What Is Endurance Riding?

Rae Ann Larson Endurance riding is defined by the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) as "An athletic event with the same horse and rider covering a measured course within a specified maximum time."

Endurance rides are cross-country races on marked trails that vary in distance between 50 and 100 miles. The horse with the fastest time is the winner, providing the horse meets the 'fit to continue' criteria as determined by a veterinary staff. Horses are monitored by veterinarians before, during, and after the ride at predetermined check points and will be withdrawn from the ride if they are judged to be unsound or metabolically unfit. The veterinary evaluation includes factors such as pulse, hydration, and soundness. Each ride has mandatory rests or 'holds' for the horses throughout the ride.

Most endurance rides also have a shorter novice ride of about 25 miles. These rides are not considered endurance rides by AERC but are referred to as Limited Distance rides. In southwest Idaho, most ride managers also offer shorter trail rides (8-15 miles) in conjunction with endurance events; these rides are not competitive but take advantage of the same trails that have been marked for the longer events.

Endurance rides are open to all breeds of horses and mules. Equines participating in events of 50 miles or more must be at least 5 years old. Equines participating in the 25 mile events must be at least 4 years old. All horses and mules must pass a pre-ride evaluation performed by a veterinarian prior to competing. Due to the strenuous nature of the sport, all drugs of any kind are prohibited in all equines participating in AERC sanctioned rides.

Rides that are 100 miles or less are covered in a single day. Some rides are longer than 100 miles but are completed over a period of several days with the horses typically covering 50 miles per day. To qualify for completion points, rides must be completed in 6 hours for 25 mile events, 12 hours for 50 mile events, 18 hours for 75 mile events, and 24 hours for 100 mile events. The first 10 horses crossing the finish line in each category are eligible to be judged for the prestigious Best Condition Award.

Although endurance rides are technically 'races,' many (if not most) riders participate for completion rather than placing. The AERC motto "to finish is to win" recognizes that all riders finishing within the allotted time on sound and willing horses are truly winners. For many riders, the satisfaction of completing 50 or 100 miles on a happy and healthy horse is the greatest prize of all.

For more information about the sport of endurance riding, see the Endurance Web Page