Quarter Horses, they conjure up powerful images of barrel racing, reining patterns, sliding stops, catty footed horses cutting cattle, the sedate beefy show ring halter horses, western pleasure classes, and horses with names that often include some variation of Doc, Bar, Lena, Skip, or Pep. You have a picture in your mind of a working stock horse, or a horse slinging mud down the short track, powerful, muscular, and in it for the short haul. Yet, sixty-four registered Quarter Horses (QH’s) competed in both Limited Distance and Endurance events in 2013. So what is all of that fast-twitch muscle doing in a slow-twitch sport, and how do they handle it for the long haul?
Perhaps you have heard it said, either out loud or off to the side in a quiet voice. What is he/she doing riding “that” horse in endurance? The general thought being in order to excel you must ride an Arabian. Yet here these successful riders are, happily doing their thing, competing and completing just fine and dandy thank you. Let’s take a look at some Quarter Horses and the people that ride them in LD and Endurance today.
Sue Phillips: This rider hails from the Central Region, lightweight division, riding a 23 year old QH named Sussie’s Pride. Sue’s equestrian background was in play days, drill team, barrel racing, and trail. With a pasture full of QH’s she was looking for a new challenge that involved riding the horses she already had. She had some friends who were in the same boat. One who was riding endurance on an Appaloosa introduced Sue to the sport. The decision to ride her QH was easy, it was what she had plenty of, and she looked to it as a challenge. Her current horse Sussie didn’t begin training for the sport until she was almost 8 years old. The fire in Sussie was an early prediction of her aptitude for endurance. In the early rides it would take almost 35 miles to settle Sussie down, but then on she’d go. On Sussie’s trail savvy Sue reports, “Over the years, she has taught many an Arabian how to drink and eat on trail. We are usually behind the Arabians, of course. But when the ones in front would run across something spooky and their horses would not go, they would pass the word back for me to come forward and lead the way. Sussie is good about being alone on the trails and does not mind leading or following. Somehow Sussie always knows when we’re on the last loop and she enthusiastically leads everyone home.” When speaking of her horse’s strengths she says, “Sussie loves to eat along the trail. I sometimes think she sees the trail as a giant buffet, so much so, that sometimes I really have to convince her there is food in camp. She usually won’t start drinking for about 20 miles but when she finally gets the urge, she insists we stop and drink.” Sussie’s challenges include her mare behavior, and cooling, especially as she has become older, and during the hotter months. On the trail the goal is to keep her core temperature down by giving plenty of short breaks for eating and drinking, and lots of sponging on trail. Sue always pulls her saddle at the checks on the hot ones and recruits her friend’s spouses Ted, and Jim as crew because they understand the importance and method of cooling these big muscled horses because their wives ride QH’s too. Sue says, “Some folks are surprised when they learn I ride Quarter Horses in Endurance. They wrongly believe Quarter Horses can’t do it. I think the vets realize they don’t have the bounce-off-the-walls trot outs in the vet check that many Arabians do. And their skin doesn’t “pop” back like an Arabian’s does when checking hydration.” Sue’s ride strategy is to ride to finish, not to win. She rides to the best of her horse’s ability for that ride. If it is cool weather, and she’s well conditioned, she moves on down the trail. If the weather is warm, her focus is keeping her horse cool to pass the vet check. Sue believes in the value of long slow distance conditioning miles, and values the longevity of her horses. She did not find the jump from Limited Distance to doing Endurance a difficult transition. Sue is not surprised in her QH’s ability and feels that many of the breed could do this sport. She doesn’t think any of her QH’s are unusual in their ability to do distance. She sums it up with “you just have to decide what your goals are and ride for the horse you have.” So if racing at the front of the pack is your goal, then maybe this isn’t the horse for you, but if you like your QH’s and find satisfaction from the partnership of miles, you can do it too. It just takes patience, understanding the need for cooling the horse, a good conditioning program, and sitting back and enjoying the ride! Sue has 275 LD rider miles and 10,230 Endurance miles, all on Quarter Horses. Sue has won the Best of America’s Quarter Horse award for endurance from AQHA 4 times. Sussie and Sue were named 2012 Horse and Rider of the Texas Endurance Riders Association (TERA) and Sussie has been voted into the TERA Horse Hall of Fame. Sussie has earned 100 Limited Distance (LD) miles and 6,635 endurance miles, with 139 starts and 134 finishes. Sue and Sussie have also achieved the coveted AERC Decade Team award. Oh and by the way, they received the coveted Pardner’s Award for 2013.
