Throughout history there have been long distance rides, transporting armies, passengers, and mail. The Pony Express, for instance, achieved incredible long-distance speed records. The person who is accredited with creating modern competitive long-distance riding is Wendell Robie, an American breeder of Arabian horses. In 1955, Mr. Robie founded the Western States Trail Ride, which was a 100-mile, one-day ride from Lake Tahoe to Auburn, California via an old Pony Express route. Originally, completion of the race was the goal, as it was a real achievement considering the altitude, terrain and weather extremes. In 1959, the Tevis Cup was awarded for the first time to the rider with the fastest time. The Haggin Cup has been awarded since 1964 to the rider finishing in the top ten with the horse in best condition. Endurance rides have sprung up all over patterned after Mr. Robie’s competition.
There are two particular types of competitive long-distance rides: endurance rides and competitive trail rides. Well-conditioned horses and riders are required for both types, and veterinary checks take place along the way. The horse is checked for respiration, pulse and temperature, and any horse that appears unfit is forbidden to continue the ride.
The endurance ride requires the horse travel farther and faster. It is sually 25, 50 or 100 miles long, and is more like a race. The winner is the horse/rider team that covers the route in the fastest time, and remains sound during the ride and the morning after. The 25 mile ride can take about one and a half hours; the 50 mile ride can take four and a half hours; and the 100 mile ride usually takes eleven hours of riding time. Riders can be assisted by a “pit crew” at the spot checks, and are allowed to dismount and lead their horses if they want to. Endurance, fitness and strategy together are required for success at the endurance ride.
The competitive trail ride is not a race. It can take two or three days, while the pace is slower and the distance is shorter. Competitors can be penalized for travelling too fast or too slow, because there are maximum and minimum time limits set. The riders can travel only while mounted, and cannot be assisted. The winners are selected by judges, who award points based on condition, soundness, carriage, trail manners, and so on. The goal of competitive trail rides is to select the ideal trail horse as the winner.
Arabians and part-Arabians excel at these sports. Morgans, Appaloosas, Pintos, Quarter Horses and part-Thoroughbreds are also common competitors. Any horse that is sound and properly conditioned, and possesses good lungs, heart, feet and a ground-covering stride can do well in the competitive trail ride.