Flat-racing techniques increase endurance racing times
Dwight Hooten, DVM, formerly a staff veterinarian at the Dubai Equine Hospital and currently in private practice in Padosa
Springs, Colo., has a unique perspective on the way these two equine sports have influenced each other. Hooten's duties in
the United Arab Emirates (UAE) brought him into contact with both types of racing, and he was able to observe training and
management techniques for both flat racing and endurance horses.
"Techniques for speed training initially came to the endurance world from flat racing," says Hooten. "This is the single biggest
factor in the decrease in overall times for elite world-level competition."
Interval-training techniques had been well-established in the flat-racing world for some time but have only recently been
seriously incorporated into endurance training. The standard exercise program for endurance horses previously had been long
workouts (12 to 20 miles) at a slow pace, and 100-mile races were usually won in 10 to 12 hours or longer.
"Long, slow distance" was the mantra of the endurance world, and it produced extremely fit horses that could exercise at relatively
slower speeds for long periods of time. American rider Valerie Kanavy won the 1998 World Endurance Championships in Dubai,
covering the 100-mile course in 9:0:7. This was an excellent time, and her average speed of 17.96 kph represented the state
of the sport at that time.
Flat racing and endurance racing are closely intertwined in the UAE, with both types of athletes frequently trained out of
the same barns and often by the same trainers. When some of these trainers began to apply their sprint training, interval
work and other speed-producing techniques to endurance horses, they noticed improvements. Flat-racing trainers taught endurance
trainers how hard horses could be successfully pushed.
Ten years later, in 2008, at the Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al Maktoum Endurance Cup, UAE rider Omair Hussain al Bloushi rode
a young Arab mare to a winning 100-mile time of 6:28:28. This amounted to an average time of 24.7 kph (roughly 15 mph). The
last 19-mile loop was ridden at 30.29 kph (endurance rides are contested over a 100-mile course divided into a number of loops
with mandatory veterinary examinations and "holds").
But the record did not stay there. Just two years later, in March 2010, Yousuf Ahmad al Beloushi and an 11-year-old gelding
established a 100-mile record at 5:45:44. These decreases in performance times represented a substantial improvement in speed
in little more than a 10-year period and were a direct result of flat-racing training techniques applied to endurance horses.