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Endurance riding is an increasingly popular equestrian discipline recognized by the FEI. Races typically range from 25 to 100 miles (40 to 161 km) and include veterinary checkpoints at regular intervals.
Endurance horses must be able to cope with distance, weather, and challenging terrain during a race. Riders must also have good stamina and navigation skills to be able to finish the race. The horse and rider combination that completes all sections in the shortest possible time wins!
During an endurance event, the health and welfare of horses are of the utmost importance. Endurance is the only FEI discipline where you get disqualified if your horse is not in perfect health during the event. No wonder the sport’s slogan is “To finish is to win!”
Today, riders from all nations can partake in over 300 FEI endurance events held each year across the globe.
The biggest competitions include the 100-mile Tevis Cup, the 400-km Shahzada ride, the 1000-km Mongol Derby, and the World Equestrian Games Endurance Event.
Here are is our list of the best endurance horse breeds:
The Arabian horse breed has long dominated the endurance sport. Arabians are unequaled in resistance, hardiness, and stamina.
The Beduin tribe of modern Saudi Arabia developed the breed thousands of years ago. The Beduins prized their horses for their beauty, grace, fiery spirit, and outstanding endurance.
Almost without exception, Arabias are always among the top finishers of major endurance events. For example, the Tevis Cup, which is known as the toughest endurance race in America, has been won by an Arabian each year for over two decades!
Other than endurance racing, Arabians also do well in a variety of English and Western disciplines. They are often crossed with larger warmbloods or Thoroughbreds to increase their size and speed for sporting purposes.
Another prominent endurance horse breed is the Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan. These horses are famous worldwide for their speed, endurance, and unique metallic coat.
According to experts, the Akhal-Teke is one of the oldest horse breeds, alongside the Arabian, Icelandic, Caspian, and others. They were originally developed by Turkmen tribes who used them for raiding, war, and long-distance riding.
Like the Arabian, the Akhal-Teke can withstand extreme desert conditions and have a strong survival instinct. These qualities make the breed well suited to endurance riding events.
Over its long history, the Akhal-Teke influenced and improved many modern horse breeds, including the Thoroughbred. Unfortunately, today’s Akhal-Teke population is relatively small, totaling around 7,000 horses.
Also read: 10 Interesting Facts About Akhal-Teke Horses
The free-roaming Mustangs of North America are perhaps the only breed that can challenge the Arabian’s superiority in endurance racing. Ever since their arrival to the New World, the ancestors of Mustang have undergone natural selection, resulting in an extremely hardy breed.
Their natural talent for endurance was seen firsthand at the 2018 Tevis Cup, where two formerly wild Mustangs were among the top 10 finishers. MM Cody and MM Woodrow finished 8th and 9th, respectively, outrunning 55 other contesters.
Mustang herds still roam free today in the western United States. Population numbers are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which regularly rounds up excess stock for auction.
The Anglo-Arabian is an independent breed encompassing Arabian and Thoroughbred crosses. While they are considered part-bred Arabians in the United States, the breed has its own registry in Europe.
To qualify for registration, an Anglo-Arabian must have at least 12.5% Arabian blood. Therefore, it is no surprise that the breed has a natural talent for endurance sports.
The purpose of the Anglo-Arabian breed is to combine the best of both worlds. The horses will have the size and speed of a Thoroughbred and the grace and stamina of an Arabian!
France is currently a hotspot for Anglo-Arabian breeding and aims to produce high-quality horses for riding and competition. While the breed does well in endurance, it’s most talented in show jumping and eventing.
Also read: 13 Fascinating Facts About Arabian Horses
The Mongolian Horse has been bred for transport, war, and racing since the times of Genghis Khan. Most fascinatingly, the breed has changed little over the centuries and is still part of the locals’ daily lives.
Mongolian Horses live outside the tents of their owners all year round, withstanding temperatures of extreme heat and cold. Living on the steppe day and night and fending for themselves has produced an extremely tough and resistant breed.
There are around as many horses in Mongolia as there are humans, which goes to show their importance in the culture. Locals still use their horses’ meat and milk to survive as part of their traditional lifestyle. The horses also serve as a means of transport and entertainment for the nomads, who love racing.
Perhaps you have heard of the Mongol Derby, the world’s longest and toughest endurance horse race. Its route stretches across 1,000 km (621 mi) of Mongolian Steppe that riders must transverse in ten days.
Each contestant is assigned 25 to 27 semi-wild horses and a support team for the race. Riders must ride for 14 hours a day and change horses at the support stations every 40 km (24.9 mi).
In the Mongol Derby, to finish the race really means to win, as only half of the riders usually cross the finish line!
Also read: 8 Most Weird & Unusual Horse Breeds
Although Quarter Horses are most popular as a ranching and Western horse, they have also proven themselves in endurance riding.
In 2018, Shelley Kincaid and her Quarter Horse mare Leos Driftwood Baby (“Scarlett”) made history when they entered the infamous Tevis Cup.
Although they finished the race, unfortunately, it was outside the allocated time frame. Nevertheless, Kincaid and her horse have shown the world how far Quarter Horses can go in endurance racing.
After all, the breed’s talent in endurance shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Quarter Horses are famous for their versatility. Riders across the globe use Quarter Horses for both English and Western riding and driving and showing.
The breed likely inherited its impressive stamina from the Spanish ancestors it shares with many other American horse breeds. While the Quarter Horse might not be the best endurance breed, they certainly are the fastest sprinters among all horses!
Also read: 12 Most Popular Horse Breeds
The Marwari is another great endurance horse breed native to northwest India. Like the Kathiawari horse, it has unusual inward-curving ears that are unique in the horse world.
Marwari horses have been selectively bred for hardiness and purity since the 12th century. Historically, they have served as cavalry horses in the Marwari region where locals admired their bravery and loyalty.
Although still rare, Marwari horses are becoming more common outside India due to an increase in popularity. Marwari and Thoroughbred crosses are also growing in numbers as they are larger and more versatile.
Today, the breed is mainly used for dressage, jumping, polo, and ceremonies in their native region. Some Marwari horses are able to perform a special gait similar to the pace called the rehwal.
Also read: 10 Best Horse Breeds in Every Category
Missouri Fox Trotter
Due to its natural ambling gait, the Missouri Fox Trotter is an excellent breed for long-distance riding. It was developed in the 19th century by settlers in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. The aim was to produce a high-quality stock horse with great stamina and smooth gaits.
As a result of selective breeding, every Missouri Fox Trotter today can perform a four-beat ambling gait called the foxtrot. This unique gait is extremely smooth and comfortable to ride as it has no moment of suspension.
Most of the Missouri Fox Trotter population lives in the United States, with a small number of horses found overseas. The breed can thank its above-average stamina to Arabian influence that has added extra refinement to the stock.
Today, the Missouri Fox Trotter mainly serves as a trail riding and ranch horse. However, it also has the potential to excel in equestrian competition.