WHAT IS ENDURANCE RIDING?
When hearing the words ‘endurance riding,’ or ‘endurance racing,’ the first thing that comes to mind is horse racing. Endurance riding is a horse race, but not a straightforward race like takes place at the racetrack. Instead, endurance riding is an equestrian sport based on controlled long-distance races. And it is also not a race to be the fastest to reach the finishing-line first, not at all. The winning horse is the first to cross the finishing line but only after stopping several times to pass veterinary checks that ensure the horse is in good health throughout the race. Endurance riding is a contest involving the horsemanship of the rider himself/herself as well as the fitness of the horse. Endurance riding is about training horses to become fit and athletic. Some riders compete in order to improve their horse’s performance and so think that finishing with proper vet checks is a victory.
Endurance races can be of any distance but usually involve rides between 40km and 160 km. The winner is judged on the condition of the horse and the rider during the ride and at the end. What counts in these races is how well the horse and the rider perform together as a unit, becoming, as it were, together in one body. What this means is that the rider and horse understand and trust each other perfectly. The racetrack for endurance races is not the hard ground used for motor vehicles but natural surfaces – earth tracks, not paved roads. Along the way, there will be natural obstacles to be passed over such as hard or soft ground, different types of land and height differences; there may be waterholes, watercourses and ditches; the weather may be sunny, windy, rainy or snowy. These challenging natural conditions mean that the rider and the horse must both be perfectly fit and also be in perfect harmony with each other. Only that harmony will ensure that the rider and the horse manage to finish the race together and in perfect health.
Veterinarians control the health of the horses periodically throughout every endurance race. If there is any suspicion about its health, the horse will immediately be rested and not permitted to continue the race. Even if the horse finishes the race, without a final approved health report by the veterinarians, it will not be accepted for the final grading, the race results. After every race, horses are rested, going without racing for a few months.
The roots of endurance riding and endurance racing can be found throughout Turkish history. Riding horses for long distances has been part of the life-ways of Turkish people for centuries. In ancient times, the Turkish people were equestrian nomads who lived in Central Asia and Anatolia. They had discovered the world on horseback. Throughout history, horses have been central to the life of Turkish people everywhere and at every stage as travelling companions. Turks never thought of horses simply as animals or as vehicles, but as members of their family as we know from idioms such as: “horse, woman, gun”. That is to say, from a Turkish-male point of view, horses, like women and guns, were beloved.
If we need to make a short and brief description of endurance riding, when we appraise the place of the horse in history and in endurance races today, we can conclude that the desired result of endurance riding is to become one horse-human body and consciousness. This unity of the horse and the rider is uniquely created by undertaking endurance competitions: endurance with the horse.