How Far And For How Long Can A Horse Run? 7 Things You Need To Know.

Horses are incredible animals with whom for centuries man has cultivated an unbreakable bond. While “man’s best friend” is most commonly a dog, a noble steed is arguably just as strong a friendship.

Horses have been bred and evolved over the years because of their ability to work well with us. An undeniable team effort and partnership is formed between horse and horsemen, with countless achievements having been, and continue to be made across the world because of this teamwork and companionship.

Much of this success is based on the great endurance horses have and their ability to maintain speed over great distances.

To understand how far a horse can run, we first need to understand the different gaits that a horse has;

A horse has four distinct gaits. The running gaits are galloping, cantering and trotting, with galloping being the fastest of the four gaits, and trotting being the slowest. The final gait is walking. There is a direct relation between how fast a horse can run and how far it can run. Obviously the faster a horse runs, the less distance it can travel because of the high energy exerted. At a walk, and with a few water breaks, a horse can travel far distances.

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Disclamer: It is never advisable to push your horse too fast and too far. A lot will depend on the fitness and training that a horse has gone through. Horses travelling far distances have had extensive conditioning for them to be able to do so. One should always ensure a horse has had sufficient training and fitness before attempting a fast, long distance ride.

So How Fast Can A Horse Actually Run?

Riding a horse at full speed is one of the most exhilarating feelings one can experience and has captivated people for centuries.

At a gallop, a horse can run at an average speed of 55km per hour. The fastest recorded gallop is 89km per hour.  Running at such speeds requires a lot of energy and as such a horse can only maintain these speeds for a short period of time and will vary greatly based on the fitness levels of the horse.

Such runs are generally only considered once a day or with significant resting periods between runs in order to give the horse a chance to gather it’s strength and energy.

How Far Can A Horse Run? 

How far a horse can run depends entirely on the speed it is going and therefore the energy that is being exerted.

In full flight (in a gallop) a horse can cover up to just over 3km before it begin’s feeling fatigued. However if gaits are varied with canters and trotting, a well-conditioned horse can cover 30 to 50km in a day (while giving the horse multiple breaks in between to regain strength).

However, this is all entirely dependent on the horse itself and varies greatly according to fitness level, training, endurance of the animal, and even the breed of the horse with some breeds having more stamina than others.

While some horses can push the limits on these distances it is not advisable as this can lead to long term health problems.

horse grazing by river side

How Far Can A Horse Travel In One Day?

As you tack up your horse and prepare to head out for your next horseback adventure there is a golden rule of thumb to keep in mind; as mentioned before the pace set for the ride directly influences the distance that can be covered.

Of course, there are other elements that will also come into play such as the terrain and footing, with some uneven footing, rocky terrain and other such landscapes adding strain to your horses’ limbs and hooves. The weather also plays a large factor in the distance as well as endurance of the horse with hot and humid weather causing your horse to lose electrolytes and water through their sweat. This in essence amounts to more breaks and even having to stop the ride should your horse become too fatigued.

Many opt for a slower, steady pace to maximize on the distance covered by their horse in a day as opposed to a faster paced ride which decreases not only distance but time due to the necessary breaks which have to be taken for the welfare of the horses. In favorable conditions a walking horse can easily cover 50km in a day with 8 hours of uninterrupted walking.

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How Far Can A Horse Go Without Stopping?

Whether you are voluntarily or involuntarily (we’ve all had those “after-spook” unplanned gallops) going at full speed with your horse, on average you will still have that 3km window until your horse’s endurance will begin to fatigue and you will slow down.

At a trot or canter a horse in pristine condition can continue for seven hours before their endurance runs out. However, this is not advisable and not something that should be a regular occurrence.

horses swimming while on horse back

How Fast Can A Horse Go At Top Speed?

Horses are extremely powerful animals with the ability to reach impressive speeds. Their speed depends on various circumstances, their breed and fitness levels coming heavily into play regarding their abilities.

To date, the fastest gallop ever recorded was 88,5km per hour. However racehorses average a speed of 60 to 74km per hour approximately. American quarter horses boast being the breed with top speed, followed by Andalusians, and Orlov Trotters coming in at third.

Many think that thoroughbreds top the charts when it comes to speed and agility and while they are in the top ten ranked speedy steads they cannot claim the ultimate title. They do however, hold the title for the fastest 400m sprint, at the Penn National Race Course in 2008, a two-year old Thoroughbred named Winning Brew claimed this title at 70.76km per hour.

horse bathing in river

How Fast And How Far Can A Horse Travel With A Rider On Its Back?

As mentioned in the previous section, racehorses can reach an average speed of 60 to 74km/h, however with a rider on their back this speed drops significantly to an average of 32 to 48,5km per hour. At top speed with a rider on it’s back a horse can carry a rider for roughly 3km.

However, in a race setting the horse is then paced allowing it to reach a further distance of approximately 8km at a fast speed. The annual “Man vs Horse” marathon in which horses and humans compete in a 35,4km (22 mile) race to determine who is the fastest creature, recorded the fastest time of one hour and twenty minutes, a title proudly held by William Jones on Solitaire.

aqua exercising horse in river water

How Does The Terrain Affect How Far And How Fast A Horse Can Be Ridden?

The terrain of a ride greatly determines the distance and speed covered during an out ride, with long stretches of flat and even surfaces being easier to navigate than uneven and obstacle ridden trails.

In a track setting if a track is not adequately maintained this can add a level of strenuous exertion on the limbs of the horse. Wet spots and uneven footing can result in the hooves sinking into the surface slightly, ultimately leading to added exertion in the horse’s stride. This can greatly minimize the maximum speed of the horse.

Navigating tough terrain (predominantly on trail rides) such as uneven footing has the same effect. Uneven, rocky, muddy, or sandy terrain usually results in the horse slowing down to avoid injuries as such conditions can negatively impact hooves as well as the horse’s joints. This added exertion in tackling these added obstacles will also effect the horse’s abilities over flat terrain with much energy having been exerted in navigating the difficult terrain before.

Our Final Thoughts

Taking all of the above into consideration it is imperatively important to take into consideration that each and every horse is different even within the same breed. The fitness of the horse, the type of training it has endured, the pace of the ride, the terrain, and even the tack used play a great role in determining a horse’s abilities in both speed and distance.

Hand in hand with the notion that these powerful creatures can create an unbreakable bond with their rider is the notion that indeed they are sentient beings with the ability to think for themselves. Of course we are not riding machines, but 500kg beings with a mind of their own. They have the ability to be extremely excited, greatly dependable, and of course as every equestrian can testify to, indisputably stubborn at times! It is argued that a horse that actually enjoys running will always exceed expectations when it comes to speed!

The golden rule when taking on any form of training is to always remember to take your horse’s health into consideration as well as their individual abilities.

Happy trails everyone!

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