I'm sure you've heard the saying, “It is a day’s ride away.” But what exactly does that mean? How far can a horse travel in a day? The truth is, no one answer is correct. In this article, we learn about several factors that can affect the answer to how far a horse can travel in a day.
Horse Ownership has Changed in the Last 100 Years
We rely on the fitness of our cars to get us around today. Therefore, we schedule regular maintenance like oil changes, fluid checks, and tire rotation, etc. Just over one hundred years ago, horses were the primary source of transportation. A horse was considered a tool that needed the best care, maintenance, and fitness. Every farmer understood the necessity of good equine health and conditioning, just like today’s mechanics understand the requirements for keeping vehicles running correctly. Consequently, the average horse in the past was conditioned to travel farther than today’s average horse.
One Day Trip vs. Consecutive Days Trip
Years ago, as well as today, riders needed to take into consideration how many days the trip would take. On average, a healthy horse can travel anywhere from 25 to 35 miles a day. This distance needs to be at a slower pace and with breaks for water. However, asking a horse to keep up this pace for several consecutive days can lead to health problems.
Breeding vs. Backyard Horse vs. Seasoned Equine Athlete
The majority of horses fall into one of these three categories.
- “breeder’s herd.”
These are the horses that are in selective breeding programs to facilitate desired breed characteristics. These horses travel only short distances, usually within their pastures. The tolls of raising foals year after year can have an adverse effect on how far a broad mare can travel. It would take some conditioning to build up to 25 miles in a day.
- The backyard horse.
These horses are the ones that fall into the position of a family member or pet. When asked about how horse ownership has changed in the last 100 years Robert Hilsenroth, DVM, executive director of Morris Animal Foundation, had this to say, “Horses were coming away from the farms, being boarded, and becoming pets. Their value changed from one of horsepower to one of love or companion power.”
Backyard horses that are sound and healthy can usually make 25 or even 35 miles a day. Fifty miles a day is achievable with some physical conditioning. Before taking a backyard horse on a 35+ miles ride, it is of utmost importance that the rider considers the physical condition of the horse.
- The seasoned athlete.
These horses are conditioned and trained to be at the top of their respective disciplines. It doesn’t matter if it is upper-level dressage, three day-eventing, reigning, working cow horse, barrel racing, or other events. These equine athletes receive all the care and treatment you would expect any human athlete would get.
The seasoned equine athletes conditioned for endurance racing are prime examples of how far a horse can travel in one day. Endurance races can be anywhere from 50 miles to 100 miles. The fastest 100 miles race was set by Yousuf Ahmad Al Beloushi on an eleven-year-old gelding. They averaged 17 miles per hour and finished in 5:45:44 seconds.
Conditioning for a Riding Discipline
When we ask if an equine athlete is capable of traveling 50+ miles a day, we need to keep in mind the horse’s discipline. Is the horse required to have a short burst of high speeds, like a racehorse? Does the horse need to move in collected meticulous strides like a dressage horse? Are they leaping over cross-country jumps while making the fastest time? Do they make quick side to side moves like a cutting horse? The list can go on!
Conditioning for a healthy horse is very similar for each discipline. Proper nutrition is at the top of the list, followed by regular training and a body conditioning regiment.
At the same time, each discipline also has distinct needs for that particular discipline. Endurance conditioning takes a lot of time and special care to keep the horse healthy during a 50+ miles race.
Traveling on Different Terrain
The terrain that is traveled on can make a big difference. Traveling across flat, open ground will be easier and faster than navigating hilly or mountainous terrain.
Proper Equipment for the Horse
The proper fit of the equipment used can have a significant influence on how far a horse and rider can travel in a day. An ill-fitting saddle can cause serious deep muscle issues along with painful skin rubs. A bridle that is too tight or has a harsh bit can also create problems.
Horses need to have the proper shoes for the terrain. Losing a shoe in the middle of an all-day ride can be an excellent way to cut it short. This is especially true if the terrain is rocky or the horse tends to be tender footed.
Equipment that is well maintained is also necessary. If a billet strap (English) or a latigo strap (Western) breaks, it could be a long walk home.
Many factors can affect how far a horse can travel in a day. The distance traveled by the average horse 100 years ago has changed compared to the average horse of today. The most important consideration is the horse’s physical health and conditioning.
On average, a healthy horse can travel around 25 to 35 miles a day. A horse that is trained to be a top athlete has the possibility of traveling even further. It depends on what discipline they are trained in. Endurance horses are trained specifically to cover distances up to 100 miles in a day.
Did you learn anything new and interesting about our equine friends? Share this article with other horse lovers that you know so that they can learn something, too.
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