When Endurance came to me, it was in its infancy. We had no idea how far a horse could go or how fast. We did not want to be like the Pony Express and run horses to death.
Long distance riding started with Competitive Trail Rides, where a horse’s speed was limited to 6 or 7 mph for 30-40 miles. Veterinarians were our judges. Pulse recoveries were 10 minutes. Distances went to 50 miles, 75, and then a few great 100-mile rides. Statistics on each horse ‒ those that didn’t finish and those that did finish ‒ were carefully recorded. Helicopters were flying overhead at an Old Dominion ride, taking tired horse blood to the vet school in Athens, Georgia, for analysis.
What was discovered was that pulse recovery was paramount. Dehydration and colic were the enemy. The 10-minute pulse recovery was then used in Eventing, but Endurance horses, with the long distance, needed food and water and more rest time. An actual pulse requirement was established; the first was 72 beats per minute, followed by a 30-minute hold. The time limit was 24 hours to complete a 100-mile ride, which included the holds which were found to be around three hours of hold time.
The completion rate of the 100s was lower than 50% at first and every finisher was rewarded. The pulse required went to eventually 64 bpm in 30 minutes, now lowered to 64 in 20 minutes with a 40-minute hold to give the horse time to rest and eat. Electrolyte loss in the horses was prevented by riders being able to to pre-electrolyte their horses the day before the ride, during, and after the ride, dousing in the feed or directly in the horse’s mouth. This also made the horse thirsty, so more water was consumed. It was discovered that soaked beet pulp would put the digestion in the hind gut of a horse, thus preventing colic. Undoubtedly, the sport of Endurance contributed an enormous amount of knowledge to all horse sports.
Endurance rides in North America, Australia, and most of Europe and England were/are great adventures of rider and horse who had conditioned for several years over wilderness trails, crossing rivers, on the rocks, up and downhill, where horsemanship was paramount and horses had to pause to change gait and be careful. Two athletes working together to find the end of the trail. There was a lot of night riding. There is even the skill of following markers in daylight and in the night. The horse and rider who could do many 100-mile rides for many years was rewarded and highly respected; 24 hours was the aim.[A horse and rider doing] 10 minutes per mile at 6mph could finish a 100-mile ride.
When Endurance was accepted as an FEI sport, many new countries started having rides. It is quite expected that the Middle Eastern countries would be interested in the sport, as the Arabian horse excelled at Endurance and they were already racing Arabians on the short track. They made clover-leaf tracks in the desert and called it Endurance. Flat, gently curved, where there were no objects to slow the horse’s speed. No sharp turns into the woods, no hills, no rocks, no change of terrain. The riders were not particularly trainers of the horse nor owners, but paid jockeys or sheiks. Longevity of the horse was not the aim, and horses were doing 100 miles in 10 hours and less. This is long track racing. FEI was politically and financially influenced by the Middle East, so they accepted Region 7’s long track racing as ‘Endurance’.
A COC ‒ Certificate of Completion ‒ was put in the rules by FEI for Championships and Worlds. Horses had to finish FEI 100 miles in 11 hours, 20 minutes in order to start the competition, in order to represent your country. Countries with excellent Endurance riders and horses were having to find a flat 100 miles and race in order to get a COC.
I read the schedule for the events at Tryon ,just before [Canadian Endurance Team member] Bob Gielen left for North Carolina. I said to Bob that this is impossible to finish a course like that in the time allowed. He said “I can do it.” As it happened, they just about did, as Bob was in 19th place when the ride was called. Team members Wendy Macoubrey and Kim Woolley’s horses were in good condition, still in and gaining. These Canadian horses were conditioned in the extreme humidity Ontario experienced this summer. Giving credit to the veterinarians at Tryon, shortly before the race the time to finish was lengthened to 14 hours.
World Endurance needs to go back to the sport it was before FEI and be that great partnership adventure of horse and rider going the distances. Long track racing can be a dangerous game and is not true Endurance. This sport is true Endurance in Canada and the US, as horses’ and riders’ mileage is rewarded every 500 miles and there are horses in their 20s still doing the 75s and 50s and a few doing 100s. These horses have awards and respect for completing 2,000 to even 6,000 and even longer recorded lifetime mileage.
There is a strong movement among Endurance riders in North America to get rid of the COC in FEI to enter Championship rides. The Endurance community is angry, confused and working towards a solution.
One cannot blame the horse public for being upset about the turn world Endurance has taken, but the true sport of Endurance is still here and should not be damaged in the fray.
Nancy Beacon, of Flesherton, Ontario, is one of the founding members of OCTRA; has represented Canada at multiple World Equestrian Games, both as rider and coach.