Rules, welfare, international differences

Controversial enough title for you?

If you ride endurance, you’d have to live under a rock not to be aware of the current controversy swirling around Group 7 countries, FEI endurance and horse welfare… And I’m not even going to go there, except to say that the FEI NEEDS TO TAKE A STAND. I don’t think it is acceptable for riders who do not know their horses to turn up and run their horse into the ground. it is not acceptable to present a clearly emaciated horse to the vet team, or to run a horse under a fake identity..

So far, so non controversial.

But then I wandered into the AERC facebook page, and got intrigued by the differences between the USA and Australia in our rules. I thought overseas riders might be interested in some of the “extra” rules Australia has (and that they might be able to answer some queries for me about the rules American endurance has or doesn’t have).

No whips or spurs in Australian endurance rides. Long split reins with “poppers” that could be used to whip a horse are also not allowed.

Ride Times: Our 50 mile rides generally have a maximum ride time of 8 or 9 hours, in the States it is 12.

A person is deemed to be a novice rider until the requirements of the following sub-rules have been complied with:
a) The person must successfully complete two affiliated training rides before entering an affiliated endurance ride as a novice rider. Logbook(s) or vet cards must be presented to prove completion.
b) The novice rider must then enter a sufficient number of affiliated endurance rides as a novice rider to successfully complete 240 km at any time and in any riding section (excluding training rides). Logbook(s) must be presented to substantiate the distance completed.

So you can’t just front up and enter a 50 miler. And until you have done 3 50 milers, you are restricted to novice rider pace (not more than 14 km/hr (about 9 miles an hour)

3.1 At all affiliated endurance and marathon rides, novice and endurance horses must show a full mouth of permanent teeth erupted and with permanent incisors in wear and the horse must be no less than five years of age on the day of the ride. The horse’s age is calculated from the day of its birth. In the absence of an official/registered birth date, the horse must show a
full mouth of teeth with permanent corner incisors in wear.
3.2 At all affiliated training rides horses must show a full mouth of permanent teeth erupted (but the corner incisors need not be in wear) and the horse must be no less than four and a half years of age on the day of the ride.
3.3 A horse must be six years of age before it can start in a 160 km AERA endurance event.

A qualified rider may take a horse straight into a 50 mile ride, but they must observe Novice pace until the HORSE has completed 3 x 50 mile rides and gained it’s Open Horse status. A horse cannot gain open status in less than 90 days (i.e. the 3 qualifying rides must take place over at least a 90 day period).

A Novice rider riding an open horse must still ride at Novice pace until he or she has done three 50 mile rides.


9.1 All horses must comply with the following heart rate requirements at standard veterinary
Vet Inspection Requirement
Pre-ride inspection: no stated maximum
First vet inspection 55 beats per minute, or below
All other vet inspections 60 beats per minute, or below
Training & Introductory rides 55 beats per minute, or below on all legs of the ride.

14.1 Once under the control of the veterinarian every horse shall remain on the ride base, except while competing in, or exercising prior to the event, and must not be removed until the veterinarian releases the horse by signing off the horse’s Logbook or vet card and until the horse’s Logbook or vet card is released by the ride organising committee.

14.2 At the discretion of the Head Veterinarian, any horse may be required to represent for a veterinary examination in the period of 1-2 hours after the horse finishes its ride. The status of the horse’s completion at the end of the ride cannot be altered unless the horse subsequently receives Invasive Treatment, in which case, rule H24.6 shall govern whether the completion status may be altered.

We also have a horse health early warning system, under which penalty points are accumulated for vet outs due to lameness, metabolic issues, high heart rates etc. if a rider accumulates too many points in a 6 month period he or she may be subject to a written warning. Horses and riders can be suspended for accumulating too many points, for presenting lame at three successive rides, or for presenting with an excessive heart rate at three consecutive rides, in a 12 month period, unless they can show goood cause why they should not be.

