This past weekend I was watching an endurance competition being held in my neighborhood, though it was at the lower distances of 25 and 50 km. I observed that most of the horses used in these races were Arabians or half-Arabians. And only a few other breeds and/or cross-breds were also competing. Why is this the situation? It is not the first time that I have been a spectator at endurance competitions in Italy—Arabian horses always seem to dominate the scene. After talking with a number of endurance riders, they always hold the view that one must have an Arabian to be successful at endurance no matter which level one compete’s at. I believe that “successful” means winning or at least placing in the top three. Why do people continuously believe that only Arabians are successful? I assume that this is the consensus because no one has really taken the time to research other possibilities. If one looks at articles and blog posts in the media, often it is the Arabian who is highlighted. Therefore, it does not surprise me that everyone thinks that it is only this particular breed which can endure long distances in competitions.
What are the other possibilities? In my post dated 25 November, I talked about other breeds which compete in endurance and provided some links to support my discussion. And HERE is a link to yet another interesting story: a woman who has ridden various breeds of horses. And more …about the Akhal Teke. Isn’t that some interesting food for thought?
There is so much evidence of other breeds who are quite successful even at longer distances. Years ago I was an event rider (in Italian it’s called Completo), and I had to condition my horse quite thoroughly. Back in those days we were training for long distance riding because the long-format events, preliminary level and above (this format is no longer being used in international and lower level competitions since circa 2005, and most current riders do not even know what “long-format” is) required the horse to be extremely fit—stamina and endurance were tested in competitions.
Ultimately, it is the proper conditioning and training that will make a horse successful, as well as feeding appropriately and providing a good home environment (preferably the horse has a 24 hour a day out-door living arrangement). My idea of “successful” is to complete the competiton sound (that the horse is not injured, heart rate is normal, and fluid levels normal), within the required time. Successful in my view does not necessarily equate with ‘just’ winning. Winning is nice, but should not be the ultimate goal. The horse’s welfare is the ultimate goal I aim for.
If a rider/competitor is aiming for high speed at longer distances (120, 150 km) it is a false assumption that one absolutely needs Arabian. There is consistent and convincing evidence that other breeds can do it too! For example, Morgan Horses can compete successfully against Arabians at 120km and 150 km, and also Akhal Teke. How many people know about this? Not many, I assume. I know people who do compete at long distances with these breeds! And they are successful (in the way I conceive of “successful”, as stated earlier) because they are quite knowledgeable (through years of experience) to condition their horses, otherwise they would not be competing against Arabians. Moreover, Morgans have a special type of muscle fiber that allows for endurance success at long distances. I even know about Haflinger’s that have competed quite successfully here in Europe.
Last, but not least, is the question I ask so many horse people, “Why is it so important to be traveling at high speed?” “To win?” The answer I usually get to these questions is, ” to win” and/or “to achieve top placing”. In my opinion, just making the required time for the specific category is sufficient and good. What is more important, I think, is that the horse is sound when the competition is finally completed and has enjoyed the experience together with its rider. Winning certainly isn’t everything, because ultimately it does not necessarily prove that one breed is better suited to the sport of endurance riding versus another.
By Karin Susan Fester (c) 2012