United States. The first rides involved volunteers, with few qualifying standards or care for the safety of the horse or rider. Many horses died in competitions for big money purses in the mid-1800s. Today, most are sponsored by regional or national organizations with requirements that protect horse and rider and cover equipment. Coming in “best condition” instead of in “first place” originated in the 1920s with the United States Cavalry 300-mile ride, known as the U.S. Mounted Service Cup. Horses are now checked by veterinarians.

Great Britain also offers long-distance rides, some of which ELDRIC has sanctioned, and one of which, the Goodwood 100, is run under FEI rules. There are also two organizing bodies: the Endurance Horse and Pony Society of Great Britain and the British Horse Society’s Long Distance Riding Group. Two other countries, South Africa and West Germany, are actively involved in distance and endurance riding, and they sponsor events on an annual basis.

Several countries have gone beyond the basic endurance ride to introduce novel challenging events. Examples include the pioneer rides, which are multi-day rides covering historic routes; ride and tie events, which combine jogging and riding with plenty of exercise for horse and rider; competitive driving, a horse and carriage competition; and special international events such as the Elite 100 Mile competition, a ride intended to separate “the best from the rest.” The Race of Champions, started in 1984, stirred up controversy because it was the first ride to require stiff entry qualifications: the horse had to have previously finished in the top 10 over 500 miles (800 kilometers) or more of competition, and had to have completed at least two one-day 100-mile rides. It also required all entrants to carry a minimum weight (rider plus tack) of 155 pounds (58 kilograms). In its short history, endurance and distance riding has grown into a recognized, international equine sport.

Development and professionalization of the sport are the natural result of increased interest and participation. At the heart of horseback riding events is the bond between the horse and rider, and the pure recreation pleasure participants derive from this interaction. The challenge now is to retain the fun associated with endurance riding.


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