Endurance competitions have been conducted in Australia since the first Tom Quilty Gold Cup in 1966, during the last 50 years rules and management have been refined and I am sure they will continue to be refined over the next 50 years. This is intended as a basic guide for veterinarians and unfortunately cannot cover every aspect, but will endeavour to provide some guidance.

Officials at an endurance ride

  • Head Vet
  • Other vets and treatment vet
  • Chief Steward
  • TPRs
  • Ride Organisers and committee
  • Ride secretary
  • Track marker/course designer
  • Other volunteers
All officials must work together to ensure a fair competition and that horse welfare is paramount

Accreditation of Vets

  • To become an Accredited Vet, the veterinarian must be nominated to the AERA by a State Association. The State Association may nominate veterinarians who satisfy the following criteria:
    • a) The veterinarian must be registered with a Veterinary Board in a State or Territory in the Commonwealth of Australia, and
    • b) The veterinarian must have participated in an AERA Endurance Veterinarian Presentation in a manner and format approved by the NVP and sanctioned by the AERA within the preceding 24 months
    • c) And,
      1. For a veterinarian with at least 2 years’ experience in practice since graduation, the veterinarian must have been a member of the veterinary team at a minimum of 3 Endurance rides in the preceding 24 months, or
      2. For a veterinarian with less than 2 years’ experience in practice since graduation, the veterinarian must have been a member of the veterinary team at a minimum of 4 Endurance rides in the preceding 24 months.
    • If a veterinarian does not fulfil the requirements of (a) to (c) above, but a strong case exists for them to become an Accredited Vet, the State Association may nominate the veterinarian by providing a resume of the veterinarians experience and expertise, including references from Ride Organisers, Chief Stewards and other Accredited Vets or relevant parties. This may be appropriate for veterinarians with applicable overseas experience.
    • Treatment vets must undertake a separate training program and course and assist a current treatment vet at several rides

Maintenance of Accreditation

  • To maintain accreditation, the veterinarian is required to;
  • Be a member of the veterinary team at a minimum of one Endurance ride every 36 months, and
  • Maintain registration a Veterinary Board in a State or Territory in the Commonwealth of Australia.

Withdrawal of Accreditation

  • A veterinarian may;
  • Resign their accreditation
  • Have their accreditation withdrawn if they fail to satisfy (a) above.
  • Have their accreditation withdrawn if a complaint is lodged against the veterinarian and after the application of natural justice, due process and an investigation by the AERA or a State Association, the nature of the complaint warrants the withdrawal of the accreditation.
  • A veterinarian shall have their accreditation withdrawn if they fail to maintain registration a Veterinary Board in a State or Territory in the Commonwealth of Australia

Veterinary Role

  • The paramount priority of an endurance ride is the welfare of the horse and the veterinarian plays a very important role in ensuring the maintenance of horse welfare during an endurance ride 
  • The veterinary decision is final and no arguments will be tolerated from riders/owners/acquaintances so vets should feel comfortable to make an informed decision with the horse’s welfare as the main determining factor

Veterinary roles

  • Head Vet
  • 2IC
  • Line Vet
  • Treatment Vet
    • Hospital Vet
    • Course Vet

Rider to veterinarian ratio

  • For all rides with a standard 30 minute veterinary inspection there should be a minimum of 2 veterinarians per 60 horses, with an additional vet required for each additional 30 riders
  • For vet-gate-into-hold, the recommended ratio is one veterinarian per 15 horses
  • For rides of 120kms or more, a separate additional treatment veterinarian is required, present at the ride base (Not necessarily for pre-ride inspection)

Duties of Head Veterinarian

  • Must have a working knowledge of the current rules and have access to the current rulebook at the ride.
  • Liaise with the organising committee to form an appropriate veterinary team with adequate experience for the event.
  • Appoint a treatment veterinarian with adequate experience and training and who is familiar with the management and intensive care and the nature of the treatment and conditions which commonly affect endurance horses.
  • Find and notify the nearest referral hospital that the ride is taking place.
  • Meet and discuss with the chief steward on the day of the ride/or before to set up the veterinary ring to allow a good flow of horses in a safe manner and a suitable trot-out area.
  • Set up an appropriate area for treatment of horses, also an appropriate separate area for medication control.
  • Familiarise yourself with the protocols required if a horse catastrophe occurs with regard to medication control, euthanasia and post-mortem.
  • Supervise the veterinarian team during the event to ensure
    • A consistent veterinary examination
    • Suitable identification
    • Suitable shelter and nutrition
    • Rostering and rest periods especially during long rides
    • Look after the veterinary team, especially new vets, and refer any competitor issues to the chief steward
    • Coordinate the panel system for lameness and metabolic evaluations
    • Prepare for a pre-ride talk covering a number of areas
      • Acknowledge the ride committee
      • Introduce the vet team
      • Discuss the ride conditions i.e. terrain, weather, early in the season
      • Explain the vetting procedures and anything which may differ from normal procedures
    • Best conditioned judging
    • Post-ride talk and presentation of Best Conditioned awards

