Built for Speed
Watching a herd of horses gallop off into the sunset is as inspiring as it gets. The rolling motion of a horse’s gait can be likened to the waves on the ocean, and if the ocean is the earth’s breath, a horse’s hoofbeats at a gallop may be the heart.
But how does a horse run? For how long? And how fast? Read on!
The Basics: Mechanics of Equine Movement
For starters, a horse doesn’t just “run.” Running can either be one of two gaits, a canter or a gallop. You can tell the difference by the number of beats in the gait. A canter typically has three beats while a gallop has four.
Think of it as a dance. The faster the dance, the more beats it has in the same amount of time.
Horses can walk, trot, canter, and gallop. In the western world, horses perform a slower trot called a jog and a slower canter called a lope. While the pace is different, the movement is the same. It can be confusing when you’re just learning the terms, but couple it with a visual reference, and you’re sure to catch on quickly.
How long can a horse walk?
A walk is a four-beat gait and clocks in at a whopping 4 miles an hour on typical horses. An average horse can comfortably walk for approximately eight hours of the day. That means they could walk about 32 miles. A more fit horse can go longer and faster.
How long can a horse trot?
The trot is the most efficient gait for a horse. This two-beat gait averages around 8 miles per hour for most horses. Fun fact: racing trotters have been recorded at over 30 miles per hour!
If a horse is in great condition, the average distance they could travel in a day (without stopping) is 20 to 40 miles in a day. But, again, that’s if the horse is in great shape. Breaks are highly recommended so they don’t overextend or injure themselves.
How long can a horse canter?
A steady, three-beat canter clocks in at around 10-17 miles per hour for most horses. As for how long it can last, a very fit endurance horse can last maybe seven miles or so. That said, most riding horses can’t go anywhere close to that long. While more comfortable for a human to sit, this gait isn’t as easy on a horse and isn’t as efficient as a trot, so it’s harder to maintain the speed over distance.
How long can a horse gallop?
Galloping is the fastest gait and requires more energy, so a gallop can only be maintained by a well-conditioned horse for two or two and a half miles at the most, before fatigue will set in.
Horse Racing Facts
Now that you know about the gaits, it’s time to explore just how fast the top running athletes are. Horses have been raced for as long as they’ve been domesticated.
There are many different kinds of horse racing: pacing, endurance, Arabian, Quarter Horse, and Thoroughbred, for example.
The most popular horse racing is Thoroughbred, followed by Quarter Horse racing. Thoroughbreds can either race over jumps (steeplechasing) or on a flat track, like the Kentucky Derby. Thoroughbreds can race at many distances, measured in furlongs. A furlong is one-eighth of a mile or 220 yards. Their races are about 1 ⅛ – 1 ½ miles.
Quarter Horses were bred to specifically race over a quarter-mile—they are sprinters!
They got their name because they can run a quarter mile faster than any other horse.
Being bred to sprint, they don’t last long past that distance. Quarter horses are commonly found at speed events (also called contesting) such as barrel racing and pole bending. Their quick acceleration and agility allow them to excel in these types of events.
How long can a horse run at full speed?
While a horse can gallop for a mile or two when it comes to maintaining top speed, it depends on the breed and fitness level of the horse.
Most Thoroughbred races are over a mile, but racehorses only sprint at top speeds for the last 20 or so seconds of the race.
How fast can a Thoroughbred run?
According to the Guinness World Record, Winning Brew, a two-year-old Thoroughbred filly, is the fastest horse in the world, after being clocked at 43.97 miles per hour. She covered a quarter-mile in 20.57 seconds on May 14, 2008.
How fast can a Quarter Horse run?
Quarter Horses have been clocked running 55 miles per hour in their races.
Long-distance competition is separated into two separate types: competitive trail riding and endurance rides. Endurance is a different kind of test of speed and athleticism. It tests a horse and rider over a long distance—50-150 miles over one to three days.
The most famous American endurance race is The Tevis Cup.
How far are endurance races?
Depending on how much experience you or your horse have, an endurance ride ranges from 50 to 100 miles. There are usually smaller rides of around 25 miles for people just starting or bringing a new horse into the sport. These rides take place outdoors and can be done individually or on a team.
How far can a horse gallop without rest?
Endurance horses cover up to 100 miles in a day. With regular breaks, though, they can gallop two miles at a time. The horse and rider must be in prime shape, though, to maintain the perfect balance required at such a high speed.
What breeds compete in endurance races?
Any breed can compete so long as they’re fit and can pass veterinarian checkpoints throughout the ride. Arabians dominate this sport however, because of their compact body. Typical Arabians have a sturdy bone structure and good hooves. They were bred to roam the desert and thrive when it comes to testing their stamina.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are other speed-based horse events?
There are tons of speed events that involve horses. Barrel racing is a popular sport as well as the Native American Horse Relays. Pole Bending is another popular speed event.
Q: How long can a horse run before it dies?
A horse can run 24 to 72 hours before it will succumb to its fatigue. For the most part, though, a horse will likely injure itself beyond repair before it stops running.
Q: What was the Pony Express?
The Pony Express was how some US mail was delivered from 1860-1861. It was a continuous horse-and-rider relay from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California to San Francisco, California. The Pony Express was created to get the mail to a steamer. Though it didn’t last long due to the financial burden, it became a significant part of western history with famous riders like Buffalo Bill taking part.
Galloping horses are a popular symbol of freedom and the American West. It continues to capture the imagination of the world, be it in the wild or racing. It’s a thrill for anyone who lays eyes on it.
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