Assessing Elimination Rates of International Endurance Rides

Assessing Elimination Rates of International Endurance Rides

Before, during, and after endurance rides veterinarians examine horses' general attitude, metabolic state, soundness, and other factors. However, very little evidence-based information exists on reasons and rates of elimination from competition.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Editor's Note: This article is part of TheHorse.com's ongoing coverage of topics presented at the British Equine Veterinary Association's 51st annual Congress, held Sept. 12-15 in Birmingham, U.K.


Endurance riding became an official Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) discipline in 1982 and has since been the organization's fastest growing sport. Before, during, and after these long-distance rides veterinarians examine horses' general attitude, metabolic state, soundness, and presence of sores, wounds, or other problems.

They might then eliminate horses (most often for lameness and metabolic reasons) if they don't deem the horses fit to continue. However, very little evidence-based information exists on reasons and rates of elimination from competition.

Annamaria Nagy, DrMedVet, FRCVS, of the Animal Health Trust, in Newmarket, U.K., recently conducted the largest scale epidemiologic study of endurance rides and presented her findings at the British Equine Veterinary Association's 51st annual Congress, held Sept. 12-15, in Birmingham, U.K.

In their retrospective study, Nagy and her colleagues documented the number of horses that started, completed, and then eliminated due to lameness or metabolic reasons at all FEI endurance events ranging from 100-160 kilometers per day (roughly 60-75 miles per day) between 2008 and 2011. They used data obtained from the FEI to evaluate risk factors for elimination as well as winning speeds.

"We hypothesized that completion and elimination rates would vary between countries and that elimination rates would increase from 2008 to 2011," said Nagy.

In total, they evaluated data on 30,741 horse starts from 47 countries. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France had the highest number of starters, with 5,913 and 5,491, respectively. The greatest increase in number of horse starts per year was seen in France (from 1,025 in 2008 to 1,596 in 2011), Nagy said.

"Overall, approximately 51% of horses completed the rides," she explained. "Thirty percent were eliminated for lameness; 8.7% of horses were eliminated for metabolic reasons; 2.8% for other reasons; and 7.3% were retired."

Nagy noted some variation but no significant difference in completion and elimination rates between years. Upon evaluating reasons for elimination she discovered the following:

  • Horses competing in the Middle East were significantly more likely to be eliminated for lameness than horses in Central and Southern Europe, Central and South America, and Australia. The highest elimination rate for lameness was recorded in Saudi Arabia (56.5%, 2010).
  • Horse competing in the Middle East, South America, Iran, or Russia were more likely to be eliminated for metabolic reasons than horses competing in Europe or America.
  • Horses competing between 2009 and 2011 were somewhat less likely to be eliminated for lameness or metabolic reasons than horses competing in 2008. "This might be positive news but more time would be needed to assess this trend," said Nagy.
  • Horses competing at longer distances had an increased risk of elimination for lameness. "It is possible that more load on joints, bones, and tendons can increase the risk of injury," she added.
  • Horses competing in rides with large numbers of entries were more likely to be eliminated for lameness or metabolic reasons than horses competing in rides with lower entries. "It is possible that horses are ridden more competitively in classes with large number of entries, but odds ratios were small," Nagy explained.
  • And, country was significantly associated with elimination for lameness and metabolic reasons. "The Middle East was in the highest category for both," Nagy noted.

When assessing winning speed, Nagy found great variation among countries, with the world record being broken continuously from 2008-2010. Average winning speed did not increase significantly, however, between 2008 and 2011, she said.

"These results provide evidence for high elimination rates and a great range of maximum winning speed among countries," Nagy concluded. "With this being the largest international study of endurance horses, we can hopefully introduce more education for trainers, officials, and riders, and (these results) can be used for regulations to be put into place.

"This study also highlighted the need for more detailed investigation assessing horse- and rider-related as well as environmental risk factors," she added. "A second study with such details is ongoing."

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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