There are many different types of horse racing, including:
Flat racing, where horses gallop directly between two points around a straight or oval track.
Jump racing, or Jumps racing, also known as Steeplechasing or, in the UK and Ireland, National Hunt racing, where horses race over obstacles.
Harness racing, where horses trot or pace while pulling a driver in a sulky.
Endurance racing, where horses travel across country over extreme distances, generally ranging from 25 to 100 miles (40 to 161 km)
Different breeds of horses have developed that excel in each of the specific disciplines. Breeds that are used for flat racing include the Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Arabian, Paint, and Appaloosa. Jump racing breeds include the Thoroughbred and AQPS. Harness racing is dominated by Standardbred horses in Australia, New Zealand and North America, but several other breeds, such as the Russian Trotter and Finnhorse, are seen in Europe.
Flat racing is the most common form of racing, seen worldwide. Flat racing tracks are typically oval in shape and are generally level, although in Great Britain and Ireland there is much greater variation, including figure of eight tracks like Windsor, and tracks with often severe gradients and changes of camber, such as Epsom Racecourse. Track surfaces vary with turf most common worldwide, dirt more common in North America, and newly designed synthetic surfaces, such as Polytrack or Tapeta, seen at some tracks worldwide.
Individual flat races are run over distances ranging from 440 yards (400 m) up to two and a half miles, with distances between five and twelve furlongs being most common. Short races are generally referred to as "sprints", while longer races are known as "routes" in the US or "staying races" in Europe. Although fast acceleration ("a turn of foot") is usually required to win either type of race, in general sprints are seen as a test of speed, while long distance races are seen as a test of stamina. The most prestigious flat races in the world, such as the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Japan Cup, Epsom Derby, Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup are run over distances in the middle of this range and are seen as tests of both speed and stamina to some extent.
In the most prestigious races, horses are generally allocated the same weight to carry for fairness, with allowances given to younger horses and female horses running against males. These races are called conditions races and offer the biggest purses. There is another category of races called handicap races where each horse is assigned a different weight to carry based on its ability. Beside the weight they carry, a horse's performance can also be influenced by its position relative to the inside barrier (post position), its gender, its jockey, and its trainer.
Jump (or jumps) racing in Great Britain and Ireland is known as National Hunt racing (although, confusingly, National Hunt racing also includes flat races taking place at jumps meetings; these are known as National Hunt flat races). Jump racing can be subdivided into steeplechasing and hurdling, according to the type and size of obstacles being jumped. The word "Steeplechasing" can also refer collectively to any type of jump race in certain racing jurisdictions, particularly in the United States.
Typically, horses progress to bigger obstacles and longer distances as they get older, so that a European jumps horse will tend to start in National Hunt flat races as a juvenile, move on to hurdling after a year or so, and then, if thought capable, move on to steeplechasing.
The length of an endurance race varies greatly. Some are very short, only ten miles, while others can be up to one hundred miles. There are a few races that are even longer than one hundred miles and last multiple days. These different lengths of races are divided into five categories: pleasure rides (10–20 miles), non-competitive trail rides (21–27 miles), competitive trail rides (20–45 miles), progressive trail rides (25–60 miles), and endurance rides (40–100 miles in one day, up to 250 miles (400 km) in multiple days). Because each race is very long, trails of natural terrain are generally used.
Contemporary organized Endurance racing began in California around 1955, and the first race marked the beginning of the Tevis Cup. This race was a one-hundred-mile, one-day-long ride starting in Squaw Valley, Placer County, and ending in Auburn. Founded in 1972, the American Endurance Ride Conference was the United States' first national endurance riding association. The longest endurance race in the world is the Mongol Derby, which is 833.2 km (517.7 mi) long.