It’s not often that I’m lost for words or don’t know how to answer a question but when I was asked recently how far horses could run without stopping I had to admit I didn’t know. Feeling a little embarrassed that I wasn’t able to answer the question I decided to research just how much endurance horses have and was amazed by what I found.
Do horses have good endurance? Being flight animals horses have very good endurance and at a steady pace can easily cover 50 miles in a single day, although with the right training horses can cover 100 miles in a day.
For hundreds, if not thousands, of years we’ve been selectively breeding horses for their strength, speed, and especially their endurance. We’ve used them to help us travel vast distances that we simply couldn’t manage without their help but the real question is where did that endurance come from. Was it something that we developed solely for our own purposes or did we simply utilize a trait they already had?
Why do horses have good endurance?
As with so many things in the animal kingdom, horses developed their endurance as a means of survival. Being flight animals horses needed to, not only run at a moment’s notice but also be able to run for long enough to escape whatever was chasing them, as well as be able to run again with little rest. If they couldn’t do this then predators would simply work together, one would chase the horse until it tired then the other would attack. This is the main reason why horses are able to run shortly after they’re born.
While the instinct for survival explains why horses need to have good endurance it does nothing to explain how, physically, they’re able to run for so long. This can simply be put down to two factors, their lungs, and their heart.
Horses have a unique respiratory system that allows them to take one breath for every one stride they make, allowing them to increase their lung capacity and enabling them to keep on running. Along with this unique method of breathing horses also have extremely large lungs that have an amazing capacity. While our lungs have a capacity of 6-liter breaths, horses have over nine times that at a 55-liter breath capacity. [source]
As well as having huge lungs horses also have really big hearts (not just in the affection sense) that are around ten times the size of our hearts. This means that they can pump more blood around their bodies which will help to deliver fresh oxygen to the muscles allowing them to work harder and for longer.
How far can a horse run?
A horse’s breeding, training, gait, and fitness levels all play a role in how far they can travel without needing to stop, as does the terrain and the weather conditions. After all, a Thoroughbred that has been purposefully bred to run fast, running over even ground on a sunny day, will be able to cover far more ground than the Shire can when the ground is covered in snow.
The average horse can cover 20 to 25 miles a day at a slow pace while at a trot most trail horses can travel up to 50 miles in a single day. Contrary to this though a well-trained endurance horse is capable of covering 100 miles a day. In order to cover these distances though horses need to have regular breaks, whether it be a complete stop or just a change of pace. Then of course there are racehorses that can gallop for up to five miles, although this isn’t at a full gallop, the rider will pace the horse by starting off at a slow gallop and then picking up speed as the race goes on.
While there’s no such thing as an ‘average’ horse the table below will give you an idea of just how far (and fast) a horse can run (or walk), without any special training, before it needs to stop and have a break.
|Gait the horse is traveling at||Distance the horse can cover without a break||Speed the horse is traveling at|
|Walk||20 to 35 miles||4 mph|
|Trot||20 miles||8 to 12 mph|
|Canter||1 to 5 miles||10 to 17 mph|
|Gallop||1 to 2 miles||25 to 30 mph|
Of course, the above table is for the average horse, some breeds have such a slow walk that it almost seems as if they’re standing still while others have such a fast gallop that they’re gone before you even knew they were there. Some horses have even been known to gallop at full pace for 2.5 miles but this is a rarity.
What determines how much endurance a horse has?
You might think that all horses are born with the same levels of endurance but this isn’t the case and while training obviously plays a massive role there are four main factors that will determine how much endurance a horse has.
Horses can’t gallop for hours on end without stopping but at a slower pace, they can travel much further. For example, while they can only gallop for a mile or two without having a break, if they’re trotting, walking, and trotting again they can cover around 50 miles.
There are an awful lot of characteristics that are controlled by genes and endurance is just one of those characteristics which is why some breeds are faster while others have better endurance. For example, while the Thoroughbred may have the speed it doesn’t have the endurance that a breed such as the Akhal Teke has. Likewise, the Clydesdale will never win any races but when it comes to pulling loads over great distances there aren’t many horses that can beat it.
If you’ve ever gone for a run on a hot day you’ll understand just how difficult that can be which is why the weather plays a role in a horse’s endurance. On a good day (with a temperature of between 70 and 90°F (21 to 32°C) a horse can easily cover a decent amount of ground but if it’s snowing then this will often be reduced to around 10 miles. Conversely in the rain horses will be capable of traveling much further than in the snow but will often not want to and would prefer to find shelter instead.
You might think that the terrain won’t play a role in a horse’s endurance but it can have far more of an impact than you realize, after all, if the ground is uneven the horse will have to be far more careful where they place their hooves. Likewise, if the path is twisting or involves a lot of ups and downs their pace will be slower. The ideal terrain would be moderately firm grass that wasn’t too thick, with this a horse would be able to reach its full potential in terms of endurance.
Okay I know that makes five, but training plays such a big role in a horse’s endurance and the Tevis Cup is probably the best example of that. While you’d never expect (or be allowed) to enter an untrained horse into the world-famous endurance race, their training means they are capable of completing the 100-mile race in a single day.
Want to know more about endurance riding? A beginner’s guide to the sport.
Which breeds have the best endurance?
Today horses don’t tend to travel the same long distances that they once needed to but that said some horses are still purpose-bred for their endurance. Below are the five best horses for endurance.
When it comes to endurance there can be no breed greater than the Akhal Teke. Originally bred in Turkmenistan by the Teke tribe its endurance was demonstrated in 1935, and again in 1988, when it traveled from Turkmenistan to Moscow in just 84 days.
You can read more about the Akhal Teke here.
Like the Akhal Teke, the Arabian is known and highly prized for its incredible endurance and is one of the most popular breeds at any endurance race. In fact, the Arabian, without any training, can easily gallop for two and a half miles before it needs to stop.
You might be surprised to see the Morgan here, but from the start, it’s demonstrated its remarkable endurance, and when you consider they helped develop the Quarter Horse, it’s easy to see why the Morgan is here. Considered a gaited horse the Morgan, which descended from a single horse known as Figure, is extremely comfortable as well as being loved for its endurance.
Anybody who works with Quarter Horses will tell you that they have more energy and endurance than practically any other horse. Not only do they have ample endurance but they’re also good at conserving their energy until it’s really needed, and then springing into action instantly.
You can’t talk about horses’ endurance without at least mentioning the beautiful Mustang, considered to be wild horses they are actually feral instead. This has only helped to enhance their endurance as, even today, they roam freely so often need to travel huge distances in search of food.
Does a horse have better endurance than a donkey?
While donkeys aren’t the fastest of creatures they are able to work for longer than horses are before they need a break or have to stop. In fact, it’s the lack of speed that makes donkeys better than horses when it comes to endurance.
Does a horse or a human have better endurance?
You might think that horses are far better than us when it comes to endurance but this isn’t the case at all. Yes, horses have the speed to beat us over a short distance but, with proper training, we can run for around 124 miles in a 24-hour period. [source]
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