Kim Reeves: rides Middleweight, Central Region, on Casey O Stubby. Kim and her husband Ted raise QH’s. Kim’s neighbor and friend Becky Huffman, was involved in endurance with her Arabians and suggested Kim give it a try on her QH’s. So try she did, riding the horse she had, and she has been hooked ever since; never seeing the need to switch to an Arabian. For the record, Stubby is a 19 year old mare, 15.1 hands, and 1175 pounds. The first ride Stubby went to was a 2 day ride. After day one in the LD, she was still prone to buck, so Kim entered her again and finished day two. She was still strong and energetic, so the pair started doing 50’s. Kim and Stubby’s rides that year, and the next, were 2 and 3 multi-day rides of 50 miles or more each day. Stubby just kept on going never knowing there were single day rides for the longest time. Kim’s horse goes shod for endurance and ranch work. The common denominator challenge once again is cooling, pulsing down, and keeping her electrolyted hourly on trail. The goal is to finish. Kim does not race for the win. Her ride strategy is a steady trot all day. At the vet checks she reports, “Stubby likes Ted and carrots. When we come in off a loop, she is looking for him because she knows he will take care of her, get her pulse down, pull the saddle, and let her rest.” The only time Kim has encountered negative feedback on her breed of choice is when she’s ridden out of her own region, it has been suggested she drop to LD, but when she finishes the 50 she has received positive feedback from the vets. Stubby O Casey has 50 LD miles, 4, 605 endurance miles, 95 starts/ 92 Finishes, 1 BC, and one hot humid ride the vets declared Stubby best conditioned 2 day horse. Stubby started her career in 2002 and has won numerous awards, including AQHA Best of America’s Horse in Endurance, Texas Endurance Rider Association (TERA) High Mileage horse, AERC High Point Middleweight, TERA Hall of Fame Equine, Lone Star Partner Award, Top Ten in the first Central Region Endurance Championship ride and best of all, earning the right to be called an AERC Decade Team! When Kim was asked her advice to a newbie wanting to start endurance on their QH, “I would encourage them to do it and use what they had. I think any horse can do it, if one just rides his own ride. The rider has to be smarter than the horse and not get caught up in the competition.”
Katherine Gaskill: from the SE Region, rides Doc’s Shady Baby, a 14. 3 hand, 16 year old bay mare. “Babe” has never been shod or booted, and by Katherine’s claim Babe hasn’t yet figured out that she is not an Arabian. She likes to spook and dance on training rides, but it is strictly business when it is time to compete. When asked why a QH and not an Arabian she says, “I actually ended up with Babe by way of circumstance. My horse had injured himself in the pasture and was looking at 6 months to a year of recovery time. My sister had gotten out of riding but we still had her barrel horse, Babe. So, I decided to try endurance on Babe, and if it wasn't her thing then I'd sell her. That was 9 years ago, turns out it was her thing.” Concerning the challenges of riding a heavily muscled breed in the sport she reports, “For us there are two big challenges. The first is the heat in the summer. It takes her longer to cool down and keeping her hydrated becomes my main issue. Our other challenge is all the light horses. Babe gets very competitive at rides and wants to keep up with all these zippy little Arabs. So, I have my hands full keeping her speed dialed down so she doesn't wear herself out trying to keep up.” She started Babe out on the longer 50 mile distance, and didn’t look back. Katherine’s riding strategy is mileage versus racing. She hasn’t found other riders to be discriminating concerning her choice of breed, and more often they just register surprise to realize her horse is a registered QH. Her advice to a newbie in the sport considering their own QH for endurance, “Watch your pace and go the speed that is best for your particular horse. A QH can race or it can go all day, but it can't race all day.” When asked if she felt her horse was an anomaly in the breed in its ability to do the distance sports she replied, “Not at all, the QH was bred to have stamina. The pioneers, and later the cowboys needed horses that could work all day, every day of the week, and play on the weekends. The QH was bred to meet that need.” Babe at this time has 25 LD miles having been shared with a prospective newbie to the sport, and 625 endurance miles, and turtle awards, lot of them. Katherine has the pride that goes along with having earned them.
Debbie Quinn: Central Region, Middleweight Division, riding 11 year old, 14.2 hand gelding, Everett Hitch (Hancock bloodlines). She rides him shod in rocky terrain and bare the rest of the time. When asked why in a sea of Arabian horses she chose to ride a QH, Debbie says, “I liked him due to his looks and fitness.” She had watched him at a trail ride, admired the horse’s build and behavior, and 2 weeks later had a new Quarter Horse in her barn. Her horse has a heavily muscled hind end but otherwise does not have a QH look. The challenges of riding him in distance so far have been none; she rides her horse to his ability focusing on completion rather than speed. Debbie’s positives concerning her horse include his ability to drop to pulse criteria quickly, his forwardness, level-headedness, and spook free ride. She has just begun Everett’s distance career in Limited Distance with 155 LD miles, and is 6 for 6 with completions.
According to the finisher statistics of the Western States Trail Ride, “The record for completions by one horse is thirteen times, set in 1998 by Pat Chappel on Thunders Lightning Bar, a 20 year old Quarter Horse mare.” Thirteen, 100 mile finishes, on the toughest endurance course in Western North America. Who could not be impressed by that?
The top ten total mileage Quarter Horses recorded with AERC: Thunder’s Lightening Bar owned by Pat Chappell with 8372 miles, Sussie Prize owned by Sue Phillips with 6585 miles, Slam the Book owned by Patricia Harrop with 5635 miles, Old Meadow Jim owned by Wendy Mancini with 5120 miles, Casey O Stubby owned by Ted and Kim Reeves with 4605 miles, Bud owned by Tracy Blue with 4260 miles, JaBear Streakin Cheyenne owned by Terry Bradley 2450 miles, TJS Silver Bullet owned by Kim Reeves with 2395 miles, King Stearman owned by Sue Phillips with 2295 miles, and Sugar Ridge Quigley owned by Valerie Jaffe with 1940 miles. These people are not alone in riding their QH’s with success. Quarter Horses have been part of the recorded history of endurance since 1956. This breed has always been, and always will be, a very special part of this sport we all love. Trail savvy, sensible, steady, and calm, it is safe to say that a talented segment of our endurance community loves their Quarter Horses, and they are definitely in it for the long haul.
*Please note that rider mileage totals may have increased since the writing of the article.