Duties of Line Veterinarian

  • Familiarise yourself with the AERA rule book
  • Ensure you are familiar with the vetting process
  • Equipment required- stethoscope, thermometer, stopwatch, pen (refer to checklist)
  • Familiarise yourself with the logbook layout and parameters
  • Familiarise yourself with the ride leg lengths
  • If in doubt ask questions or seek a second opinion

Duties of Treatment Veterinarian

  • Liaise with the head vet and organising committee in the lead up to the ride
  • Ensure adequate treatment supplies (refer to ride equipment checklist)
  • Ensure adequate treatment facilities on ride base (adequate shelter from the weather)
  • Ensure adequate referral options and these facilities are notified of the event

The 4 Areas of Veterinary Examination

  • TPR (mainly heart rate)
  • Metabolics
  • Injuries/Galls/Soreness
  • Gait

The logbook

Pre-Ride Examination

  • Pre-ride examination includes the temperature, pulse and respiration, normally collected by TPR stewards or vet students. If the temperature is elevated (37.3⁰ C – 38.3 ⁰ C) the TPR should flag the horse for the vet to examine further and determine if there is a reason, and if the horse is ok to start or if it should not start this event (remember there is always another event and the vet must speak on behalf of the horse and its welfare), biosecurity is extremely important during an endurance event
  • Body condition score is also judged at the pre-ride examination. The score must be a whole number from 1-5. If a horse is deemed too skinny or too fat to start a particular ride the vet at their discretion stop the horse from competing. If there is any doubt, check with the head veterinarian.


  • The Temperature, Pulse (heart rate) and respiration will usually be taken by an accredited TPR steward at a standard AERA event.
  • If using vet-gate-into-hold procedures the vet is responsible for the collection of all parameters (see vet-gate-into-hold info at the end)

Heart Rate

  • The maximum heart rate(s) permissible for each ride type are pursuant to Table 7 and Table 10 of the AERA General Rules and dependent upon the ride control being used. The stop watch is started when the heart beat is audible and the count starts on the next heartbeat.

Maximum of 55 bpm

  • The stop watch can be stopped at 15 seconds if the count is 13 or less, at 30 seconds if the count is 26 or less. In both cases the heart rate can be recorded at 52 bpm or less.

Maximum of 60 bpm

  • The stop watch can be stopped at 15 seconds if the count is 15 or less, at 30 seconds if the count is 30 or less. In both cases the heart rate can be recorded at 60 bpm or less.Maximum of 64 bpm (FEI dual event if invoked)

Maximum of 64 bpm (FEI dual event if invoked)

  • The stop watch can be stopped at 15 seconds if the count is 16 or less, at 30 seconds if the count is 32 or less. In both cases the heart rate can be recorded at 64 bpm or less.
  • In all cases above, if the heart rate is above the stated maximum at 15 or 30 seconds respectively, or if the heart beat is irregular, difficult to hear or demonstrates murmurs, the count must be continued for the full minute.
  • Should the examination of the heart rate be disrupted due to movement or excitement of the horse due to a disturbance which renders the examination impossible or inaccurate, the examination is stopped and recommenced when the horse is settled.


  • Although highly variable depending on the environment, nature of the horse and stage of the ride – it can be an indicator of distress. A respiratory rate-heart rate inversion may be an early clinical indicator of heat stroke/impending metabolic collapse. In this case other metabolic parameters need careful examination. Up to 25% of body heat is dissipated via respiration, this becomes very important once evaporative cooling limits are reached.
  • Synchronous Diaphragmatic Flutter (“Thumps”), will cause the diaphragm to contract in time with the heart beat, therefore the respiratory rate will be the same as the heart rate (The Thumps is a metabolic condition for which a horse is eliminated from the ride and may require treatment).


  • This cardinal sign has significance related to microbial infection, heart rate, respiratory rate, ambient temperature, recent physical exertion including floating and humidity and needs to be interpreted in this context. Normal range is from 37.3⁰ C – 38.5⁰ C
  • Horse’s with an elevated temperature pre-ride need to be inspected closely for signs of infectious diseases and isolated along with travel companions if required
  • Biosecurity is very important at an endurance event and needs to be maintained. Horse health declarations and temperature logs and vaccination status are important considerations
  • The temperature should always be taken at the pre-ride inspection as some horses have travelled a long way and may be developing pleuro pneumonia or carrying infectious diseases. The temperature may be taken during the ride if other metabolic signs are deteriorating, even then the relationship between core and rectal temp may be tenuous, especially if the anus is dilated. In hot humid climatic conditions it is useful to take it at every inspection to ensure adequate heat loss is occurring

Body Condition Score

The body score is only recorded once, and that is at the pre-ride inspection. The scores should be 1-5 with half scores permitted.

