Can a person beat a horse in a race?

My friend (notorious “big-talker”) and my girlfriend (rides show horses) got into an argument over the last weekend. He claims that if a person and a horse were to race from a standstill, the person would reach 50 yards before the horse would (due to the horse’s slow pace getting up to speed). Not a draft horse, but a thoroughbred.

Is this true? Is there any way to prove this outside of an actual race? Or is this just so unbelievable I should get a whooping for asking?

No way. A horse is MUCH faster. Evolution wouldn’t look kindly on a species that takes a long time to get up to speed when a predator just burst out of the bushes at it.

I’ve ridden horses quite a bit so I speak to this from a lot of personal experience.

Well, I suppose it depends on the horse and the person. A famous track athlete in his later years (maybe it was Jesse Owens) used to race horses in a short race and beat them. I don’t know if it was 50 yards or not. Obviously it couldn’t be very long, though.

It’s probably true; the usual sprint event for horses is 350 yards; 50 yards is very short, and I don’t know if anyone has ever timed a horse over that distance. There has been one horse-human foot race at 40 yards (here), but the horse was the slowest racing thoroughbred in history. On the other hand, the human, a minor-league baseball player, won by three lengths.

Owens used to routinely beat horses over short distances, but he cheated. They weren’t top horses, but, more importantly, he insisted on using a starting gun. The horse was usually startled by the noise, giving him a head start, which he could hold on to win (though the horse was gaining on him).

It’s a matter of mass. The horse takes longer to get going, but once in motion, it goes much faster.

OTOH, over very long distances, the horse will tire; a marathoner may be able to beat the animal at 26 miles.

OK, the same horse lost to a different human in a 50 yard race; again, he was not a sprinter, but a minor league baseball player. The horse came from behinf in the last ten yards.

Over a short race, possibly, however, your friend is mistaken that it takes horses a long time to get up to speed. You know that racehorses break from a standing start into a full gallop, right? (about 45 mph). Even an non-racing horse of average athleticism can canter 425 meters/minute (thats about 15 mph if I did the math right) from a standing start. How fast do humans break from a standing start? Average ones, not super-atheletes?

40 yards is nothing to a horse, only about 10 strides for an animal of average size and altheticism.

Exactly. I think that a human can even beat a fast car for the 1st 10 or 15 yards or so.

Hey, I appreciate all the feedback. One more thing, I screwed up the title. It should read “Can a person beat a horse in a race.” I am just glad some wiseacre didn’t answer “yes”. Har har.

The human world best time for the 50-yard sprint is 5.22 seconds.

Has anyone ever timed a top thoroughbred (or any decent race horse) at 50 yards?

On average, the relative accelerations of horse and human are such that at around 50m, the human has the advantage. At around 100m, the finish times would be fairly close (depending, of course, on the individual horse and human), and anything beyond that would give the advantage to the horse (by around 200m, the horse would likely have reached its top speed of ~40mph, vs the human’s ~25mph, and would surpass any human).

As to Whack-a-Mole’s observation, remember that predators, too, have acceleration to deal with. Wild canids are typically built more for endurance than speed (while most felids are the opposite). It is not necessarily disadvantageous to have a relatively slow acceleration, especially if raw speed is not the primary defense of the prey (or the primary advantage of the predator).

Nametag I don’t think its really fair to bring Zippy Chippy into this. Not only is he the losingest horse in racing with 89 consecutive losses, he shows an unusual disinclination to run. I believe that he was barred from Jockey Club racing because he often refused to start. (The JC felt that it was bordering on fraudulent to put him before bettors). He only races at County fairs and the like now.

Its pretty damn easy to beat a horse at 50 m if he ambles half-heartedly out of the gate.

Also, I’m not so sure about the endurance speed thing.

A recent winner of the United States Equestrian Team Endurance Championship finished a 50-mile trail in 6 hours, 8 minutes.

At a US Track & Field 50-mile Trail Championship* in 2001 the winner took 6 hours 58 minutes… a bit slower and the runner was not carrying a burden equal to 10% of his body weight.
*I’m trying to compare apples to apples here with similar caliber athletes. I think its a bit bogus to say that Jesse Owens could beat any ol’ horse. He was an outstanding althlete. The question is, could he beat Secreatariat?

I read somewhere that a human runner (not me, a runner) could beat any animal in a 2 hour run. That’s evidently false. Maybe over 24 hours, though, it is true. I don’t know.

