Horse Activities: Competitive Trail and Endurance Riding

Competitive Trail and Endurance Riding are the “marathons” of equestrian sport. Both are riding competitions over a marked trail at distances designed to test the fitness of the horse or pony.

Competitive Trail Riding is open to all ages of rides and all equine breeds, and can be ridden in any safe, approved tack that is comfortable and fits well. The distances vary according to the division and the experience of the horse or rider, but are often in the 25 to 35-mile range and might include obstacles on which contestants are graded for teamwork.

Unlike in horse racing or Endurance Riding, however, the first horse to cross the finish line is not necessarily the winner, because the object in this type of “pace race” is to finish within a given time with the fittest horse. The horses are examined by qualified judges and veterinarians not only before and after the ride, but at stops along the way to evaluate heart rate, soundness and hydration. Performance and manners count. During the ride, the rider must also pace himself so as not to finish either too early or too late, both of which will incur penalties in this sport.

Though the rules vary according to the organization and the event, prizes in Competitive Trail Riding are based primarily on the horse’s condition as observed throughout the ride, as well as his recovery rate after the ride. The object is to finish safely within the allotted time with a horse that shows little stress from the exertion of the ride. Final scores can also reflect the judge’s assessment of a rider’s horsemanship and his care and presentation of his horse.

Competitive Trail Riding is a good way for a rider to learn about proper conditioning of the horse for extended periods of activity on the trail.

It also good preparation for Endurance Riding, a related sport involving long-distance races that are often 50 or 100 miles (or shorter in Limited Distance events) with varying degrees of added difficulty due to terrain. Here, too, veterinary inspections are an important part of the event. However, unlike in Competitive Trail Riding, in Endurance Riding, the first horse to cross the finish line and be judged “fit to continue” by the veterinarian(s) is declared the winner.

At most endurance rides, a Best Conditioned award is also given based on the combination of speed, weight carried and veterinary scores.

Because Endurance Riding is a faster and more specialized sport that Competitive Trail Riding, the saddle used is often a lightweight style developed specifically for the sport. The Arabian horse has proven particularly successful at upper-level Endurance Riding.