Horses involved in endurance riding require appropriate fitness training, careful management, and balanced nutrition to support stamina and recovery.

Endurance racing may involve horses covering up to 100 miles or 160 kilometres in a single day. This poses challenges with maintaining energy, hydration and soundness.

During intense training and competition, endurance horses can have 60% higher energy demands compared to horses at maintenance.

Meeting this demand with gut-friendly calorie sources is key to supporting health and well-being. Feeding high-quality forages, digestible fibre sources, and adding fat to the diet are great ways to meet the needs of endurance horses.

Heavily exercising horses of all disciplines are at higher risk of digestive issues such as gastric ulcers and hindgut acidosis.

You can reduce the risk of gut problems by feeding a low-grain, forage-based diet that satisfies your horse’s natural drive to consume high-fibre plant material. Limiting stress and supporting exercise recovery can also help keep your equine athlete healthy.

For help with optimizing your endurance horse’s feeding program, submit their information online to receive a free diet evaluation.

What is Endurance Riding?

The first endurance competition ever hosted was the Tevis Cup in 1955. This race is a 100 mile (160 km) long ride from Nevada to California completed in 24 hours.

Traditionally, the Tevis Cup was a relatively slow ride with an average speed of 8.4 km/hr (5.2 mph). However, recent winners of the World Equestrian Games 100-mile ride in Kentucky have competed with an average speed of over 20 km/hr (12.4 mph).

Most breeds can be used for endurance races. Arabian or Arabian crosses are best adapted to low-intensity long-distance exercise due to their muscle fibre composition and oxidative capacity. [1]

Physiology of Endurance Racing

Endurance refers to the physical and mental capacity to withstand fatigue. Endurance racing is a test of aerobic fitness as these horses cover long distances at a trot, interspersed by some walk and canter.

Endurance horses are generally able to supply enough oxygen to their tissues to support aerobic metabolism throughout the race. In comparison, horses in sprinting disciplines rely on anaerobic processes that can make energy without oxygen.

Aerobic metabolism produces less lactic acid compared to anaerobic metabolism and horses are therefore able to sustain this level of exercise for prolonged periods of time. [1]

However, completing an endurance race is a challenge as horses must be trained to persevere over long distances. Fatigue during long-distance exercise can arise from several factors including:

  • Low energy supply
  • Lactic acid production
  • Electrolyte imbalance and fluid loss
  • Central fatigue

Finishing a 100 km endurance ride requires the horse to have adequate energy supply before and during the race. Horses also need to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance.

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Factors Affecting Performance

It takes a lot to prepare your horse to compete successfully in endurance competitions.

In the following section, we explore some of the factors that affect the performance of endurance horses.

Energy Levels

Horses store energy in the form of glycogen in muscle and liver and as fat in adipose tissue. To a lesser extent, amino acids (from protein breakdown) can also be used for energy.

Glycogen is a branched structure of glucose (sugar) molecules bound together. During exercise, glycogen and fat are broken down to make energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This powers muscle contraction