Last Updated on January 26, 2021
Although horses are animals with great endurance, much of the endurance we witness on domesticated animals is through human training and daily work. However, horses are prey animals that need to be able to run for protection and safety. So how far can a horse run in a day? There is no straight answer for this, but a horse without limitation can travel to 20 miles per day. This is assuming a horse is pacing itself and changing gaits from a canter, trot, and walk.
How Far Can a Horse in the Wild Run in a Day?
Horses outside of captivity must be able to utilize flight or fight instincts. “Running” can be interpreted in many ways. For example, a hose can only gallop for up to 2 miles before fatigue sets in.
However, paced “running”, will allow much further travel time. Horses are grazers and must travel for forage. In order to meet daily forage and water requirements, many horses in the wild will travel 10+ miles per day. This is just for sustenance! This movement is not typically a high-endurance pace unless there is a reason for a horse to flee.
For more information on traveling at a full gallop, click here.
Horses have excellent muscle memory. Although they can reach incredibly high speeds, their sprint (or full gallop) can only be sustained for short periods of time. Excessive running can lead to an accelerated heart rate, tying up, and hoof or tendon injury. Human training greatly impacts an animal’s ability to run and their muscle or cardiovascular development. As an example, horses are trained to use their rear end for momentum and “drive” from the hindquarter for more power in their movement.
How Many Miles Can a Horse Run?
Endurance riding is one of many popular modern-day disciplines. However, horses used to be ridden in this same manner for practicality purposes before vehicles were made. Horses were an efficient mode of transportation either pulling a cart or under saddle but had to be paced and monitored for health and safety. Endurance is a controlled long-distance race, and a competition style recognized by FEI.
Horses must be carefully and slowly conditioned to complete these races through gradual increases and muscle development. Just like with human athletes, a horse’s vitals are closely monitored by the rider for safety. This also allows a deeper insight into a controlled and maintainable pace. Although there are many different sizes of endurance rides, most are less than 160km (99.4 miles).
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The Tevis Cup, held in northern California, is one of the most difficult and infamous endurance rides in the world. The Tevis is a 100-mile trail ride, completed in a single day! So although wild horses can travel around 20 miles in a 24-hour period, trained and conditioned endurance horses can actually complete 100 miles in under 24 hours. Not only is this a test of endurance, riders “run” their horses through insane natural obstacles. The Cougar Rock is an iconic part of the Tevis Trail, but there is an area to bypass this portion.
When speaking of conditioning, this refers to a horse’s level of fitness and training. The fastest Tevis Cup time in history was 10 hours and 46 minutes, while the average winning time is about 13.5 hours. This means a conditioned horse can actually run up to 100 miles in a day (24-hour period)! This is an 80-mile increase from an untrained horse’s naturally traveling ability. That average speed comes out to 7.48 MPH.
When horses are properly conditioned, they can complete a challenging ride such as the Tevis Cup injury-free. Although there needs to be a serious rest and recovery period, many horses have gone on to compete in the Tevis Cup multiple times! With good care and injury-prevention, horses will maintain muscle, continue cardiovascular improvement, and maintain good health even after challenging competitions. Pacing is vital for these events, as a horse would tire quickly if completed primarily at the canter. In recent years, there has been a large emergence of “trotting” breeds in endurance races, as well as gaited horses.
So how far can a horse run in a day? As it turns out, this answer is subjective and has many variables. It is safe to say it is a wide range from 10 to 100 miles per day! But for horses running due to natural causes and not restricted to pastures or fences, this would be about 20 miles per day. Progressive training and practice make a world of difference for any animal’s endurance.
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Equestrian, Marine Corps vet, and Morgan horse enthusiast.