by Carmen Schwartz
When it comes to the world of sports, endurance is a trait that is necessary to achieve success, win awards, and have medals pinned to one’s chest. But there are many sports where the person is not really the one that must pass the endurance test – it is the creature they sit upon.
Equestrian sports are actually lovely to the eyes. The mighty steed is stunning; the rider weaving and leading the creature through the maze of jumps is incredibly graceful; even when heading through the woods after that sly fox, the world of chivalry is once again born, along with the actual sport. Many think of the equestrian sports as ‘British’ sports; a human and animal riding in perfect symmetry, dressed and groomed well, looking as if the 1800s have been resurrected.
But there is a subset of this sport that is all about endurance, and the training that needs to be undergone is almost painful to think about. Called endurance riding, this sport is actually based on planned-out, controlled, long-distance races. This is not the famous Derby where once around the track seals the deal; it is an international sport where competitions are held worldwide, testing the rider (but…the horse, far more), and leading them to the finish line that sits up to a hundred miles away.
Endurance rides are one type of the sport, with competitive trail riding being the other. When it comes to endurance rides, the winning horse is still the one who gets to the end the fastest, but has to stop along the way to pass veterinary checks that make sure the horse is healthy and able to continue on.
These rides can run up to 100 miles in distance, but the shorter ones are actually utilized to help both new riders and young horses learn the skill, talent and, god knows, lung capacity they’ll need to win.
Every competition has sanctions, and certainly no animal cruelty is a part of the sport. The horses are always checked yet, no matter how you look at it, the real endurance and longevity comes from the creature – the rider has little to do with it.
In addition, endurance riding is open to all breeds but, thus far, it is the breed of Arabians that have been able to take the top spots because of their already proven stamina given to them at birth. Speed is key. Just as it is on the NASCAR turns, the horse not only needs to endure, but they must also be able to keep to the trail in order to win.
The creation of this particular sport is incredibly interesting. In the United States, this type of endurance competition came about when Americans – looking at the European cavalry – delved into research regarding breeding program tests for horses. The Europeans actually required a horse to carry 300 pounds over one-hundred miles, using only one day to get it done. Only then, would the horse be considered ‘good’ enough to help soldiers during WWI.
From a test of strength to an organized sport, endurance racing actually began in the 1950s. That was when a group of equestrians rode from Lake Tahoe, over the Sierra Nevada’s, to end up in Auburn…in one day’s time. Not only was the event the first of its kind, but it also involved the famous Western States Trail – which holds a very interesting role in the history of the United States.
This original ride is still going strong in America; now called the Tevis Cup, it is still seen as the most difficult event in the world. Not only must the horse and rider deal with completing the hundred miles in one day, but they must also achieve that ride across severe, painful landscapes. The altitude during the ride is incredibly high, and temperatures have been known to reach over one-hundred degrees, definitely pushing the equestrian ‘team’ to its limits.
One of those X-Treme sports no matter how you look at it, this one definitely honors the mighty steed who truly deserves 80% of the credit when the ride is won.