Endurance horse races to be held this weekend in Ocala

OCALA, FL. (WCJB) --

Not all horse races are about finishing first; some are simply about finishing. Here's how this weekend's endurance race in Ocala will test more than a hundred horses' true stamina and strength.

The Gallop on the Greenway is 3 days of long-distance horse racing and it all starts at the Florida Horse Park in Ocala.

Endurance racing is one of the least known horse sports but has a rich history.

Doug Shearer is the ride manager who explained, "it was started by the calvary a long time ago that's how they decided which horses were good enough to be stallions. They started in Virginia doing this where they would race them to see which had the best endurance and what lines they wanted to keep going."

Over the 3 day event, the horses and their riders will take on 5 different lengths of challenges.

Shearer says, "They'll go we have distances from 10 miles for introductory but the rides that count are the 25, 50, 75 and 100."

Gene Limlaw has been endurance racing for 15 years and explained why he got into it in the first place. "As a kid, I loved trail riding, just you and your horse just riding around. It's very fun and peaceful and I think a lot of people can relate to that. If you take that horse and can get it through 25, 50, 75, 100 miles that's a pretty big accomplishment."

However, unlike a regular horse race, this one is more similar to NASCAR and includes pit stops.

Shearer, who is also a veterinarian, said, "We vet the horses anywhere from 15-20 miles so the 100 they'll stop 4 times before they're finished and we give them 40 minutes to eat and drink and we vet them, take their pulse and trot to make sure they're still sound."

Horses usually must be 5 years old to even start endurance training and it takes years more to get them in full competitive shape, said Limlaw. "Usually it takes about 2 years in my personal opinion to get them up where they're a competitive 50-mile horse. Then probably another year where you're getting them to 75 and 100's. It's like being an ultra-marathon runner, you can't just go out and run 100 miles you have to build yourself up to it."

The 3-day event is open to the public and is free of charge. However, the races themselves are not necessarily spectator friendly because they go through twisting wooded trails. Still, not all horses will compete at every distance level so there are plenty of opportunities to see the horses and meet with the trainers gearing up for the next race as they wait.