Body condition scoring (adapted from Carroll C.L and Huntington P.J. Body Condition scoring and weight estimation in horses.

Metabolic Parameters

  • Mucous membranes
  • Capillary and jugular
  • refill
  • Skin recoil
  • Heart sounds
  • Gut sounds
  • Muscle tone

Mucous membranes

  • A = Clear pink and moist
  • B = Moist pink, fawn
  • C = Injected, pallid, tacky, dry
  • D = Muddy, blue, purple, toxic line – elimination
  • Clinical significance.
    • Assessment of dehydration – moist or dry
    • Assessment of colour –
    • Pale – anaemia or low blood pressure
    • Salmon pink and moist – normal
    • Injected or dark reflects poor tissue perfusion due to dehydration, poor oxygen supply and/ or onset of toxaemia

Capillary and Jugular Refill

  • 1 = Less than 1 second
  • 2 = 1-2 seconds
  • 3 = 2-3 seconds
  • 4 = Greater than 3 seconds – elimination
  • Clinical significance of prolonged CR reflects:
    • Poor blood pressure
    • Poor tissue perfusion
    • Dehydration
    • Toxaemia

Skin Recoil

  • Additional parameter to assess metabolic status.
  • Always taken at the point of the shoulder. No half scores.
  • 1 = Less than 2 seconds
  • 2 = between 2-3 seconds
  • 3 = between 3-4 seconds
  • 4 = Greater than 4 seconds
  • Clinical significance:
    • Unreliable
    • Dehydration
    • Differing response depending on site of test & wetness of skin
    • Can be prolonged in normal horses

Skin Recoil-Practicalities

  • Always taken at the point of the shoulder.
    • Important to allow comparison, as the result can be different, depending on the location of the test
    • Should not be performed on the horses neck, or the shoulder blades
  • Can vary depending on if the hair is clipped or wet
  • Can vary with age
  • Unreliable and should be interpreted in light of other metabolic parameters
  • Should not be an isolated parameter used to indicate issues

Heart Sounds

  • A = Normal rhythm and intensity
  • B = Variable rhythm, increased intensity
  • C = Pronounced dysrhythmia, onset of murmurs
  • D =serious murmurs, or arrhythmias– elimination
    • Second degree AV block is acceptable.
    • Atrial fibrillation; pathological murmurs (pan systolic); ventricular extra systoles are unacceptable.

Gut Sounds

  • A = Normal and active
  • B = Slight decrease
  • C = Marked decrease
  • D = Absent – elimination
  • Clinical significance.
  • May be normal
  • Louder – increased activity with gas production or diarrhoea
  • Diminished
    • may be normal with strenuous activity (flight and fright reflex)
    • due to loss of water content in colon (impaction)
    • due to impending ileus
    • Absolute loss of gut sounds that fail to recover is significant

Gut Sounds-Practicalities

  • Listen to the four quadrants for normal sounds
    • Emphasis is placed on the small intestinal sounds as ileus can be a common problem in endurance horses, so early detection and management is important
    • Can be slow if the horse has recently come off course due to exercise, or less cooling of the horse
    • If in doubt a re-examination can be requested to ensure the horse recovers sufficiently, prior to the next loop, or completion/signing off the logbook

Muscle Tone

  • Gluteal muscles should be soft and supple to palpate
  • The muscles will be swollen, hard and painful where myositis is present
  • Fasiculating muscles and shivering should be interpreted in light of the environmental temperatures and other metabolic parameters
  • Critical part of musculo-skeletal examination to assess tie-up.
    • A = Supple, elastic, fluid wave
    • B = Firm, doughy
    • C = Fasciculation/altered tone
    • D = Cramped, flaccid, twitching, swollen – elimination

Metabolic Profile

Overall Interpretation of Metabolic Parameters

  • The elimination of a horse on metabolics should not be based on one parameter, but the overall picture and a number of parameters which indicate the horse is developing metabolic compromise
    • E.g. high heart rate (but under 60), B/C for mucous membranes, >2 capillary refill, low or absent gut sounds. Especially if no improvement prior to re-examination
  • Horses with synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (thumps), exertional rhabdomyolysis (tie-up) and colic encountered at the vet gate are automatically eliminated and sent for treatment

Girth, back and withers

  • Girth & Back Examination – deep palpation is not necessary.
  • Skin is the major organ in contact with tack so looking for the effects of ill-fitting tack or of the weight of saddle & rider on the horse. When the horse resents examination to such an extent that it is dangerous for the examiner, it should be eliminated!
    • A = No pain / no lesions
    • B = Tenderness
    • C = Chafe, scald
    • D = Open lesion, marked pain – elimination

