FEI Endurance World YJ & European Championship 2021 FEI Endurance World YJ & European Championship 2021 - EK WK Endurance Ermelo 2021

The History of the Endurance Sport | Part One

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An "essay" written by Jacob Melissen about the history of the Endurance Sport.

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Written by Jacob Melissen

A justification for why the endurance sport with horses in relation to the horse is still a completely acceptable discipline within the framework of the well-being of the horse.

Nothing arises out of nothing. There is always a logical connection between what is now, what once was and how it started. Between the very beginning and how it is now, increasing knowledge combined with advancing insight have led to a continuous evolution of, for example, the Endurance sport. The “essay” below tells the story of the history of this discipline. This shows, for the good listener, that around the turn of the century from the 19th to the 20th century it was established experimentally where the boundaries of the horse lie. That same good listener sees that more than a century ago, not only the frameworks of distances to be bridged but also of rest periods were determined, which people still adhere to in this branch of sport. It is also seen that the veterinary and caring aspects of the horse have now received much more attention during competitions. Since the turn of the century from the 19th to the  20th, almost everything has changed in all respects. So it seems. But has it really? Has the physique of the human really changed, has the physique of the horse changed? Not really. Therefore, when it comes to the horse, lessons can still be learned from the experiences then gained. Therein lies the foundation of the legitimacy of this discipline.

The cavalry laid the foundation of the Endurance sport

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Drs. H.M.C. van Overbeek *1932 wrote a brochure published by the Museum Cavalerie in 2003 under the title “Long distance rides on horseback (dutch: Lange afstandsritten te paard)”. In it he described a discipline that grew into a branch of the equestrian sport that we now know under the name Endurance. The library of this museum contains a wealth of literature on this subject, on which Van Overbeek based his brochure when writing. It is only logical that a wealth of literature can be found in this library. As with eventing and dressage, the cavalry is the basis of this branch of sport. From 1850 to say 1920, attitudes in the military about the usefulness and necessity of the cavalry on the battlefield changed. Machine guns were added and the cavalry had become useless as an assault weapon. Trains, cars and planes appeared. But railway lines were only available to a limited extent and roads were often unpaved. These dirt roads turned into difficult obstacles in autumn into winter. The duties of the cavalry changed to exploratory duties, message transmission, but also the rapid transport of firepower to those points where it was proved necessary. This meant that horses and riders had to be educated and trained differently, whereby answers had to be found to new questions. They had to practice driving long and short distances at the fastest possible pace. In doing so, the tasks set had to be fulfilled. But also what can a horse do and which horses are most suitable for which task. How should a horse be trained. What shoes are best for a horse. What should be fed to a horse and in which gait is best to ride in.

Riding long distances on horseback was common. So common that the experiences gained may have been passed on orally, but barely or not recorded at all. As a result, many of these experiences were lost and new ones had to be gained. Many distance rides were organized for military personnel in the late 19th and early 20th  centuries.

The cavalryman must take care of, train and feed his horse himself. In this way he not only gets to know his horse optimally, but also learns how far he can go in asking for a performance from his horse.

In addition, many cavalrymen, including the necessary Dutch officers, rode long journeys individually without any competition element. This is how Lieutenant Jonkheer J.W. Godin de Beaufort travelled from Amsterdam to Vienna in 10 days, covering a distance of 1224 kilometres. During these distance rides they wanted to test the limits of the horses and often a horse died. Strikingly, veterinarians were not initially involved in assessing the horses that started these rides. For example, the organizing committee that organized the Brussels – Ostend ride in 1902 even emphatically ruled out veterinary supervision. This is because the organization was afraid of discussions about veterinary decisions. Time alone determined the outcome of the ride. The winner, Frenchman Lieutenant Madamet, took seven hours to cover this distance of 132 kilometres. He rode at an average speed of 18.8km/h. 61 combinations started, 29 horses did not finish and 16 horses were counted that had succumbed to the efforts of this ride. Among the participants also a few Dutch. Lieutenant Jonkheer J.W. Godin de Beaufort of the 1st Hussar regiment finished with Mascotte in sixth and Lieutenant G.J. Maris of the Ordonnansen squadron was 10th with Charly. The experience gained in this way and more veterinary supervision had a favourable influence on the course of these competitions. For example, a horse had to stay fit. Because if a horse couldn’t go any further, the mission was not completed. The consequences of this could be serious. Not only for the army unit that did not receive the order, but also for the cavalryman who could be taken prisoner of war. It is for this reason that the literature repeatedly insists that the cavalryman must take care of, train and feed his horse himself. In this way he not only gets to know his horse optimally, but also learns how far he can go in asking for a performance from his horse. Slowly but surely animal-friendly aspects came into line with humanitarian ones. Van Overbeek described a number of these journeys in his brochure.

1892 Berlin Vienna 600km. 3 days.

This was a competition between German and Austrian soldiers. The Germans started in Berlin and the Austrians in Vienna. Austrian Lieutenant Graf von Starnhemberg won the distance in 71 hours and 27 minutes with an average speed of 8km/h. It took the German Lieutenant Freiherr von Reizenstein 73 hours and 7 minutes. He had made a mistake somewhere and took a detour. On the way, he learned that it had taken von Starnhemberg and about 71 hours. He then increased the speed considerably with the result that his horse died of exhaustion after the finish line. 217 horses started, of which 30 lost their lives. In the distance race Dresden-Leipzig of 1895, a distance of 135 kilometres, 22 horses started, of which 7 did not survive the ride. The German Lieutenant Züren was victorious after covering this distance with an average speed of 22.5km/h.

Although the journeys are difficult to compare in terms of speed, given the terrain conditions, it is believed that conclusions can be drawn. As the distance increases, the speed decreases. If one takes into account that a horse can travel 25 kilometres in one hour, then the average speed drops over 100 kilometres to 15km/h and at a distance of 150 kilometres to 13km/h. It was also concluded that a well-trained and healthy horse can cover 60km per day for many days, with hourly averages of 15 to 20km/h being common and often faster. The experience gained in the ride from Berlin to Vienna was that a horse can cover a distance of 600km in three days without a rest day, but that was also the maximum that one could and was allowed to ask from a horse.

A speed that is not too high will get you the further and the speed has the most influence on the condition of the horse.

It was therefore recommended under no circumstances to cover more than 300km in one day. The rider then sits in the saddle for 18 to 20 hours a day at a speed of 11km/h. The extreme two conclusions were simple. A speed that is not too high will get you the further and the speed has the most influence on the condition of the horse.

Next Saturday in part 2 of “The History of the Endurance Sport”, written by Jacob Melissen, you will read more about the history of the endurance horse and training for long-distance rides.