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How Far Can Horses Run: without Stopping, and at Full Speed?

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Recently I learned that many prestigious 18th-century horse races in Europe exceeded three miles. Finding out about these long horse races made me wonder how far horses can run at full speed without stopping.

Some horses can run five miles without stopping if they’re fit, but it’s important to note that these animals are individuals. And many factors play into how far a horse can run, including the terrain, pace, age of the horse, breed, and training. 

There is no short precise answer to “how far can a horse run?” Because determining how far horses can run involves many factors such as the horse’s breed, age, fitness level, and pace.


How far can a horse run?

There are a lot of ways to answer that question. How far can they run safely? How far can they run with a rider? Do they get hurt if they run more than they should? How does terrain and rider skill fit into this equation?

Do we know any of this from literature or history? I will try to provide the best answers to these questions and more.

How long can a horse run full speed?

A horse can run full speed for a sustained period, but how long depends on the horse’s fitness level and genetics. Racehorses are specially bred and trained to run for long distances at high speeds and can sustain a full-out gallop for up to two miles.

But have you ever noticed how many racehorses come from behind and win a race? That’s because the winning jockey typically settles his horse and lets it relax, saving its energy for a push at the end, knowing the horses that took off fast at the start will begin to fade later in the race.

Some non-racehorses can maintain a fast pace for several miles if they are in good condition and not carrying too much weight, especially Arabians. So, while there is no definitive answer to the question of how long a horse can run full speed, it is safe to say that most horses can keep up a good clip for several miles before needing a break.

Picture of a horse running

How far can a horse run without stopping?

How far can they run? We’re leaving aside that they can run multiple days as needed. The question is, how far can they run without stopping? For this question, we are also considering the horse’s safety and (if one is doing so) the rider.

If the horse is running hard, the standard answer is about two miles at a time before fatigue sets in. But in a race, the horse is likely to be paced and can run up to five miles.

He would start at a slow gallop and increase speed as the race progressed. Each trainer and rider have their philosophy and work with the horse’s natural tendencies.

When traveling fast over a long distance, a horse needs to rest and get its heart rate down. It’s possible that maybe merely walking for a time will suffice, and then they could gallop again.

However, if the horse is a sprinter and not a distance runner, it may not be willing. If the horse is going at a trot, it likely could go for four hours before needing a rest.

But when going for speed alone, a horse can typically run two miles safely. During the early days of formalized horse racing, races were usually much longer than today.

The great English racehorse Eclipse was undefeated in 18 races that averaged three and one-half miles. And he often carried a heavy rider weighing close to 170 pounds. His first win was a four-mile race at Epsom Downs.

Picture of a young thoroughbred horse in training.

How far can a horse run with a rider?

Keep in mind that the horse isn’t just carrying the rider but also the tack. The additional weight changes the equation somewhat. Without these encumbrances, a horse can likely run hard much further without needing a rest.

However, the horse is unlikely to go so far without a rider. They are prey animals and would run under wild conditions until they were no longer in peril.

Can horses run so far that their heart explodes?

When horses die shortly after strenuous exercise or races, it’s classified as a “sudden death.” One of the most common causes is heart failure, triggered by bursting arteries and vessels.

Horses can run so far and hard that their heart can explode. Typically the horses that die under these circumstances have an underlying condition such as a structural defect or irregular heartbeat.

Interestingly, irregular heartbeats, arrhythmias, or murmurs, are relatively common in some horse breeds. The Equine Veterinary Journal published a 2011 study of “sudden deaths” in racehorses.

Link to the article: Sudden death in racing Thoroughbred horses: An
international multicentre study of post-mortem findings

There are a lot of consequences caused by pushing a horse too hard when riding. It is something to consider for all of us.

Picture of our two year old running

How can horses run for so long and fast?

There are two genetic factors that contribute to a horse’s speed and endurance. For the rest, breeding comes into play. However, genetics are more important. Some horse breeds are naturally faster than others and have better endurance.

The first part comes from the tendons of the horse’s limbs. They are long and “spring-like.” If you’ve ever been on a pogo stick (hard to do), you might have a better idea.

These tendons provide the spring that the pogo stick gives the person using it. Human tendons don’t have that type of spring, which significantly affects their speed. It isn’t the only one.

Have you ever gone for a long run? Some of us, especially those with severe asthma, will never know that feeling. However, it is the second key to a horse’s ability to run fast and for a long time.

That is in part due to the one-to-one factor. One stride, one breath. It’s also due to the unique respiratory system that increases lung capacity. Conformation, fitness level, and genetics all play a significant role in the speed and distance a horse can run.

Can humans run further than horses?

