July 2, 2014

Appaloosa Horses in Endurance

A Horse of a Different Color

The 1955 running of the Western States Trail Ride (Tevis) was comprised of four horse and rider teams.  Even at the conception of endurance riding as we know it today there was one a strong Arabian bred component to that first fateful journey across the Sierras.  An Arabian, a Thoroughbred Morgan Cross, a Thoroughbred Arabian Cross, and a horse with no breed description would make the trip.  Year by year, more riders with horses representing a wider range of breeds would attempt the 100 mile endurance trail.  By 1957 the first Appaloosa horse is listed as a competitor in the most difficult of endurance challenges.  An appaloosa gelding, Ruff Spots Banner, ridden by Walter Tibbitts claimed the 1969 Haggin Cup.  Let’s just say there is a long and spotty history of Appaloosa horses in the endurance sport.

The AERC today is comprised of approximately 4,101 equines (including ponies and mules).  The census of Appaloosa or Appaloosa crossed horses within AERC today is approximately 56 horses.   Of these you will find Foundation bred horses, Appaloosa horses that have been out crossed to Thoroughbreds and Arabians. You would also likely find Appaloosa horses on the endurance trail that are clearly Appaloosa but not registered that would add to that base number.  No matter what their horse’s genetic make up there is a unique group of riders within AERC today that compete and excel on their Appaloosa horses described as being willing, hardy, gentle, and sometimes opinionated, but with willing hearts and placid dispositions, making them suitable mounts for distance riding.

Carol Ann Beckner on Image

Carol Ann Beckner from the Midwest has 13,560 competition miles on Appaloosa horses.  She has bred a line of foundation Appaloosa horses specifically with endurance performance in mind. 

Photo credit: Merri Melde

Robert Ribley, DVM from the West region has completed 1210 miles on his eight year old, 15.1 hand Appaloosa, Crow Pony over a three year period.  Crow Pony has proven himself as a strong competitor earning First place West Region Heavyweight 2013, Reserve National Heavyweight Champion 2013.    Robert reports Appaloosa positives in the distance sport include “a strong sense of self preservation so they have a strong opinion of what's in their best interests.”  Crow Pony’s individual strength is his athletic ability and great pulse downs. The horse has a strong sense of self preservation - he takes care of himself on the trail and in the vet checks; he eats and drinks and does what ever he needs to do to take care of himself. Negatives of riding the breed may include: having fallen out of favor because they can be difficult to get along with.  These horses have a strong personality with strong opinions and many people cannot get along with those traits. Cooling down can be more challenging with the more heavily muscled breed. Ribley’s conditioning methods are the same as any other breed for the sport.  Ribley’s thoughts on this breed’s success in the distance sport is that Crow Pony’s genetics and good recoveries account for his long distance ability.  Like most breeds it takes health, and athletic ability to excel within the sport.  He states, “I'm glad I've had the opportunity to ride this tough breed.  If I was to choose a horse to ride across the United States, it would be either a mule or an Appaloosa.”

Patricia Harrop, DVM from Tennessee, in the Southeast region has 2180 miles on LT Bright Patch Joker.  Joker is 12 years old, 15.1 hands high, about 1050 pounds, and a leopard gelding.  Joker has been in competition for 7 years.  This Appaloosa’s credentials include: 2011 Appaloosa National Championship ride he was 3rd Appaloosa and won the George Hatley Best Conditioned Appaloosa award.  In the 2013 Appaloosa National Championship ride we were the 6th place appaloosa.  He is the high endurance mileage appaloosa this year with 405 miles.  Patricia and Joker are the AERC 5th place horse and rider team in the 5 state SE region in the heavy weight division for 2013 (among all breeds).  This rider chooses and Appaloosa because “Arabians in general tend to be spookier and smaller. I believe Arabians predominate in the sport because they genetically can cool off quicker than other breeds due to their thinner skin and smaller size. I prefer calmer and larger horses.  I always get lots of compliments at the rides on my horses looks and abilities.”  She has competed on four of her Appaloosa horses since the 1980’s.  On challenges and training tips she states, “My horse is only slightly slower to cool down and to pulse down than the Arabians.  He is getting much quicker at it as he gets into better condition.  On hot days, I will sponge him off on the trail whenever I get a chance.  On very hot days, I will also slow to a walk for about a quarter mile before I get to the vet check to allow additional cooling down time.  I condition all my horses the same regardless of their breed.  When asked why she feels the Appaloosa horse is a great distance horse?  “This particular (breed) horse is very surefooted, has very smooth gaits, is very intelligent, and a real pleasure to ride.”  When questioned about her next breed of horse for the distance sports?  “I would buy an Appaloosa because I like their intelligence, versatility, and color. “

Miki Dekel rides in the Northwest region.   Her horse Kool Hand Luke is 15 years old, and 15.1 hands.    Luke has three seasons of competition in AERC LD and endurance events.  Accomplishments include: 2 years Endurance (2012/13) and 1 year Competitive Trail (2011 placed 5th in British Columbia-BCCTRA). Awards:2012:  6th place AERC National Mileage, 2012:  1st place NW Region Mileage and 2nd place Overall points, 1st place FW points 2013:  2nd place FW points in NW Region    Tie for 1st place at Bill Thornberg 50 (4:30) in Oct 2012.    Top Tens: 17, Top Fives: 8, BC at Desert Gold 3 day LD ride 2011 (1st AERC ride). 
When asked why an Appaloosa when the sport is dominated by Arabians? 
“I did not plan to do endurance, but since Luke did not ever want to stop going forward, I thought it would be better to go forward with a purpose and in beautiful places.”  Luke is very calm and brave in general and well suited temperament wise for long journeys in the bush with very little spooking, (the horse is) confident, honest and kind.  Luke has heart, spirit, hardiness, and temperament in his plus column. When reporting the more challenging aspects of riding Luke: “He can be very stubborn, usually in regards to not slowing down.   He is very competitive and we often must start late to avoid a race.  He is going blind due to a genetic tendency to Uveitis.   He does not see depth/rocks/etc very well and I must guide his feet all the time.   In order to take good care of us we are going slower and picking rides for good trail.  We want to endure in this sport, our goal is decade team! We must walk 10 min or so into vet checks so that he is pulsed down.   Luke has rather soft feet and needs full boot protection for rides.   He can also be stubborn about drinking, doesn't ever want to drink until at least 20 miles.  Training tips for her Appaloosa includes: “We condition on a hard surface (paved, with boots) slowly to build up bone and his legs are great.”  She also includes a lot of long slow distance miles.

So don't discount an alternative breed for the sport of endurance riding. You might just want to check out your paddock for a horse of another color, one with spots for your next endurance riding prospect!


  1. I competed very successfully on an app gelding named This Spot's For You. He and I did CTR (including a three day 80), but he had an AERC record too.


  2. Karen Bumgarner is an excellent example of someone who has competed VERY successfully on Appaloosa horses. This includes 100 mile rides, at the front of the pack. Appys brought along right can do it. Now maybe a good percentage of them would be back of the pack horses, but I feel that what we get out of our horses has to do with the horse's athletic talent, and the handlers skill at conditioning.

    On another note we had a mule in the Midwest was that was rocking LD and at one time a very small pony (and tiny rider) were racking up the JR LD miles. A sick horse? No. A mentally ill horse? No. But a sane, healthy, and conditioned horse, most likely you can get it done.