What is Endurance?
Endurance is a long-distance competition against the clock, testing the speed and endurance of a horse and challenging the rider over their effective use of pace, thorough knowledge of their horse’s capabilities and ability to cross all kinds of terrain. Although the rides are timed, the emphasis is on finishing in good condition rather than coming in first.
Endurance started as a sport in the United States of America, where the US cavalry tested its horses on a five-day ride, with each horse carrying over 90kgs. It did not become a competitive sport until the 1950’s in the USA. Endurance riding in Australia began in 1966 when RM Williams, after hearing reports of the 100 mile Tevis Cup in the USA decided to challenge Australian riders to demonstrate if they had the skill and horsemanship of our early pioneers to “ride 100 miles in a day”. RM asked his mate Tom Quilty, a great horsesman and cattleman in the Kimberley of WA to support his venture and Tom donated $1000 to pay for the gold Tom Quilty cup and endurance was born in NSW.
From that one ride the sport has grown enormously. Each year across Australia, there were over 100 events of distances from 80km to 400km.
Before the ride, horses are inspected by a veterinarian to ensure they are fit to perform in the ride. Additionally, riders are given a map of the course, which shows the route, the places for compulsory halts, and any other natural obstacles, such as ditches, steep hills and water crossings.
Each rider must safely manage the stamina and fitness of their horse and each course is divided into phases – in principle at least every 40km – with a compulsory halt for veterinary inspection after each. Each horse must be presented for inspection within a set time of reaching each check point, which determines whether it is fit to continue.
The terrain that riders compete over varies greatly from ride to ride. However, natural obstacles (called “Hazards”) are marked on the trails with red flags on the right and white flags on the left. When so marked, riders must pass through the flags.
Under international rules, the first horse to cross the finish line and pass the vet check as “fit to continue” is the winner.
Australia has won more World Equestrian Games medals in endurance than any other sport.