Prized by the Bedouin, their adaptations for desert life make them well suited for modern-day distance events. In fact, the 2019 winner of the Nevis Cup 100-mile endurance race was RA Ares Bay, a 10-year-old Arabian Gelding.
In fact, for the past 23 years, the Nevis cup has always been won by an Arabian. The Arabian horse is often mixed with other breeds, like the Thoroughbred, to increase size and speed.
Given the breed’s ability to be in the top placings of endurance riding events, it makes sense that we list them first. Because they breed naturally, in the wild, strong traits are favored.
Typically, Arabian stallions are crossed with Thoroughbred mares although, the reverse does happen as well. The resulting foal is even registered by the Arabian Horse Association (AHA).
The Anglo-Arabian horse typically inherits the larger size (both height and muscle development) from the Thoroughbred parent. It is a horse that was bred to be able to work on the farm during the day and yet be elegant enough to pull a carriage by night.
Some are even gained which makes traversing long distances that much easier on the rider! In the 2018 Nevis cup, the Morgan “Silver Valley Tate” successfully completed in 58th place.
One of my favorite colors in a Rocky Mountain Horse is a beautiful bay silver. The dark brown coat with the contrasting white mane and tail is just so incredibly beautiful.
The Rocky Mountain Horse isn’t just pretty though, they are also competitive. In fact, in the 2018 Nevis cup, the Rocky Mountain Horse “Jackson Blue” was ridden by rider Leave Day to a 21st place finish.
They are the result of a male donkey (a Jack) crossed with a female horse (a mare). They inherit the hard feet and sure-footedness from their donkey sire and the conformation and endurance from their mare mothers.
Any of the horse breeds on this list, when crossed with a donkey, has the potential to produce an excellent endurance riding mule. Though, keep in mind that even if you don’t know a mule’s pedigree, with the proper training they could still make excellent endurance mounts.
They weren’t the only mules to cross the finish line in great condition that day. She proved that when she entered the 2018 Nevis cup on the Quarter Horse mare Leos Driftwood Baby (“Scarlett”).
While the pair didn’t finish, it wasn’t because Scarlett was lame or tired or failed a vet check. The 2006 mare is foundation bred and traces back to the famous Quarter Horse, Leo, on both sides.
Ken Campbell rode his Hanoverian mare, Fantasia, in the 2018 Nevis Cup. While he did decide to pull her from the race partway through, it nevertheless goes to show that sometimes, your horse can accomplish things that aren’t “typical” for their breed.
If you happen to own a breed, like the Hanoverian, that doesn’t typically compete in endurance, just remember that anything is possible. The American Saddle bred is known for its versatility and can compete in a variety of disciplines like evening, western pleasure and even dressage.
While Dig didn’t finish, he proved that an American Saddle bred can qualify for this difficult event. What you do need is dedication and a horse with the strength, stamina, and temperament to carry you through the finish line.
At any point, a horse and rider team can be pulled for failure to pass a veterinary inspection. Because this race is so grueling, horses that compete it are considered the ultimate endurance horses.
When you are just getting started with endurance racing, you want to choose a horse that is conformationally correct and sound. The breed of horse isn’t as big of a consideration for lower level, beginner competitions.
Soundness is essential because the ride veterinarian will not allow your horse to continue if he becomes lame. This is a great video showing what it’s like at a vet check stop for the Nevis Cup ride.
If you are ready to give endurance racing a try, the first thing you want to do is head over to the governing webpage. The American Endurance Ride Conference, the Arc, is the best place to start.
Remember that, even though the sport is dominated by Arabians, there is room for other breeds among the top finishers! There are some unique characteristics we look for when we want the absolute best horse for endurance races.
The most typical horse breeds to find in endurance races are the Arabians. Arabian horses tend to have longer muscles which makes them perfect for long stretches.
There are several variations within the breed as people have bred the Arabian horses for years. This makes them great for endurance runs because they are not too heavy or too bulky.
The hindquarters should not be too strong (as we often see with quarter horses) because that will cause problems in the long run. This is actually perfect for endurance riding as we want a horse that is no more than 16 hands tall.
That being said, some Arabian horses are suited for long distances while others are bred for shorter races. Like quarter horses, the sprinters will have stronger hind legs and shorter and bulkier muscles.
But they are definitely worth mentioning because they have proven over and over again to be wonderful over long distances. The horses originally South American and it has a reputation of being very good at carrying a lot of weight over a long distance.
They are pretty small horses with an average size of only 14.3 hands (57.2 inches or 145 centimeters) to the withers. This is just great for going on distances as we want a pretty light horse.
On top of that, the Criollo horses do really well with high and low temperatures. They have been bred from horses that did well in both the extreme heat and cold weather because these were the conditions in Pampas, where they originate from.
The horses would also have to carry a load of 245 pounds (110 kilograms) on their backs, and they would only eat the grass of the side of the road during these days. It’s actually known as one of the oldest horse breeds around, and they are famous be being great with changing weather and temperature.
It’s generally between 14.2-16 hands tall (59-64 inches or 150-163 centimeters) so we need to find one of the smaller horses among this breed. We cannot do well over very long distances with a horse that’s well above 15 hands (60 inches or 154 centimeters).
Remember, that we are talking about the very best breeds and horses for long distances. But when we look for a winning horse we want the optimal height of around 14.5 hands (58 inches or 147 centimeters).
Just to show the level of perseverance in this horse breed here’s an example of what they accomplished in 1935: A group of riders rode 2500 miles (4023 kilometers) from Ashgabat (the capital of Turkmenistan) to Moscow in 84 days.
As we mentioned at the beginning of the article the absolute most-used horse breeds for these races are the Arabians. They seem to have the perfect dimensions and weight in order to do well in endurance races.
This also means that you will find a lot of crossbreeds that are half Arabian horses which will do well with long distances. Another great racehorse for longer distances is the thoroughbred horses.
They are built quite similar to Arabian horses, but they are generally a little taller. Thoroughbreds are typically around 16 hands tall to the withers (64 inches or 163 centimeters).
They should be slow-twitch fibers that will burn fewer calories and work with low blood pressure. The character is extremely important when we are talking about conditioning a horse toward completing (or winning) an endurance race.
It’s like choosing the perfect pair of running shoes for yourself if you were to finish a marathon. The same way you need your horse to have the best possible feet care in order to make it less painful.