Our ride vets have significant power:

22.1 The Head Veterinarian at a ride may impose a rest order on a horse, if in the opinion of that veterinarian the horse is injured and/or stressed and/or in need of protection from further abuse, or the life, health or welfare of the horse may be jeopardised if it continued to compete.
22.2 The rest order can be that:
a) the horse is not permitted to compete at future affiliated rides for a period of time sufficient for that horse to recover from its injury or stress (up to a maximum of twelve months); and/or
b) the horse must compete at its next affiliated ride as a novice horse; or
c) a recommendation to the appropriate State Management Committee that the horse should
not compete in future endurance ride

In addition, all horses competing at 50 miles or over must have a logbook, which stays with them for life. A horse cannot have more than one logbook and if you buy a registered endurance horse you MUST get it’s logbook as well! It is in effect a compilation of ride cards: here is a page from one of my horses’ books:




That looks pretty similar to a ride card in the USA, I think. We maintain a ride database (National) but we also have this written record for ready reference.

What interests me is that the rules we ride and compete under seem pretty reasonable to me. The focus on horse welfare and on being a team, with the motto “to complete is to win”, is part of what attracted me to enduramce in the first place.

I have however seen comments with respect to some of the new rules proposed by AERC, to the effect that they were too onerous, or that they achieve nothing. My initial reaction, to be honest, was “what, don’t they have these rules already?” because we have them all here. The proposed new rules were:

1. Initial triage and treatment availability at all rides, including intravenous fluid therapy.

2. Thirty minutes to meet recovery pulse at the finish line, with exceptions where needed for rides with finish lines far away from final checkpoints (here in Aus you will be disqualified if your horse’s pulse doesn’t reach criteria within 30 minutes)

3. Recovery pulse rate at the finish lowered from 68 bpm to 64 (or less) bpm (ours is usually 60).

4. Horses must be six years of age to start a 100 mile ride.

5. Horses shall have Body Condition Scores of no less than 3.0 and no greater than 8.0 to start an endurance ride.

6. Exams on all equines by a control judge before they leave the ride site, but no sooner than two hours from when they cross the finish line. (We don’t have this rule, but if you wish to leave less than 2 hours after finish, you must get head vet’s permission to do so. You don’t get your logbook back unless you get that permission and get the head vet to sign off your book).

7. Standardized control judge ride cards should be used nationally, with sections added for BCS scores and graphs for each quadrant of the gastrointestinal examinations. (we have National standard books. No graphs for gut sounds though).

8. Rides should have at least one hold on distances of 25 miles or greater. (Got that one).

9. Rides should have at least two control judges, one of whom is able to provide treatment as required by number 1 in this proposed motion, with exceptions where needed for wilderness rides. (I assume by control judges they mean vets. We have a treatment vet at all rides, and our “Vet ratio” is at least one vet per 30 horses entered).

So to me, all very non controversial. What does everyone else think??


4 thoughts on “Rules, welfare, international differences

  1. I’ve only participated in (American) west-coast endurance rides (which is where the sport was born, and our weather is a little different, and our culture is a lot different from the regions to the east). Like a lot of non-racing West riders, I don’t really see why we need the new rules, but I guess it might help racers or horses in more hot and humid climates.

    One of our big selling points – and one that I completely bought into and strongly advocate for – is “ride the horse you’ve got.” You don’t need to get a different (i.e. fast, young, Arabian) horse to try endurance and be successful. I don’t know if I’d ever have gotten Dixie qualified for your 80ks, and I know she’d never be fast enough to be an Open Horse. Doesn’t mean we’re not having lots of fun, or that I’m hurting her by going way too slowly for your standards. But 75-95% of the non-Arab, non-standardbred horses over here can’t do an 8 hour 80k without a huge commitment to training and management – so the new riders, the ones who are learning as they go, can’t do it. They basically have to buy faster horses to play the game.

    So your minimum speed requirements are the only thing I really disagree with. Why can’t I take 12 hours to go 80k?

    I do think that Australian endurance is the closest relative to American endurance, and if I had to move and compete somewhere else, it’d be Australia or nothing. I’m just not interested in high-speed endurance racing.

    • I don’t know if the shorter time limit is a good thing or a bad thing Funder. The rules state that maximum ride times can be set by the organising committee but I have never ridden an 80 with more than a 9 hour maximum time, and most often it’s 8. We don’t have the sort of terrain that you guys have though: Western Australia is largely pretty flat. Certainly no thousand feet elevations on single track trail!

      • That’s true. I don’t know if I’ve ever done a 50 that had less than 3,000′ elevation change. It would be cool to do a flat ride and see how D handled it, but we just don’t have many – they’re always in the biggest hills near whatever base camp we can find. And again, I think that’s a west-coast mentality. We love technical.

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