“To me, horses and freedom are synonymous.” Veryl Goodnight
The Chambers English Dictionary defines the word ‘Endurance’ as “the capacity for...patient toleration” or “the ability to withstand physical hardship or strain”. Thus one may be forgiven for perceiving the horse sport of endurance riding to be less than appealing at a first glance! However, judging by its huge increase in popularity over the past decade, endurance riding is a great deal more pleasurable than its name happens to suggest.
Nevertheless, far from being an elongated hack or pony trek through the countryside, endurance riding is a challenging and technical discipline that is recognised by the FEI, and demands a high level of tactical thinking, planning and preparation. Whilst they may be controlled long distances races that are won by the first horse to cross the finish, endurance rides demand far greater tactics than just speed alone. Armed with a map and following a set marked route that incorporates flagged, natural obstacles known as ‘hazards’, an endurance competitor will have to plan his or her own section speeds whilst taking into account the varying terrain, ground conditions and their horse’s level of fitness and ability. Horse welfare is paramount in endurance riding, as is stressed by both the FEI and Endurance GB (the sport’s recognised body in England and Wales). Veterinary checks are held at set intervals, during which the horse may be eliminated if he is not considered fit to continue. Such checks are also accompanied by “holds” – mandatory resting periods during which horse and rider recover their strength. However, the clock does not stop during either of these mandatory ‘breaks’, and thus it is essential for the competing combination to be able to recover quickly. Accordingly, a healthy knowledge of equine nutrition, anatomy and physiology is essential for this high level of long distance riding if one is compete safely and successfully.
For those wishing to compete at a lower level of long distance riding, the contrastingly named ‘pleasure rides’ are a great way to start! Whilst the sport of endurance riding covers distances of between 60 and 160 kilometres at its highest level (sometimes more if the competition is to be held over multiple days), pleasure rides cover no more than 40 kilometres. What is more, whilst the set distance must be completed within a fixed time, the riders are competing only against the clock rather than against each other. This form of long distance riding is the ideal route to follow before moving onto the more advanced form of endurance riding, as it still incorporates veterinary checks at the start and finish of every ride and is an excellent way of learning more about equine fitness as well as developing a solid partnership with your horse.
Any breed or type of horse may compete in endurance, although Arabians are popular due to their levels of speed and stamina. Endurance riding has become such a hugely recognised sport that it has recently joined the Olympic disciplines of dressage, show jumping and eventing in holding Futurity Young Horse Evaluations aimed at identifying world class equestrian athletes. However, whether you have a potential gold medallist or a happy hack in your stable, endurance riding has to be one of the most accessible equestrian sports, and if you are still not convinced, just think of the value for money - unlike a five minute dressage test or show jumping round, an endurance competition can go on for hours or even days!