I once heard of a human beating a horse over 360 feet. The gimmick was that it was over a baseball diamond and the horse simply could not make those turns the way a trained baseball player could. Even so it was close.

Since the top marathoner can do 26 miles in 2:10 or so (that’s 5 minute miles!), I am a bit surprised that twice that distance takes more than three times as long.

At any thing less than onehundred yards you don’t want to pit a human flat track athlete against a thoroughbred. Those big, long legged beasts are bred for speed and endurance over a long run of a mile or more. What, after all, is the shortest of the Triple Crown Races and how long does it take a horse that finishes out of the money to complete the course? The fair race is Bruce Jenner against a big butt, short legged cow horse bred and built for a quick acceleration off the mark. A decent sprinter will be ahead of a good horse for the first 10 yards, maybe for 20 yards, but after that your human sprinter is going to be blinded by the flying dirt.

As far as 50 mile endurance rides are concerned, unlike the Boston Marathon, the endurance rides are often over rough terrain, including slopes so steep that the rider dismounts to let the horse pull the rider up hill. In addition, sanctioned rides involve periodic vet checks and mandated rests. Unlike a human (except for the original Marathon) a horse will go long enough and hard enough to kill itself, thus the expression “ridden into the ground.” In the old horse cavalry, a fifty mile march day after day was pretty standard–there was a song “It’s fifty miles a day on beans and hay in the Regular Army-O.” Lets see your marathon runner run a marathon every day for 10 or 15 days in sucession while carrying a load of camping gear.

Thoroughbreds routinely run 6 sec. in a 1/16th points of call in races.That works out to 3 secs.for 1/32nd.

My calculations show be 1/34.4 mi.

Seems like the human is half as fast.

BTW-horses are not timed from a standing start-they hit the initial timing pole anywhere from 20 up to maybe 40 yds.from the gate.Distances vary from track to track because of physical differences in layout.

I’d like to point out, in fairness, that 50 mile Trail Races for humans are also held over uneven, often hilly terrain (maybe not AS hilly, I’m not sure) and I believe there are some kind of very brief rest checks analagous to the horse’s vet checks.

Man versus Horse Marathon

Apparently they do this every year. The results are sketchy. I actually heard a bit on this on the radio (NPR?) whatever weekend recently this was held. IIRC, the relay team usually beats the horse, because the people have to run shorter distances, and hence can run faster.

I’m not surprised at all. In my marathoning experience (okay, just 3, but still…) I start to crap out after about 20 miles. My pace tends to slow. I can imagine that the rate of slowage would continue the farther I have to run. You also must recognize that an ultra race is run at a slower pace than a marathon, because it’s just too tough to keep up marathon pace over something like 50 miles. Lots of 50 milers (on foot) tend to also have rough terrain, as someone mentioned of the 50 mile rides. The ones I know of usually involve trail runs in mountain ranges. You can’t easily run a 5 minute pace uphill for 50 miles. Whether you’re a horse OR a human!

Interesting question, indeed. Here is an article in which indicates that Secretariat’s initial acceleration out of the gates is around 14.4 m/s[sup]2[/sup], and recedes to 0.011m/s[sup]2[/sup] after a time of 2.3s. During that time, Secretariat would have covered about 25m. Also during that time, he would have reached a speed of about 16.3m/s (~36mph). With his now-constant (roughly) acceleration of 0.011m/s[sup]2[/sup], it would take him about 1.5s to cover the remaining 25m, for just under 4 seconds to cover the whole 50m (this is all a rough calculation, with admittedly sloppy rounding, and assuming he is running at his 1973 Kentucky Derby rate).

A cursory glance around the web seems to indicate that somewhere between 5.5 and 6.0 seconds is about average for human 50m-dashers.

It looks like if you pit the fastest horse against the fastest human, the horse would probably win. If you pit the fastest human against an average (or lower) horse, the human would probably win (again, up to about 100m - after that, unless the horse is a real slacker, just about any horse will beat any human).

In a recent 80 km race in the UAE, a man beat a horse in 5 hours and 45 minutes, over desert terrain. As required by rules for humane treatment of animals in competition, the horse was to have two 40 minute breaks for food and water, or 80 minutes total. They ended up deciding to take only 60 minutes. As the BBC notes, the horse galloped the last 16 km flat out.