I am just beginning to ride endurance horses. How are endurance horses trained to compete in 100-mile races?
Competitive 100-mile endurance horses are born, not trained. Every endurance horse must have a strong desire to cover the distance, so willingness is paramount. These horses and their riders must be properly prepared to withstand the journey.
Conditioning for a 100-mile ride is complicated and not easily explained in a couple of paragraphs. The conditioning process takes a minimum of two years. The first 12-18 months establishes base levels of fitness. This stage of conditioning gradually strengthens the heart, lungs, muscles, and bones. During this time, hundreds of short training rides (3-10 miles) and several 25-, 50- and 75-mile endurance rides are done. Horses are taught to pace themselves, negotiate all types of obstacles, and most importantly eat and drink throughout the ride. These horses will undergo changes in body condition and will have little fat cover over the body. Horses should not be allowed to become too thin or they will not have the energy reserves to complete a 100-mile ride.
For the six months leading up to a 100-mile ride, a horse’s fitness must be maintained. Training mileage during this period is usually 30-40 miles per week but varies depending on the horse. This mileage is usually obtained with one long ride and one to two shorter rides. When not ridden, the horse should be turned out so it can move around and not become stiff. The goal in the six months preceding to the race is not to over condition the horse, which could cause structural or metabolic problems.
During the two weeks prior to competition, the horse should be well rested with several short rides and a general reduction in mileage. This allows the horse to recover completely from all previous exercise and ensures its body is loaded with fuel for the ride.