The average horse can run about 25 miles per hour, while the average human can only run about 7 miles per hour. So it would seem like horses have us humans beat when it comes to running long distances.

However, in long-distance races, humans have the advantage. For example, endurance races are typically 100 miles, and longer, and horses simply are not built to run that far. On the other hand, humans have evolved to be endurance runners, and there are many examples of people running incredible distances.

In 2000, for instance, long-distance runner Tomoe Abe ran 100km in 6:33:11. So while horses may be able to outrun us over shorter distances when it comes to endurance running, humans are the clear winners.

Our bodies are built to run long distances, and we cool efficiently through sweating. Most other mammals don’t, so they have to stop, or they will overheat. However, a horse will beat you if you’re in a relatively short foot race.

They’ve got four legs; you’ve got two and can keep a steady speed over a few miles. Occasionally, an exceptional horse will win a marathon over humans, but typically humans can outdistance horses.

That is not always the same for all people and all horses. The “marathons” between humans and horses are done as a sport. Let’s look at cultures that don’t necessarily have horses but still have needs, which will play a significant role in answering the question.


The prehistoric man ran down his prey.

Prehistoric man used a method of hunting coined “persistent hunting.” Persistent hunting is chasing animals until they overheat so hunters can kill them. Some scientists speculate that hunting native North American horses led to their extinction on the continent.

It is speculated that hunters during prehistoric ages chased their prey to the point of exhaustion and easily caught and killed them. The persistent hunting method used by prehistoric man may or may not be accurate.

However, there is some evidence to support this theory. A 2006 study of a Bush tribe in Africa found this practice in use, and the Tarahumara of northern Mexico still do this.

Former Men’s Health writer, Christopher McDougall, wrote an excellent book about the Tarahumara tribe in his book “Born to Run.” In it, he describes how tribe members run down their prey.

Because of the vast open area, the Tarahumara can keep their prey in sight. They continue to run after the deer until the animal eventually gives up and is taken by the hunters.

In their village, running is part of their culture, and young children often run twelve miles without stopping. We consider the Tarahumara “ultra-runners.”

Some have run in ultramarathons and smoked their competition. But competitive running isn’t the real goal of these people. And to be accurate, they don’t call themselves the Tarahumara.

They refer to themselves as the Rarámuri, and they prefer to be secluded from the rest of us. You may thank the Conquistadores for this in part. However, their athletic ability has kept them from being as degraded as some Native Americans.

Which is faster, man or horse? Putting things into their natural states, usually, it will be the horse. As mentioned, four legs to two. However, a horse is a prey animal, and humans will typically outlast a horse when running far.

Humans are predators

The only equine I know of that eats other creatures regularly is the Icelandic pony, which eats salted fish in the cold Nordic winters. Humans, smaller than the horse and, to a degree, weaker, are not prey animals.

We can choose not to be predators and have the intelligence to fit the bill. We have an alpha animal mentality and can become partners with our equine friends. Does that make us faster? Sometimes.

I’ve spent time with horses, and I hope that we begin to learn from them at least as much as they learn from us, maybe more.

Picture of a black race horse

Consequences of riding a horse too fast for too long.

Endurance riding is a popular equestrian sport in which riders cover long distances at a relatively fast pace. While endurance riding can be enjoyable for both rider and horse, there are also some potential risks that should be considered.

One of the most common problems associated with endurance riding is overuse injuries. When a horse is ridden too fast or too long, it can lead to strain on the muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

This can often result in soreness, swelling, and even lameness. In extreme cases, an endurance horse may need to be euthanized due to the severity of the injuries. Another potential concern is dehydration.

Because endurance riding requires horses to cover large distances, they can quickly become dehydrated if they do not have access to water. This can cause fatigue, muscle cramping, and even colic.

As a result, it is important for endurance riders to take care to monitor their horses’ hydration levels and give them plenty of opportunities to rest and drink.

The first time I ever heard about how extreme riding could harm a horse was when I read Black Horse for the King by Anne McCaffrey. It is a story about King Arthur without some of the mythology that follows the story.

In that story, a man came to give a dire message to King Arthur. The hero of the story was a young boy who grew into manhood throughout the story. He was a blacksmith that learned to make some of the first horseshoes.

On the eve before the first battle, a messenger came with an important message. But because of the extensive ride, the messenger had ridden the horse until its hooves were non-existent. Eek.

Below is a YouTube video that answers the question of how long a horse can run without stopping.

How long can a horse run in a day?

An average horse in good condition can cover about 50 miles in a day; however, well-trained endurance horses can travel 100 miles in a day.

How long can a horse run at maximum speed?

Horses can only maintain maximum speed for a relatively short distance, usually less than one furlong. However, they can run hard for about two miles.