What You Need to Know About Endurance

Saturday, August 28, 2010
Posted by Staff Writer

World Champions of eight equestrian sports will be contested at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, and whether you’re a horse enthusiast or someone who has never touched a horse, we can bet you don’t know about every single discipline.
We started with Dressage, then covered Driving and now we’ll give you an in-depth look at Endurance and what it takes to compete at the highest level. Don’t forget, there are still tickets available to see all eight disciplines, and Endurance tickets are available at a 30 percent discount for a limited time. Click here to get yours now.


Endurance is a competition true to its name, where horse and rider must complete a gruelingly long course and finish in good condition. At the 2010 Games the 100-mile race is the ultimate test of stamina and conditioning of both horse and rider.

The concept of Endurance has been around since horses were used for transportation. The best horses were those who could be ridden the longest without fatigue or injury. Especially during military years, horses were trained to endure long treks over varying terrain.

Endurance didn’t become a competitive sport until the 1950s. The first competitive Endurance ride was the Western States Trail Ride in 1955, also known as the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile endurance ride that is still held annually in California.

In 1982 Endurance was recognized as a discipline by the FEI and has since grown in popularity as a sport. The United Arab Emirates hosted the first all-hands Endurance competition for the 1998 World Equestrian Games in Dubai.

So how does a 100-mile race work?
Endurance competitions are held on a marked course made up of trails of varying terrain. At the 2010 Games, riders will begin the competition in a mass start. Riders have up to 15 minutes to begin the race if they want to avoid the pack, but the start time is the same for every rider. Each rider will be issued an electronic timing card that they will use throughout the race.

The course for the 2010 Games will take place on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park as well as the land of surrounding properties. Although the course is 100 miles total, it is broken up into several “loops,” and at the end of each loop, competitors must complete a veterinary check to continue on to the next loop.

The course has been designed so that riders will return to the same area for every vet check as well as the finish. There are six compulsory vet checks on the course for the 2010 Games. The course features six 10-25 mile loops; each loop leaves the Park and traverses through beautiful farms surrounding the Park. Riders complete each loop where they started it, and undergo a vet check before they begin the next loop.

What happens at the vet check?

At the vet check, riders will dismount their horses, cool them down for up to 20 minutes and then present them to a veterinarian so that they can be evaluated on their condition at that point in the race.

The veterinarians are not judging the horses subjectively but rather evaluating them based on three criteria; pulse recovery, metabolic stability and gait. For example, a horse’s pulse must return to a certain number (usually 64 beats per minute) within a specified amount of time to meet the requirement for pulse recovery. The horse must jog without signs of lameness to meet the requirement for gait.

Vet checks are sort of like pit stops in car racing. They are taken very seriously and can make or break a competitor’s race. If a horse does not pass a veterinary inspection after any stage of the competition, the horse/rider combination will not be allowed to continue.

When competitors return from each loop of the course they will scan their timing card to signify they have completed the loop. After they do this, they will have 20 minutes max to cool their horses down and present them to the veterinarian.

Once the competitor is ready to present their horse, their ride time will stop and their hold time will begin (30 to 50 minutes). The competitor will receive a printed “hold time” that tells them when they are allowed to leave the vet check. They then present their horse to the veterinarian and if they pass the vet check they can leave for their next loop of the course when their hold time expires. They do not have to leave at this time, but their ride time will resume once the hold time has ended.

This gives veterinarians the time they need to properly evaluate the horses, while keeping the race time as accurate as possible. At the final vet check, riders will have 30 minutes to cool down their horses, just a little longer because they have completed the entire course.

What determines the winner?

The competitor who completes the course in the fastest time will win the Endurance competition. This being said, the race is 100 miles long, so it is crucial for riders to know how to pace their horses as well as care for them so that they finish the course in good condition.

The course, which can traverse through streams, up steep hills, and many other naturally occurring obstacles, requires riders to have exceptional balance and be able to communicate effectively with their horses. In addition, riders must be prepared for other factors, such as poor weather conditions.

The horse and rider that make it through all of the veterinary checkpoints, including the final check, with the fastest total time will win the competition. But, that is not the only award; because Endurance is a test of outstanding training and conditioning, there is also an award for the best conditioned horse. This award holds almost as much appeal as the overall winner because proper conditioning is so important to Endurance riders.

What is conditioning? And how do horses make it through a 100 mile race?
The word conditioning means to accustom or inure, and it can be likened to physical training for humans. Conditioning horses is comparable to a runners training. Just like a runner must put in long hours of physical training, riders must train their horses and themselves to cover long distances, be able to push themselves at different paces, and be prepared for different environments.

Any breed of horse can be conditioned to compete successfully in Endurance, and all breeds are allowed to compete. Arabian horses, however, are the most common breed in the sport. According to the Arabian Horse Organization, Arabians were bred for stamina and were used as war horses because they were able to withstand extreme conditions. These characteristics helped them become a popular breed for Endurance. Approximately 75 percent of the horses at the 2010 Games will be pure-bred Arabians or Anglo-Arabs (half Thoroughbred and half Arabian).

In addition to conditioning their horses, riders must also recruit a team to help them during the competition. Riders are allowed to have a four-groom support team at the 2010 Games. The team is responsible for tending to the horse’s and rider’s needs throughout the race.

How do I watch this competition?

A 100 mile race may not seem to be the most spectator friendly event, but at the 2010 Games, Endurance has been organized so spectators can see much of the action and have a first-ever opportunity to follow the athlete along the course.

As mentioned above, the start, finish, and veterinary checkpoints will all be located in one area of the Kentucky Horse Park. Spectators will get to see the athletes begin the race, return from each loop of the course, go through their inspections, start the next loop of the course and finish the race.

Because spectators are not allowed on private property, the World Games 2010 Foundation, along with AT&T Wireless will be providing the first-ever Endurance GPS tracking system. Each athlete will be wearing a tracking device that will show their position on the course. Not only does this allow spectators to follow the athletes and keep track of the race, but it is also a safety precaution.

Fan etiquette
The most important thing to remember about watching the Endurance competition is that NO spectators are allowed off the Kentucky Horse Park property.  That being said, spectators are definitely allowed to cheer the athletes on, just refrain from cheering in a way that will distract the athletes or horses. Cheering is especially discouraged during a vet check until the horse has passed the inspection.

Spectators will also be allowed to attend the judging ceremony on September 27, where judges will evaluate horses for the Best Condition Award. The top 10 finishers in the race are presented to judges who will determine which horse is in the best condition following their effort in the race the day before.

More interested in Endurance after reading about it? Tickets for Endurance are just $25 until September 6; click here to buy yours now.