Endurance riding is an international competitive sport involving riding over controlled, long distance courses. It’s an exciting and challenging sport with different levels of competition suitable for all abilities, as well as national and international championships. Many endurance groups also organise pleasure rides, which aren’t strictly competitive but can contribute to league points for members.
Esther Young, director of operations at Endurance GB, the governing body of British endurance riding, started out in the sport in 1997.
“I entered a pleasure ride with my Arab, Harry, caught the bug, and the rest is history!” she laughs. “Together we had a long career and reached advanced level. I love endurance riding as it’s the equine equivalent of marathon running — just you and your horse against the terrain. You can set your own goals, whether that be a 16km pleasure ride or the ultimate challenge of 160km in a day. Graded Endurance Rides are from 20km up to 90km in a day, and the horse and rider have to complete the course within set speed parameters. They then get awarded a grading at the end based on the condition of the horse when it finishes the ride. A Grade One means the horse has finished within the speed parameters for their class, with pulse of less than 44bpm (48bpm for longer classes), and has passed all the other vet checks.
“Competitive Endurance Rides and FEI rides are for advanced combinations and horses and riders compete against each other, covering at least 80km in a day. The first combination home who also passes the final vetting wins.
“Any horse can have a go at endurance riding, and we have all shapes and sizes of horse and rider out there on the circuit. The most successful horses tend to be around 14.2hh to 15.2hh, light to middleweight, with a good work ethic and an enquiring mind. The Arabian horse is known for its stamina, so there are a lot of pure and part-breds out there, but there are also a lot of pure and part-bred native ponies too, who do extremely well as they are built for the terrain. We also have some very ‘unconventional’ horses blazing trails!”
“With regards to training for your event, any horse who is fit enough to do a couple of hours of fairly active hacking should be fit enough to do a shorter ride. Afterwards, it’s a case of putting in the miles with plenty of long, slow work including lots of hill work if possible to build stamina. At the beginning, you can compete in your usual tack provided it’s well-fitting and comfortable. Specialised endurance kit such as weatherproof, synthetic tack and seamless riding tights may prove a more practical option at the higher levels.”
Endurance GB’s development director Alex Tennant has been competing for 22 years, for the past six with her pure-bred Arab Inferno. Last year, the pair were first in the multi-day 170km endurance ride at the FEI Royalties event.
“Endurance is a fantastically fun and rewarding sport to be involved in,” she says. “Just a few of the benefits include developing the relationship with your horse, taking on new challenges, riding across beautiful areas of the country not usually accessible to the public, spending time with friends and family, getting you and your horse fit and being involved in team competitions. It’s suitable for all types of healthy, sound and fit horses, ponies and mules! Most horses in regular work will be capable of completing a 30km ride comfortably within the set speed and heart rate parameters.”
Endurance rider Bridget Brown did her first endurance ride in 1987.
“Having grown up on a North Yorkshire hill farm I was used to riding for miles, in fact for the first job I had as a teenager, my horse was my transport!” she laughs. She currently competes with her two horses and has been part of the England squad three times.
“I would encourage anyone to have a go at endurance riding as from the shortest pleasure rides to the ultimate 100 miles you will find friends and help second to none,” she says.
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To find events in your area, visit the Endurance GB website. Local groups also put on pleasure rides and training events, often advertised on Facebook or local equestrian websites.
“The bond that you gain with your horse is incredibly strong, and the memories that you will make together stay with you forever,” says Esther. “Just a word of warning — it is extremely addictive!”
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