One of the toughest forms of equestrian sports, both for the rider and for the steed, is endurance riding.
Normally, races are around 50 to 100 miles long over about 15 hours, although they can be longer. The rider and horse must stop at predetermined distances for checks to be made by vets to ensure that the animal is doing good enough to continue.
Basically, a rough course is plotted and the first rider and horse over the finish line wins. This equestrian sport is most popular in Great Britain, the United States of America and Canada, where the terrain and climate make the races possible.
Such races are open to any breed of horse, but thanks to several thousand years of selective breeding and natural selection, Arabians normally fare best due to their incredible stamina and ability to canter or gallop at high speed for extended periods of time. These traits are thought to stem from the breed’s ancestors which were ridden for long periods of time without rest on the plains of North Africa and through the Arabian desert.
The format for endurance racing was drafted in the US and was largely based on Napoleonic cavalry requirements, which stipulated that to qualify, a horse needed to be able to travel 100 miles per day, bearing the load of a cavalry man, his weaponry and equipment for the horse and its rider.
The first recorded race took place in 1955 in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Opponents to the race say it is cruel, but horses have evolved and been bred to run over long distances. Once the vet gives the OK at every interval, the horse is always rested, fed and watered for 40 minutes. The horse is only allowed to continue if its heartbeat checks in at or under a predetermined rate.