Maybe you’ve got years of experience, have done endurance in the past, or this is something brand new you want to try out. No matter what your experience is in the sport of endurance riding, you can’t compete without a suitable horse. In this article, Tevis winner and RW customer Sanoma Blakeley explains what characteristics are important to keep in mind when choosing your next endurance partner.
Sanoma – Born Into Endurance Riding
My name is Sanoma Blakeley. I grew up with horses in Central Oregon and have been riding since before I could walk. My family and I compete in endurance and I finished my first race when I was just seven years old. In August 2019, I was able to achieve my lifetime goal of winning the Tevis Cup, the most difficult 100-mile endurance race in North America, racing against competitors from all across the country. When I'm not competing, I love to be out riding and hanging out with my horses.
My family and I have been racing endurance for many years and have introduced, bred, or trained close to 60 horses for the sport; everything from the middle of the pack, easy-going endurance horses to Haggin Cup and Tevis winners. There are many factors to look for when choosing the right horse for you and the order of importance will vary on your personal goals. Here are a few general things to keep in mind:
First, soundness is the most important thing to look for when looking for your next endurance horse.
Next, you’ll want to establish your goals for yourself and your equine partner while taking your riding ability into consideration.
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. Of course, horses that are bred for endurance can 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 on was free on Craigslist, but it took 8 years to achieve that goal. In general, when picking up inexpensive horses you will have your work cut out for you since most of them are inexpensive for a reason.
Key Traits for Your Next Equine Partner
1. 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. The flip side is 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 and saving energy for when it is needed.
Having a mind and heart for endurance is arguably as important as physical ability. A horse that loves the sport, has a high pain tolerance, and is easy to be around, makes every mile seem shorter. You’ll be spending countless hours in the saddle with this horse, so you want something that matches your personality and that you enjoy being with.
2. Conformation, Legs & 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 something that makes you feel comfortable and can carry you. There are some super tough short horses out there - 14.2 hand horses 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 it will save a lot of headaches to pick one that doesn’t have flaws before its career has even begun. An efficient mover is a good choice as well.
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 may be good to avoid.
3. Heart Rate and Recovery: There is nothing more fun than riding into a vet check with a group of riders, pulsing ahead, and leaving in front of everyone because your horse is a good pulser. Also, there is nothing more frustrating than waiting 20 minutes for your horse to pulse down to the pulse criteria.
When trying out a horse, I recommend measuring the resting heart rate then getting them moving and breathing heavier. Then, measure their heart rate again and see how quickly it comes back down. A low resting HR 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.
One final consideration is the horse’s bloodlines. There are a lot of different opinions on this trait. There are grade horses that have done really well, but if you don't want to take a chance, bloodlines that are proven in endurance are good to look for. Some lines have great dispositions, others are consistently fast, have strong legs, and recover well. There are also some lines to avoid.
There are always exceptions to the rule, horses that do really well even though they wouldn’t mark any boxes of what to look for in an endurance horse. However, these are some tips we have found very practical when picking out either the next endurance champion or your next best friend.