Basically, horses can run for great distances thanks to their unique built and physiology. These animals’ bodies are light and highly efficient, while their legs’ bottom half have no muscles. That way, the larger muscles in the upper legs move thanks to long tendons and ligaments from the lower parts.
All horses will reach different distances when running at their top speed or walking at a slow pace but will always need a rest after exertion. The question is, how long can a horse run short and long distances. Let’s see.
How Long Can a Horse Run?
An average horse can cover 20 to 25 miles (32 – 40 km) a day at a slow pace. The difference in longevity directly depends on breed, training, provided breaks, terrain, and weather.
However, a horse well-trained for endurance rides can cover more than 100 miles (161 km) in a day. Most are capable of cantering for 1 to 5 miles (1.6 – 8 km) or walking for 30 to 32 miles (48 – 51.5 km) without a break.
The best option to keep your animal healthy is to alternate walking and trotting. That way, the horse will need fewer breaks since it won’t get too tired.
How Far Can a Horse Run (multi-day & daily distance limits)
|Category||In one day||Per day for races longer than two days||Per day for races longer than three days|
|CEI *||50 to 75 miles
(80.5 – 121 km)
|CEI **||75 to 86.5 miles
(121 – 139 km)
|43 to 55 miles
(70 – 89 km)
|CEI ***||87 to 100 miles
(140 – 161 km)
|56 to 62 miles
(90 – 100 km)
|43 to 50 miles
(70 – 80 km)
Federation Equestrian International (FEI) recognized endurance races in 1978. According to international rules, one-day competitions cover 50 to 100 miles (80.5 – 161 km). The best-known endurance rides in the US of 100 miles (161 km) are:
All long multi-day competitions have daily distance limits, and you can recognize a few categories, including CEI *, CEI **, CEI ***, and CEI ****.
Keep in mind that the CEI **** category includes horses of different ages, and their limits are not the same. The minimum distance they need to cover a day varies from 75 to 100 miles (120 – 161 km).
Horse Breeds With Greatest Endurance
As you can guess, horses will differently run short and long distances depending on breed. The rule of thumb is that the best endurance horses are physically conditioned animals with excellent adjusting to climate and temperature extremes.
1. Arabian horse
Arabians are the number one when it comes to the best possible endurance breed. These horses are adapted to vast distances, the extreme heat during the day, and sudden dropping temperatures at night.
They can equally successfully run 34 to 40 mph (55 – 64.5 km/h) at short distances and cross a long distance that no other horse breed can reach. This breed has dominated a 100 mile (161 km) 24-hour endurance Tevis Cup race for the past 23 years.
2. Thoroughbred horse
It is the best possible breed ever with ultimate stamina for racing. This horse can run 35 to 44 mph (56.5 – 71 km/h), but it is naturally fast even when running for a long period. This mix of Arabians, Turkoman horses, and Barbs is a true win-win combination.
3. Anglo-Arabian horse
This crossbreed is a product of an Arabian stallion and Thoroughbred mare. The result is fantastic since their offspring can develop more stamina than a Thoroughbred mom and more speed than its Arabian sire.
Since it is taller than an Arabian purebred horse, it is an adequate option even for heavier riders.
This rare and wonderful breed is almost always faster than an Arabian in shorter distances. It can reach at least 35 to 45 mph (56.5 – 72.5 km/h). However, it sometimes beat it in endurance races, as well.
5. Mustang horse
This hearty, endurance breed has become super hardy thanks to long-time natural selection. In other words, only the strongest animals managed to survive and pass superior genes to offspring.
Therefore, Mustangs are well-adapted to run 35 to 50 mph (56.5 – 80.5 km/h) in both hot and cold weather. It is estimated that this horse can run 100 miles (161 km) long endurance race in 24 hours with adequately scheduled breaks.
6. American Quarter Horse
This horse is an example of an ultimate sprinter but also a desirable option in barrel races. However, it is strong and hardy enough to run a long-distance race until the end, although you can’t expect it to be as fast as Thoroughbred at short distances.
7. Morgan horse
The fantastic thing is that this horse breed is an excellent working animal and capable of successfully taking part in endurance races. This dependable horse is one of the best choices for inexperienced riders.
8. Missouri Fox Trotter
Most breeders agree that this gaited breed from the Ozark Mountains has Arabian blood. Horse riders often choose it for trail riding, but only a few know that this animal is also excellent in endurance races.
9. Rocky Mountain Horse
A Rocky Mountain horse appeared in the 1980s and is considered one of the best trail horses and candidates for endurance rides. This animal can cover an easy 100 miles (161 km) in a day if it paces correctly.
This Latin American breed is an excellent option for week-long endurance races.
11. Kentucky Natural Gated horse
It is well-known that this horse breed can run fast and travel far. It is intelligent, calm, and with efficient movements and a lot of stamina.
The best result at a gallop
An average horse can gallop 1 to 2 miles (1.6 – 3.2 km) without a break, but the final distance depends on the horse’s breed, condition, and health.
The maximum speed of a well-trained Thoroughbred horse can be up to 55 mph (88.5 km/h), but it rarely exceeds 25 to 30 mph (40 – 48 km/h). Lighter Arabians are slightly slower and start feeling fatigued after 1 to 1.5 miles (1.6 – 2.4 km).
Only rare racehorses can withstand 2 to 2.5 miles (3.2 – 4 km/h) in full gallop. On the other hand, stockier Drafts and Quarter horses are better in the shorter distances but can’t stand long-running.
The final speed and distance will also depend on the weight the animal needs to carry. A jockey weighing 100 to 200 pounds (45.5 – 91 kg) will make the race harder for the horse.
Keep in mind that galloping is a demanding and exhausting way of moving, so the horse needs to take a rest after a while.
Even the Pony Express riders didn’t gallop the entire route, but they traveled at approximately 10 mph (16 km/h). In other words, they usually alternated a canter (12 to 13 mph or 19 – 21 km/h) and trot (8 to 9 mph or 13 – 14.5 km/h). Plus, riders switched the horse every 10 to 15 miles (16 – 24 km).
Running in nature vs. racing
In nature, a wild horse will run in full gallop only when feeling endangered. Otherwise, it will walk or trot while looking for water and food. On average, it usually travels up to 20 miles (32 km) per day.
Racings are something entirely different. Purebred horses can reach fantastic speeds on short distances, but most don’t have enough endurance for a longer trip.
The most famous endurance race is the Tevis Cup that takes place in northern California hosts every year. It is a highly grueling race, and horses need to withstand 100 miles (161 km) to finish it.
As you can guess, Arabians and Morgan horses are always the best breeds there. On the other hand, Thoroughbreds always dominate in the highest speed races. Be aware that only well-trained animals can become ultimate runners, regardless of the track length.
The best result at a trot and walk
Most horses with good stamina can cover up to 20 to 40 miles (32 – 64.5 km) in a day while trotting. However, even the best ones need sufficient breaks between two running phases.
A horse can walk for eight hours without a break and cover 30 to 32 miles (48 – 51.5 km) in a day. You can also combine trotting and walking to extend the total distance.
Remember, you can expect the best result only if there is approximately 40 to 50 F (4.5 – 10 C), the rider is not too heavy, and the horse gets enough food and water while moving. Finally, flat ground is a better option since trotting or walking up and down the hill will fatigue your animal.
Once you decide to buy a horse, you should determine if you want a high-speed animal at a short distance or a hardy horse that can cover great distances during the day.
Endurance horse breeds can cover up 100 miles (161 km) in 24 hours when providing regular breaks. On the other hand, an average horse can gallop only 1 to 2 miles (1.6 – 3.2 km) without a break.