Endurance riding combines distance riding and horse camping in the form of a race. Horses must pass veterinary checks on the trail, and the first one to cross the finish line in sound condition wins. Many riders, however, compete primarily to finish the ride with a healthy horse, supporting the American Endurance Ride Conference’s motto that “to finish is to win,” says Patti Stedman, AERC Northeast Region director and ride manager.
AERC is the governing body for this sport. The organization offers rides for all competitor levels. Typical distances include 25, 30, 50, 75, or 100 miles, says Stedman. The camping element comes in because of the rural, outdoor venues; endurance trails typically don’t begin and end near motels and show complexes with stalls.
Vet checks occur approximately every 12 to 20 miles on each ride—ensuring that all horses are metabolically and physically sound and “fit to continue the race.”
RIDERS: Anyone can ride endurance. Stedman jokes that “if I can do it, you can do it.” There are, however, some important characteristics that lead to success in this sport.
“Riders best suited for endurance pay close attention to their horses at all times,” says Stedman. “They’re balanced in the saddle and willing to be the brains of the operation.”
She adds that when you take a group of horses and set them loose on a trail, they have a herd instinct that can override their self-preservation sense, making a rider’s common sense especially important.
HORSES: Stedman looks for horses that take good care of themselves and enjoy going down the trail. “I like a horse that, given the opportunity, will grab a bite of grass or get a drink of water from a puddle,” she says. “Those horses have a well-developed self-preservation sense.”
Horses must also be sound of mind and body and free of any lameness issues—this is a physically challenging sport, she adds.
GET STARTED: “First, visit the ‘Education’ link on AERC’s Web site (aerc.org),” Stedman suggests. “Then, find a ride near you and volunteer—especially if you can scribe for the vet. You’ll learn more in one day that way than many days simply riding trails.”
She also recommends finding a mentor you can ride with (the ideal) or at least communicate with regularly. Professional training barns specializing in endurance riding aren’t common, but the AERC hosts clinics to help new riders.
Stedman cautions new enthusiasts to avoid “over-conditioning” their horses without focusing on training—a common rookie mistake, she says. She strongly recommends that before your first event, your horse be able to walk, trot, and lope under control on the trail, plus pass and be passed safely, camp safely, stand for vetting, and trot out in-hand.
After that, her general rule is that if horse and rider can safely camp and complete a 15-mile trail in about 2½ hours, and the horse looks good and is willing to eat and drink at the end of that ride, you’re both ready to try a limited-distance event.
BENEFITS: Endurance is fantastic cross-training for other disciplines. “Horses learn to go forward, negotiate terrain and footing, and balance themselves,” says Stedman. “Also, the sport creates a strong bond between you and your mount—you really learn how to read your horse.”
GOOD TO TRY IF: “You like to trail ride a little farther and a bit faster than most of your friends,” Stedman says with a laugh.
MORE INFO: AERC, (866) 271-2372; aerc.org. For new-rider discussion boards on a variety of related topics, visit enduranceintrospection.com.