Leg Injuries

  • It is not necessary to pick up or palpate the limbs as a visual examination is all that is required.
    • A = None
    • B = Recent superficial cuts, swelling
    • C = Skin wounds, open cuts
    • D = Exuding wound, full depth cuts over joints – elimination

Gait Assessment

  • Must be performed on a good level surface (i.e. grass, sand etc)
  • Must be 40 metres out in length and 40 metres back (MEASURE IT)
  • Good lighting is very important during night loops, or early mornings
  • Attention to the sunset and sunrise should be paid when setting up a vet ring as this can make the assessment difficult
  • The most contentious elimination subject to more questioning by the riders than a metabolic elimination
  • Consistency within the veterinary team and throughout the event is necessary. Veterinarians are not required to provide a diagnosis of an irregular gait
  • Observe the hind quarters for hip hike first then the head for head bob. Suggested criteria for elimination:
    • Consistent irregularity to and from observer
    • Able to identify limb i.e. LF or RH (although not necessary)
      • A = Willing, strong, normal
      • B = Subtle reluctance
      • C = Reluctance, tired, not consistently lame
      • D = Unwilling, no animation, consistently lame – elimination

Forelimb Lameness

TIP:- The saying “down on the sound” can help with recognising the affected limb

Hindlimb Lameness

TIP:- Look for hip hike

Basic videos of lameness


  • A = No issues – OK
  • B = Minor Issues – be aware
  • C = Major Issues – caution
  • D = Eliminated

Veterinary Comments

This section is used to notate comments such as ‘FTC’ [Fit to continue] or ‘V/O ‘reason’ [Vetted out – HR (heart rate)]. It should also be used to notate any unusual or worrying aspects of the inspection parameters including gait.


  • At any time during the ride a veterinarian may request a re-examination of the horse, within 15 minutes of their departure time for the next loop
  • This examination is usually called due to a concern in the parameters observed at the veterinary inspection (often metabolic parameters)
  • Compulsory re-examination is usually required on the 3rd or 4th leg of a 120km or 160km ride
  • The re-examination is a complete re-examination of the horse including, pulse, metabolic parameters, girth, back and legs and gait

Logbook examples

NB: Zero is not a score for skin recoil, the score should be 1,2,3 or 4


  • Vet-gate-into-hold is a slightly different veterinary procedure, generally used at championship rides, or FEI rides
  • Riding time doesn’t stop off each loop (except finish) until the horse has presented to the vet ring and passes the heart rate parameter
  • The heart rate must be below 60 (except if in conjunction with FEI ride and the head vet opts for 64BPM) and the CRI parameter is used
    • CRI (Cardiac Recovery Index) provides an extra parameter to assess a horses recovery and metabolic status
    • The first heart rate is taken immediately when the horse presents and if under 60 the horse is allowed to trot
    • The veterinarian restarts the stopwatch and the handler trots the horse 40 metres out and 40 metres back for the gait assessment
    • 60 seconds after the horse began to trot, the second heart rate is taken and is compared to the first


  • Ensure you are familiar with the AERA endurance rules
  • Ensure you have a good working knowledge of the horses normal parameters
  • Be prepared for everything (strange things can happen)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions


  • Prepare, prepare, prepare
  • Be organised
  • Pack wet weather gear
  • Keep well hydrated and fed and events can go into the wee small hours

Self Assessment

Question 1.
What is the maximum allowable heart rate for a horse finishing the first loop of an AERA standard vetting ride?

  • 50BPM
  • 55BPM
  • 60BPM
  • 72BPM
  • none of the above

Question 2.
What is the maximum allowable heart rate for a horse at the end of an endurance ride loop (except for the 1st loop)?

  • 50BPM
  • 55BPM
  • 60BPM
  • 72BPM
  • none of the above

Question 3.
How old must a horse be to enter an affiliated endurance ride?

  • 2
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7

Question 4.
How old must a horse be to enter a 40km intermediate ride?

  • 4
  • 4.5
  • 5
  • 5.5

Question 5.
How old must a horse be to enter a introductory ride?

  • 2
  • 2.5
  • 3
  • 3.5
  • 4

Question 6.
What distance should the veterinary trot out be?

  • 30 metres out and 30 metres back
  • 20 metres out and 20 metres back
  • 30 metres out and 20 metres back
  • 50 metres out and 50 metres back
  • 40 metres out and 40 metres back

Question 7.
How long does a competitor have to present to the veterinary inspection after completing a loop in a standard AERA ride?

  • 20 minutes
  • 40 minutes
  • 35 minutes
  • 30 minutes
  • 10 minutes


actually this is just the beginning