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Endurance riding a test of strength for horse and rider

Do you and your equine partner have the stamina to cover a five, 20 or 40 kilometre training ride? For many endurance riders, the ultimate goal is the 160-kilometre Tom Quilty Gold Cup the biggest professional endurance ride in the Southern Hemisphere.

At any level endurance is probably one of the most social of the horse sports, other than competitive trail-riding. The rides usually take up a weekend – travelling on the Saturday, setting up camp and having your horse vetted through as fit to compete and then an early start on the Sunday for a day’s riding.

Vetting in

To successfully complete a ride, the rider must finish within an allocated time and the horse must vet in ™ successfully. To vet in, the horse is checked for hydration levels, heart rate, gut sounds, muscle tone, gait and overall alertness. This is done at the beginning of the ride (called the pre-ride vet check), checks within each leg of a ride as well as a final check at the end of the ride. If your horse does not meet all the healthy parameters then it is vetted out ™ and no completion is achieved.

Training rides

To give endurance a go and to see if it’s for you and your horse, there are smaller training rides that can be entered into at most endurance meets. These rides are five, 20 kilometres and 40 kilometres and for the first few outings it’s recommended to start with the lower kilometre rides to get used to the distance and learn the ropes ™ of the sport.

An acknowledged ™ training ride is the 40-kilometre option where the rider will learn to pace themselves and their horse. Two successful rides on the same horse must be undertaken before the rider will be able to move up to the 80-kilometre novice option.

Novice rides Managing the horse’s health over long distances takes education and skill, so the rider will need to complete three 80-kilometre rides successfully to move up to the next grade of open endurance rider. Time restrictions apply to these rides so it’s important that you don’t ride too fast or too slow to avoid disqualification. It’s not about coming first or last, it’s about managing your horse’s health across all sorts of different terrain.

Becoming an open endurance rider

Once three 80-kilometre Novice rides have been completed the option is there to ride as an open endurance rider. Once you’re at your comfort level, you can ride at whatever distance you prefer. The rules of vetting in still apply, so this is all about managing your horse’s health while completing long distance rides.

Training at home

A lot of miles go into training the Endurance horse. It’s all about fitness over long distances so many long bush rides a week make up training for a horse and rider, with much of it done at a trot. If riders don’t have time to ride their horses enough, some owners use walking machines to ensure their horses receive adequate fitness time. Soundness issues, excessive temperatures and high heart rates will vet out unfit horses, so the rider must dedicate time to make sure their horses are fit for endurance rides.


The Open ™ division can only be made up of Middleweight and Heavyweight riders, whose weights are 73kg and over all up weight and 91kg and over all up weight respectively. The Lightweight less than 73kg all up weight is not eligible to win ™ the ride, but will be recognised as the 1st Lightweight. Some rides have a first across the line policy ™, which can therefore be won by a junior rider but in most cases you have to be MW or HW to win.

There are no maximum weight restrictions so long as your horse can physically handle the work. But you are not allowed to weigh less than the weight division at the end of the ride. Even if the weight loss is due to sweat or physical exertion you must ensure you are carrying enough weight to compensate for any weight loss on track.

There is no maximum age for a horse to compete in endurance. There are 20-something-year-old horses who are still doing 160km Quilty’s so age is no barrier. As long as the horse is physically coping with the workload and gets through the vetting procedures there’s no problem. Minimum ages for horses are four-and-a-half-years-old for a training ride, five-years-old for an 80km ride, and six-years-old for a 160km ride.

What horses can be used for endurance

Even though many breeds are used for endurance, there is no doubt that the breed that dominates the sport world-wide is the Arabian. The Arabian was of course, developed in a desert climate, and was prized by its nomadic Bedouin owners for its stamina, intelligence and desire to learn as well as its kind nature. Over the centuries in the middle-East the Arabian horse has been used for raiding, in battle, as a race-horse and for endurance, and has earned its place as one of the top ten most popular (and these days versatile) horse breeds in the world.

However, despite the popularity of the Arabian endurance is all about being able to ensure the horse’s heart rate stays at a low level as to not cause distress as well as keeping the horse sound. While Arabs are favoured for their ability to cover great distances, thoroughbreds, quarter horses, Standardbreds and many other breeds have successfully completed at Quilty level, the most famous and hardest Australia endurance ride, started by champion horse and cattleman Tom Quilty, who was awarded an OBE in 1976 for his services to primary industry. The 160-kilometre ride has to be completed within 24 hours, with a full night’s riding included.

The first winner of the Tom Quilty Gold Cup (for the open division) in 1966, was the Victorian engineer, Gabriel Strecher, on his Arabian stallion Shalawi, who to the amusement of the crowd rode his horse bareback for the entire 100 miles. They underestimated the Hungarian-born Stecher – Shalawi was the first horse to appear after 11 hours and 24 minutes.

Level Playing Field

Endurance is a sport in Australia and internationally in which women have always done exceptionally well. Germany’s Sabrina Arnold and her horse Tarzibus are the current 2017 FEI European Endurance Champions 2017, and in Australia there have been numerous female champions including Erica Williams, wife of R.M Williams, and a huge force in the setting up of not just the Quilty but the sport of endurance in Australia. She came third in the first Quilty, and won in 1975 on her gelding, Noddy – a horse she’d bred herself. If you want to know more about Endurance? Visit the Australian Endurance Riders Association to learn more about this fantastic sport.

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