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Endurance Riding: Broadening Riders' Horizons

Endurance Rider during a ride in Oreana, Idaho. Photo courtesy of the American Endurance Ride Conference official Facebook page.

Spending time away from horses always seems to give me more time to think about them. As the weather grows warmer, it seems I am surrounded by reminders of those long spring days in the barn: dusting off saddles and throwing open the barn doors to let the fresh breezes flood the barn aisles, watching house finches bask in fresh sunlight and flit exuberantly between the rafters, causing an occasional spook among the horses. Though the image that really drives the nostalgia home isn’t the birds flitting about or even the arrival of the fleeting heat of the afternoon sun. It’s the acres of gently rolling hills off a ridge near my home. As I’m driving by, I can’t help picture riding for miles over rolling hillsides, right into the sunset. Quite a picture, isn’t it?

There’s something unique to riding in the outdoors. It strips away the fuss and frills that often accompany arena riding and training for competition. It boils down to man, beast, and nature. The whimsy of the whole ordeal is undoubtedly contagious. Watch any fantasy movie, Lord of the Rings, for example, and you’ll see the breathtaking panoramas of horses and their riders scaling bluffs, traversing hillsides, and sidling ridges. Watch any Western movie and you’ll see horsemen and women tackle miles of baking badlands in order to chase down bandits. Point being that trail riding, no matter the purpose or grandeur of the landscape, contains a whimsy and sense of adventure that has yearned to be harvested through firsthand experience for generations.

Here in the United States, we now have a discipline that aims to bring these first-hand encounters with the outdoors to all varieties of equestrians. Endurance Riding is a riding discipline that works to unite equestrians and their mounts with the outdoors in a disciplined and organized manner. From what I can glean from acting as a fly on the wall in the American Endurance Rider’s Conference Facebook group, Endurance Riding combines the same wistful, breathtaking scenery that we observe in movies and books with a competitive spirit, and the timeless bond between man and beast. That’s not to say that Endurance Riding is always a blissful experience, but from the words of AERC members themselves, always a worthwhile one.

In order to get a more personal insight into the discipline of Endurance Riding, I posted a questionnaire available only to AERC members. The results of that questionnaire are featured below. I personally hope that by examining what these riders have to say, the Endurance discipline can be cultivated and strengthened throughout the United States so that horses and riders can capture (or rather, recapture) the love of America's landscape. Give it a look!

Q1 : How did you become involved in endurance riding?

  • I saw an ad asking for help exercising a horse on a bulletin board back in college. I was hooked after the first training ride!

  • I moved to the West and and wanted to explore all the countryside. Did some research, found a mentor. Rode.

  • I was a competitive trail rider looking for more distance and a faster pace.

  • I was looking for riding lessons and found a facility providing endurance by accident.

  • I fell in love with the sport when my friends mom was a top competitor in the 80’s. She used to take us to all the rides.

  • My wife took me.

What do you enjoy about endurance riding?

  • The partnership with my horse.

  • Time spent in beautiful country with my horse. Low pressure compared to other horse competitions.

  • The camaraderie with like minded people, the partnership with my horse, the challenge of dealing with extremes of weather and terrain, and the satisfaction of a job well done when completing the course.

  • The is a lifestyle!

  • I love the camaraderie with fellow endurance riders. However, I most enjoy the bond we build with our horses and all the beautiful country that they willing carry us through.

  • The horses, trails, and challenge.

  • The people. No one is pretentious. Just good real people.

Endurance Riding isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Like every discipline, it has it’s setbacks. Read below to find out what peeves these riders:

Q3: Is there anything about the endurance discipline that you would like to change; anything you don't like about it?

  • I want to make sure people understand that American endurance riding is NOT the same sport as the long-distance flat track racing you see in some foreign countries.

  • The politics. Sigh, seems those are in every aspect of the horse world and will never go away.

  • I dislike veterinary judges who are so picky they are looking for a reason to pull you; I dislike ride managers who are disorganized and cannot conduct a brief and informative ride meeting.

  • The caliber of the equitation is generally poor. It is terribly sad that people do not bother to learn to ride before asking the horses to carry them for 80-160 km.

  • No, not here in the States. But, I would like to either see the abolition of endurance or huge changes in region for the welfare of the horses. Besides needing stricter rules, I’d like to see them compete on trails instead of flat track racing for 100 miles

  • It’s becoming watered down.

  • Our image. Endurance riding is about learning to take care of your horse, not riding fast.

Q4: What advice would you offer to someone interested in becoming an endurance rider?

  • Find a ride near you and come out and see for yourself!

  • Find a mentor! No amount of research can help as much as riding with someone who knows what they’re doing.

  • Volunteer at a ride before planning to attend. You will learn SO much!

  • Learn to ride. Learn to fit saddles and tack to your equine to maximize their comfort/minimize their discomfort. Be physically fit.

  • Read everything you can on the AERC website, volunteer at rides, and volunteer to crew for another rider. If possible, get a mentor

  • Do it!

  • Go slow.

Q5: What are some steps we can take, as horse men and women, to grow the endurance riding discipline within the States?

  • Have fun and share the experience! Use social media to show people what real riders are actually doing on trail.

  • Tell your horse friends!

  • Be mindful of beginners, mentor young or new riders, and be positive and pleasant to all.

  • Participate in other equestrian disciplines and invite those that you meet to try a ride with you.

  • Try to get juniors involved.

  • Attend and put on more rides.

  • Be good ambassadors when riding outside of a ride.

Q6: The Fun Part: Please share any fun stories, tips, tricks, other advice, or any other information you would like to offer up to be used in the blog post. Have fun with this!

  • Start with what you have and go from there. Slowly increase distance, speed, or terrain difficulty, but only one thing at a time. Find a mentor through AERC or other resources. Have fun!

  • Conditioning is half the fun!

  • There are so many! Thought of the day: Endurance really brings together all equestrian disciplines. When done well, it is an elegant sport. Be proud to be an endurance athlete.

  • Ask ten endurance riders the same question, and you will get 15 different answers.

  • Gunnar Frank was in first place but he stopped and got off his horse to help another rider in distress. This is typical of the good sportsmanship demonstrated by most endurance riders.

If after reading, you'd like to become more involved in Endurance Riding or learn more about the discipline, please visit the sites below.

American Endurance Riders Conference:

Organized Endurance Ride Search:

Horse Forum on Endurance Riding:

P.S. Don't be afraid to reach out to individuals knowledgeable on the subject - that's how the equestrian sports thrive!