Endurance sports require unique characteristics in a horse that set them apart from equine competitors in other equestrian disciplines. While many equestrian pursuits share common desirable traits, an endurance horse must be capable of handling the metabolic demands that accompany a 50- or 100-mile distance challenge along with possessing a robust structure that remains sound in the face of training and competition over rugged terrain.
Many breeds may do well in distance events, but Arabian horses are known to excel in these qualities. A distance horse also must demonstrate a strong work ethic that enables him to participate in protracted exercise that can last as long as 24 hours for a 100-mile race.
A well-conformed horse knows no limitations and can take on the challenge of a multitude of equine sports as varied as endurance, jumping, driving, dressage or Western performance sports. Strong feet, good bone and a strong back are prerequisites for endurance horses.
Shoeing practices have everything to do with how well the inherent foot conformation stands up to work, but the horse has to start with a good set of "wheels" to promote a chance at athletic longevity.
To thoroughly assess the athletic ability of an endurance prospect as it relates to his conformation, it is best to observe him not just standing at rest, but also in motion. Some horses standing at rest appear as if they would trip over their own feet, not capable of any athletic prowess. But then you watch that horse move, and he is poetry in motion. This phenomenon confirms that the most important aspect of conformation is how a horse uses his body, and how easily he is able to learn required skills and to execute them well.
In summary, characteristics to look for in an endurance prospect include:
- Big, strong feet proportionate to the body
- Correct limb conformation, not toed in or out
- A strong back with well-formed withers
- A ground-covering trot and efficient stride
- An interested demeanor, bold disposition, and a tendency to eat and drink well
It often helps to find out as much as you can about a particular bloodline to determine how related progeny fare in their accomplishments in the endurance world. Many excellent qualities hold true along heritable lines; this gives you a good starting platform for your selection process.