This isn't the Kentucky Derby.

The horses are built for distance and agility. Races range from 50 to 100 miles, and cover sand, water, rocks, cliffs and everything in between. Events contain major competitors all the way down to casual riders.

It's called endurance riding, and it's unlike most other horse races. Atop svelte Arabian horses, riders race over long distances through remote backcountry, though it's much more than just a stampede to the finish line.

Lisa Tine and boyfriend Chris Amaral, of Coos Bay, both have been endurance riders for many years. They try to get to five or six races each summer, hauling their horses on Fridays to weekend events around Oregon, Washington and California.

Tine said though finishing quickly is a goal, endurance races also rely on a healthy horse.

"You have to have a horse that's fit to continue," she said.

No doping controversies here - endurance riding, with its main governing body, the American Endurance Ride Conference, has been a leader in the horse community for drug testing.

Maintaining good health is the crux of the sport, with mandatory stops throughout the race for veterinarians to check the horse's heart rate and hydration levels. At the end, vets check the horse again. Don't pass the test? Don't get credit for the race.

"A lot of people think endurance is all about running the horse to death," Tine said. "It's not. The gait is a big, extended trot."

Riders monitor their horses, as well.

"The horse wears a lot of electronics," Tine said, adding that heart rate monitors help riders keep the horse's heart at about 120 to 140 beats per minute.

For 50-mile races, horses must finish in 12 hours, and 100-milers must finish in 24 hours. Required stops for lunch and rest are built in to the events. Riders are equipped for anything to happen, from a horse losing a shoe to the rider getting thrown off.

"It's kind of an extreme sport," Tine said, adding that they both wear helmets and carry global positioning systems. "I get tossed all the time. And lost, too. A lot of completing in time means not getting lost."

Races usually pull in about 50 competitors, which makes the starting line a little crowded. Amaral likened horses to enthusiastic dogs - one or two dogs are fine, but if you get 50 dogs together, excitement can bubble over.

"It can be like the Oklahoma Land Rush at the beginning," Amaral said with a laugh.

Amaral's Arabian, Fortune, is only six years old. (Horses can't compete in endurance until they're five years old, giving them long, healthy careers, he said.) He's a curious, friendly horse with a white stripe down his nose, and he's just getting used to the long competitions.

Tine's horse, Fling, is a 10-year-old female that she bought in Greenacres when Fling was five.

"I'm really happy with her," Tine said. "Last year I completed five 50-mile rides with her, 250 endurance miles, which is a good season."

Both horses are muscular and small, perfect for endurance riding.

"There are all kinds of parallels with the human marathoners," Amaral said. "These guys are the skinny little marathoners."

Tine hasn't completed a coveted 100-mile race yet, though Amaral has raced in several.

"I've only done 50s, but I don't have a 100-mile horse yet," Tine said.

Tine and Amaral train their horses year-round, and run them about three times per week for 12 to 15 miles, with longer rides tossed in occasionally. They often train at North Spit, the Blue Ridge trail system, at Bullards Beach in Bandon or Cape Mountain in Florence.

"I think we spend more time with our animals training than other endeavors," Amaral said.

It's a sport full of dedication and passion. Tine always had horses growing up, then she watched an endurance race when she was younger and it captured her fancy.

"I said, ‘You mean you get to ride your horse on a trail all day? I do that anyway,'" Tine said. "It's addicting, once you start."

Amaral was a runner through college, so the parallels with cross country appealed to him. It doesn't hurt that he's endlessly competitive.

"The sense of competition, sometimes with others, sometimes with myself, that kind of strategy, I enjoy," Amaral said.

A sort of runner's high, perhaps?

"It's just such a rush to fly through the woods on a horse," Tine said. "You get to see the most beautiful places that other people don't get to see."

They love the sport - and its supportive community - so much, that they throw as much of their free time into it as their jobs allow.

"I don't ski, I don't have a boat and I don't fish," Amaral said. "This is it."

Want to learn more? Visit www.aerc.org for national endurance riding information, or www.nwrides.org and http://redwoodendurance.com for local races.

Outdoors Editor Rachel Finney can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 237, or at rfinney@theworldlink.com.

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