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To Finish is to Win

Hitting the long trail, horseback
Nadia Raza has begun prepping her half-Arab mare Amelya for a 25-mile race. Photos By: (top) Rehbeccah Burkhart, (bottom) Camilla Mortensen.

endurance |enˈd(y)o͝or-ns|

noun

• permanence, duration 

• the fact, power or ability of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way: she was close to the limit of her endurance

• the capacity of something to last or to withstand wear and tear

 

It is 4:54 pm along a dusty trail in the high desert of Eastern Oregon. I am out of breath, heaving my weight against a wooden post trying to finesse a centimeter of slack in the latch that is holding together a large, awkward barbed wire fence. There is some urgency to my efforts because two humans and three horses are waiting to access the trail on the other side of the fence. We have been riding for 43 miles and we have seven more to go. Welcome to endurance horse riding.

Endurance riding = horses + humans + wilderness + distance — what could be better? Dominated by Arabian horses that evolved with a unique physiological stamina and enthusiasm for distance, endurance riding is a sport, a tradition and a testament to the relationship between humans and horses. 

As a modern-day international sport, endurance riding is based on controlled long-distance races, which are typically 50 and 100 miles long — all in one go. The rules that structure endurance riding converge on one premise: safety for the horse. Along these lines, the most prestigious award at an endurance ride is given for the horse that completes in the best condition. The rider might be limping at the end but not the horse. 

At each ride, horses must pass a preliminary vet check prior to the event as well as multiple vet checks during the ride (spaced approximately every 15 miles). At vet checks, veterinarians check horses’ hydration levels and heart rate as well as their movement, back soreness and overall disposition. If a horse shows any sign of discomfort it is “pulled” from the competition. 

Horses and riders competing to place in the top 10 generally have a pit crew to assist and expedite vet checks, however, for the overwhelming majority of riders a fast time is of little concern. This is reflected in the motto of the American Endurance Riding Conference: “to finish is to win.”

I found my way into the world of endurance horse riding four years ago and I have been captivated ever since. I am part of a sport that is named for the virtue it requires and cultivates. Endurance is not about speed but patience, commitment and the journey. Sometimes that journey is 100 miles of wilderness trail with you, your horse and the friends you make along the way. 

For more information on endurance riding visit the American Endurance Riding Conference at AERC.org, the Pacific Northwest Endurance Rides at PNER.net or send Nadia Raza an email at nraza@uoregon.edu.