Going the Distance: Endurance Riding

Check out endurance riding, and discover why it has such universal appeal.
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Check out endurance riding, and discover why it has such universal appeal.

The endurance riding community spans generations, experience levels, motivations, locations, personal backgrounds, breed preferences, and riding interests. But, according to the American Endurance Ride Conference, endurance community members all live by the mantra, “Endurance is for everyone.” Check out endurance riding, and discover why it has such universal appeal.

Credit: Courtesy of Monica Bretherton

Credit: Courtesy of Monica Bretherton

Sport basics: Endurance riding is about teamwork between a horse and rider. It stems from a love of and a bond with the horse, a desire to be outside in the great outdoors riding on scenic trails, and a need to fulfill that wee bit of a competitive spirit that lurks in all of us.

Endurance riding is a family sport. Junior riders are age 15 and under and have a sponsor rider who rides with them during the course. Non-rider family members can volunteer on the race course to help with all the myriad aspects of organizing and managing an endurance ride. And then there’s the camping. Shared camaraderie with other horse enthusiasts who have the same interests can create lifelong friendships.

Endurance riding is about education. It’s learning all you can about how a horse functions, about different ways to condition and train, about pacing and pushing, about handling the physical and mental challenge of riding long distances — both for your horse and for you. Along the way, there are mentors and fellow riders who’ll teach you all they know, because they believe that sharing knowledge makes the whole sport better.

Endurance riding is also about becoming an advocate for riding trails all across the country. AERC is one of the nation’s leading advocacy groups encouraging the use, protection, and development of equestrian trails, especially those with historical significance.

How the rides work: The goal of each endurance ride is to complete the course with a horse that is deemed by the control judges to be “fit to continue.” The fitness of the horse speaks to the horse/rider partnership and showcases how hard they have worked together to condition and train for the ride.

Each ride starts with a pre-ride examination of the horse by qualified veterinarians to ensure the horse is physically capable of pursuing the challenge of a long distance ride. Then, during the ride, a number of hold times will be scheduled, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. During the holds, veterinarians check physical and metabolic parameters on all equine competitors to ensure they are withstanding the rigors of the ride. To continue along the course, the horse must pass every hold examination. At the end of the course, teams have 30 minutes to report for the post-ride examination. The horse must also pass this exam to receive credit for completing the course.

Credit: Courtesy of the AERC Dawn Tebbs, of Auburn, California, on Beylis Comet. The team placed sixth in the 2015 Western States Trail Ride (known as the Tevis Cup) 100-mile ride with a ride time of 16 hours, 3 minutes over dramatic trail terrain.

Credit: Courtesy of the AERC Dawn Tebbs, of Auburn, California, on Beylis Comet. The team placed sixth in the 2015 Western States Trail Ride (known as the Tevis Cup) 100-mile ride with a ride time of 16 hours, 3 minutes over dramatic trail terrain.

Ride types: Rides are divided by type according to distance traversed. Introductory rides for horse/rider teams who want to get a feel for the sport generally are short—15 miles or less—and are not judged. Limited distance rides range between 25 and 35 miles. Endurance rides run 50, 75, or 100 miles and may take place over one or two days, depending on the schedule. Everyone competes together, but in the endurance rides, competitors break down into weight divisions: Featherweight; Lightweight; Middleweight; Heavyweight; and Junior (age 15 and under).

Horse and rider specifications: Horses must be 4 years old to compete in Limited Distance rides, 5 years old to compete in 50- to 75-mile one- or two-day rides, and 6 years old to compete in one-day, 100-mile rides. Riders are classified as adult (age 18 or older) or youth (age 17 or younger).

Equipment required: Endurance riders may use any type of saddle and bridle. The main considerations in choosing a saddle are weight, fit, and rider position. The ideal saddle will weigh less than 30 pounds, will fit in a way that doesn’t create any rub spots or sore areas when worn for hours at a time, and will place the rider in a forward, balanced position with good weight distribution across the horse’s back. The saddle pad should match the saddle in shape, and should be just thick enough to pad the saddle, leaving as much of the horse’s back uncovered as possible to aid in cooling.

Credit: Courtesy of Henry Gruber On-trail instructions are key for competitors to follow.

Credit: Courtesy of Henry Gruber On-trail instructions are key for competitors to follow.

Breastcollars are a helpful accessory, but make sure they don’t go straight across your horse’s chest — this can cause muscle soreness. Bridles for endurance riding also come in all shapes and sizes. Some competitors prefer to use a hackamore, since it’s easier for a horse to drink and graze without a bit. A halter/bridle combination is also a popular item, as it removes the need to unbridle and halter your horse at the hold checks.

About the AERC: The AERC is headquartered in Auburn, California, the proclaimed Endurance Capital of the World. As the national governing body for endurance riding, the association sanctions more than 100 rides annually in nine regions across the United States and in Canada. Founded in 1972, the AERC promotes the horse/rider team bond and places equine welfare above all else. It also promotes trail stewardship and preservation, including a chance to ride on and learn about many historically significant trails and ride locations across the country.

The AERC presents both regional and national awards annually. There are also lifetime achievement awards for mileage milestones for both riders and horses. One of the most coveted awards is the Decade Team Award, for rider/horse teams that have completed at least one 50-mile or longer ride for 10 or more years.

Get-started tips: The AERC has mega resources available to help you get started in this sport. Go to the website (http://aerc.org), and click on the Education tab, then click on Getting Started.

Contact: AERC, (866) 271-2372; http://aerc.org.

Jenny Sullivan is a seasoned equine journalist and Quarter Horse owner who enjoys trail riding near her home in Colorado.