Elmer Bandit, a 37 year old Arabian cross gelding, obviously doesn’t know that he’s past retirement age.He’s closing in on competitive trail riding history having logged 20,360 competitive miles, only 230 miles behind the current American record holder Wing Tempo. He’s already successfully completed his first two competitive trail rides in 2008 and has several more on his docket.
Elmer and his owner/breeder Mary Anna Wood started competitive trail riding in 1976 and still complete between 10 and 16 rides each season, typically covering about 60 miles in a weekend.
Elmer’s achievements in the sport are impressive:
- 26 National Championship awards in Competive Trail Riding – Open Lightweight Class (1980-2007)
- First in 26 National Championships in North America Trail Ride Conference (1977)
- First in 4 Novice Rides (1976)
- Grand Champion – Open horse with highest percentage score (1980)
- First horse inducted into NATRC Horse Hall of Fame (1986)
- High Point NATRC – Half arabian award given by Arabian Horses Assoc. (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006)
- Saddle and pack horse for dude trail rides, pack trips and horse wrangling at Girl Scout, National Center West, Len Sleep, Wyoming (1976-1989)
- First place in the NATRC Region 6 (2006)
- Completed 20,000 miles in competition (2007)
Elmer stands 15.1 hands and weighs about 1,000 pounds. He was bred by his lifetime owner Mary Anna Wood and it is his excellent conformation, great attitude and superb care that has kept him in top shape.
Elmer is out of Wood’s Appendix Quarter horse mare (who has a touch of Percheron in her) and an Arabian stallion. Elmer inherited his sire’s color and endurance. From his dam, he got his good sized feet, plenty of bone and, according to his owner, an “optimistic view of the world.”
Elmer began his trail riding at a Girl Scout camp in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, where Mary Anna and Elmer led out six-day pack trips, during which they wrangled herds of horses.
Out on the trails, it became clear that Elmer has a phenomenal trot. He can trot for long periods; at times going as fast as 12 mph and sustain a pace of 6 to 8 mph. This has served him well in competitive rides: “When you think Elmer is maxed, Mary Anna gives him a little nudge, and he goes into ‘turbo and leaves you in the dust,” said Lucy Hirsh, DVM, a veterinarian and good friend of Wood’s, who has competed with her. “He has one of the fastest trots of any horse I’ve known.”
After so many years of competitive trail riding, Elmer is an old hand. He pickets anywhere, on the foot or on a line, and rolls and pees on command. Elmer has perfected selective grazing at the trot, Wood reports. He divides plants into three categories- edible (raspberry and mulberry), inedible (sassafras) and “will-do-in-a-pinch” (dogwood).
Elmer even mentors younger horses. “Several horse owners call him ‘Uncle Elmer’ because he’s good at leading an inexperienced horse into a trailer or baby-sitting a new horse down the trail,” said Wood.
Elmer is also known for having strong opinions. For example, Elmer doesn’t like to get his feet wet, so he is becoming an expert at keeping dry during creek crossings.
Elmer lives out on pasture 24/7 with about a dozen other horses. However, because his teeth are almost completely worn down, Wood has to make sure that he has adequate nutrition. He gets two meals a day, consisting of soaked beet pulp and a senior feed, plus up to two pounds of alfalfa cubes in water. Since Elmer eats slowly — it can take him up to three hours to finish a meal – Wood often naps while she’s waiting for him to clean up.
In contrast to the host of supplements fed to many aging horses, Elmer receives only a daily dewormer and Restore, a probiotic that helps keep the bacteria healthy in his hind gut. Other than a bit of arthritis in his hips, his health is excellent. His only serious health problem occurred in 1998 when a gray spot appeared in his right eye and an ulceration developed. Wood and Elmer’s vets believe his vision is hampered, but think he can likely still see light and shadow. Certainly, it hasn’t slowed him down.
When will Elmer retire? Wood believes that Elmer still loves his work and is happy to get out and see the country. She believes that he will tell her when he’s ready to stop.