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  • Writer's pictureSanoma Blakeley

How to Choose an Enduranc​e ​Horse

The discipline of Endurance demands a physically fit horse and rider in order to finish strong. Sanoma Blakeley, a sponsored rider of Riding Warehouse, has been horseback riding since before she could walk, and she finished her first endurance race when she was just seven years old. In August 2019, Sanoma was able to achieve her lifetime goal of winning the Tevis Cup, the most difficult 100-mile endurance race in North America! She competed against riders from all across the country and came out victorious. Sanoma and her family have introduced, bred, or trained close to 60 horses for the Endurance sport, including everything from the middle of the pack, easy-going horses to Haggin and Tevis Cup winners. Read on as she explains what characteristics are important to keep in mind when choosing your next endurance partner.

General Considerations & Key Traits

There are many factors to look for when choosing the right horse for you, and their order of importance will vary upon your personal goals. No matter what, soundness is the most important thing to look for when choosing for your next endurance horse. You’ll also want to establish goals for yourself and equine partner while taking your riding ability into consideration; check out more of my personal insight on how to set and achieve horseback riding goals! Whether you’re looking for something ready to race or a young prospect, finding a successful endurance breeder with proven horses is always a good place to start. Horses specifically bred for endurance can of course be pricey, so it’s also important to determine your budget; there are always good deals around if you are patient! The gelding that I won Tevis with was free on Craigslist, but it took me eight years to achieve that goal. In general, you will have your work cut out for you when picking up inexpensive horses—since most of them are inexpensive for a reason. Learn more about my road to Tevis for additional insight! Temperament and Personality: This quality varies with your riding ability and personal preference. You will want a horse that is naturally willing to go 25 - 100 miles, so you don’t have to encourage it the entire ride; however, the flip side of this is typically a horse with a hot race brain. Sure, you don’t have to encourage that horse—but your arms will be sore, and it can be very frustrating to pace the horse. An in-between personality is ideal for most riders: a horse that is forward and goes on its own initiative but is calm enough to take care of itself, eat and drink, and keep its mind for saving energy when it's needed. Having a horse with a mind and heart for endurance is arguably just as important as their physical ability. Every mile seems shorter with a horse that loves the sport, has a high pain tolerance, and is easy to be around. You’ll be spending countless hours in the saddle with this horse, so you want an equine appropriately matched to your personality that you enjoy being with. Conformation, Legs, and Feet: If you show up to an endurance ride, you will see horses of all shapes and sizes. Concerning height, this is mainly a personal preference; you want a horse that can carry you and make you feel comfortable. There are some super tough 14.2-hand horses out there racing alongside 16-hand horses. In terms of conformation, you can’t go wrong with a deep chest and straight legs. The chest is where the lungs and heart are, so a larger capacity is always good to notice. When looking at the legs, you want balance and symmetry. Yes, there are horses with crooked legs doing great in endurance because they have the mind for it, but picking a horse without flaws in its legs will save you a lot of headaches before its riding career has even begun. An efficient mover is a good choice as well! Always be sure to look at the horse’s feet. One of the most common causes of lameness in endurance horses is poor hoof quality. Additionally, a horse that needs corrective shoeing might be good to avoid. Heart Rate and Recovery: There is nothing more fun than riding into a vet check with a group of riders, pulsing ahead, and then leaving in front of everyone else because your horse is a good pulser. On the other hand, there is nothing more frustrating than waiting 20 minutes at the vet check for your horse to pulse down to the pulse criteria. Read my tips for vet check efficiency and etiquette to breeze through your next one! When trying out a horse, I recommend measuring their resting heart rate. Then, get them moving and breathing heavier to measure their heart rate again; see how quickly it comes back down. A low resting heart rate shows that the heart is healthy and efficient. Cardiovascular recoveries can improve only so much with training and conditioning, so finding a horse with a natural ability is important. Bloodlines: One final consideration is the horse’s bloodlines, and there are a lot of different opinions on this trait. There are grade horses that have done really well, but looking for bloodlines that are proven in endurance is recommended if you don't want to take a chance. Some lines might have great dispositions, while others are consistently fast, have strong legs, and recover well. There are always exceptions to the rule, as some "nontraditional" horses do really well—even though they wouldn't check mark any boxes of what to look for in the ideal endurance horse. However, these are some tips I have found very practical when picking out or breeding my next endurance champion or equine best friend!

Closing Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed Sanoma's recommendations on what to look for in an endurance horse, based on her personal experience. It is important to determine what traits matter most to you, whether it's temperament, conformation, or bloodlines—or, all of the above. Endurance riding is not for the faint of heart, and a horse well-suited to the job will help you achieve your riding dreams. Should you have any questions, we invite you to reach out to our friendly customer service team at 1(800)620-9145 or Happy riding!


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