What is Endurance Riding?

Photo by John Nowell

The sport of endurance riding is a timed event over a marked course. The first rider/horse (team) to finish within established criteria wins. The governing body of endurance in the United States is the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) and their motto is “To Finish is to Win.” As long as the “team” is able to finish the course successfully within the maximum time “wins.” There are placings given so the rider/horse to actually come in first is recognized as 1st place. Every one who finishes receives a completion award, most commonly a t-shirt with the ride name logo on it. The top 10 teams to finish can stand for Best Condition (referred to as “BC”); I will explain this procedure later.

Although the Arabian is genetically built for endurance riding, any breed can compete in endurance riding.

Endurance rides are found throughout the world and in our country are broken up into regions. They are typically held in State parks, National parks and private land. You can find an event calendar on the AERC website (www.aerc.org), which is broken down into regions.

One of the best attributes to the sport of endurance is the fact that the rider can have many different goals and succeed; it is not JUST about winning.  Although coming in 1st place is the goal for some riders, there are other categories to achieve awards in either immediately or long-term, including Best Condition, high vet score, turtle (last place), weight division awards, etc.  Long-term goals include but are not limited to high mileage, weight divisional and national points, best condition regionally or nationally, husband and wife team awards, Family team awards, Junior rider awards, War Mare, Jim Jones Stallion; the list goes on and on.  Whatever your goals are, you have an opportunity to achieve them outside of “winning” first place.  I will elaborate on this more below; I just wanted to make the point that there are many areas in endurance riding where you can “win.”

Photo by John Nowell

Watering/cooling area at Texas Blue Bonnet – Photo by John Nowel







There are two categories in endurance riding, Limited Distance and Endurance. Limited Distance rides are anything from 25 miles to under 50 miles, most commonly found as a 25-miler but there are 30-milers, 35-milers, etc. Endurance rides are 50 miles or greater. You may find some rides that offer 50, 75 and 100 miles. Introductory rides are also sometimes offered and are under 25 miles in length, typically 10-15 miles in length.

Time limits are as follows: 6 hours for 25 miles, 12 hours for 50 miles, and 24 hours for 100 miles. These time limits include your hold times.

Photo by John Nowell

Each ride has vet checks, consisting of a pre-vet check done the afternoon/evening prior to the event, vet checks during the ride, and then a post ride vet check to complete. On the post ride vet check, you horse must be deemed “fit to continue” to receive completion. I will explain the vetting procedure below and a sample card.



A typical 25-mile ride goes as follows:

First loop is 15 miles followed by a 1-hour hold (after vetting through) and then 10 miles for completion (after another vetting). The horse must be deemed “fit to continue” upon completion of the miles.

Deal's Midas Moon @ Old Glory 25-miler, 2012 – Photo by John Nowell

A typical 50-mile ride goes as follows:

First loop is usually 25 miles (this may be all at once or broken down into 15 miles, trot by, and straight onto another 10 miles). This is then followed by a hold, usually 45 miles or 1 hour (after vetting through). The next loop may be 15 miles followed by a hold, usually 30 minutes or 45 minutes (after vetting through), and then the final 10 miles for completion (after the final vetting).

These above scenarios are a typical setup and may be different from ride-to-ride depending on how the ride manager sets it up. This information is given the evening prior to the ride during the “ride meeting.”

There are one-day rides, two-day rides, three-day rides, and five-day rides, which are called XP rides. You may choose any of the day(s) to ride and you may use one horse per day or the same horse for all. One-day rides are usually held on a Saturday. Most riders arrive on Friday some time, set up their camp, register, and do their pre-vet check. There is a ride meeting Friday evening to go over information about the trail, starting time, and vet criteria (heart rate and hold times). I will explain the vetting procedures below.

The vetting procedures are broken up into your pre-ride vet check, vet checks during the ride, and final vet check. All vet checks go through basically the same parameters (see sample vet card below).

Kenlyn Pristine @ AHA Region Championship 50 miles, 2012 – cooling off before vetting in at 40-mile mark – Photo by John Nowell

Vetting Procedure

- don’t forget to give your number/card to the in-timer when you come in off of a loop

When you come into camp, the first thing you need to do is bring your horse’s heart rate down to criteria (this is set the evening before during the ride meeting), which is typically 64 but may be as low as 60. You should first offer your horse water, sponge if needed to cool your horse, take your bit out, and loosen your girth; all of these things will help your horse reach the heart rate criteria faster. You then present to the P&R (pulse and respiration) area, where someone will take your horse’s heart rate. If your horse is down, they will right your heart rate as well as the time on your card. Your hold time now begins. Your hold time does not begin until your horse reaches heart rate criteria. You have 30 minutes from the time you enter camp to reach this criteria; if you do not meet criteria within 30 minutes, you are pulled from the ride.

Once your clear P&R, you proceeding to the vetting area and present your horse to one of the vets. You hand your card to the scribe and the vet will then proceed to check your horse. The vet will first take your horse’s heart rate and then ask you to trot your horse out (straight away from the vet around a cone and then trot back to the vet). The vet will then proceed to check your jugular refill, mucous membranes, skin tent (all for hydration), gut sounds, hind muscles, anal tone, and the vet will check your horse’s back for any soreness as well as your girth area and legs for any lesions. One minute after taking your initial heart rate prior to trotting out, the vet will check your heart rate again – this is called your CRI (cardiac recovery index). If you horses passes all these parameters, you are free to go back to your trailer for the rest of your hold time prior to going back out on your next loop.

- don’t forget to go back to the out-timer before going back out on trail after your hold time

Vet area, waiting for riders to come in – Photo by John Nowell

riders in line at vet area, waiting to vet-through – Photo by John Nowell








Important Note: On LD rides, your finish line is when your horse reaches 60 beats per minutes at the end of the ride. Endurance rides (50 miles or more) have a marked finish line.

At the end of the ride, you have one hour to present to the vets for “completion.” Some rides have begun to implement a 30-minute rule rather than one hour; this will be determined at the ride meeting the evening before.

riders and horses having some fun cooling off after the ride – Photo by John Nowell

Vet Card Example:

Standing for Best Condition

Congratulations! You’ve finished in the Top 10!!

You do not HAVE to stand for BC, but if you are in the top 10 and you want to stand for BC, here is a list of what you need to do:

  • The first thing you will need to do is present for your post ride CRI – this is done 15 minutes from the finish and is exactly the same as the above.
  • You may then go back to your trailer and take care of your horse (feed, water, electrolyte, clean up, etc.)
  • You will need to weigh yourself with all your tack (scale provided by management)
  • You then present back to the BC vet one hour from your finish time. He will check all the same parameters on your vet card as you have done throughout the day in addition to asking you to trot your horse in a large circle in each direction.

For BC, you are judged on three main areas:

  1. Time of your finish as well as the time of finish for the 1st place rider
  2. Your horse’s vet scores
  3. Your weight (with tack) and the weight of the heaviest rider

Endurance riding offers an equine atmosphere in a beautiful location with plenty of camaraderie and the opportunity to spend the day with your beloved equine traversing the countryside. Beware, this sport is highly addicting!!


The BC card looks like this.




























Let’s get started, right?!  As I said above, endurance riding is very EVERYONE with goals attainable by everyone… it’s a great individual sport as well as a family sport!  Please do contact me if you would like a mentor to help you get started and do read through the other categories and articles for more information on the needs of an endurance horse.

Endurance 101 & Beyond is here to take you to the trail, down the trail and onto the next trail!  



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