Mighty Elmer still stepping out

September 17, 2009


Elmer Bandit with Mary Anna Wood during a trail ride in October, 2006, in the Kansas Flint Hills.
© Olivia Huddleson

Trail-riding dynamo Elmer Bandit takes everything in his stride - and when you're 38 years old that's a lot of strides.

Elmer may be a great age, but that's not about to cramp the style of the part-Arabian, who last October set a new competitive trail-riding record of 20,720 miles.

He still enjoys his regular dressage lessons, completed a four-hour pleasure ride just last weekend, and this weekend will be taking part in a competitive trail ride, although only for a day at competitive pleasure level.

"We don't have anything to prove so I'm getting picky," explains Elmer's owner, Mary Anna Wood, of Independence, Missouri.

Elmer's success at such an advanced age is thanks to his good conformation, flexibility, positive attitude to life, and the great care given to him by Wood.

It seems remarkable that, even back in 1980, Elmer was an accomplished competitive trail-riding horse in the United States. That year he was among the first five horses inducted into the sport's Hall of Fame.

It was an honour the grey gelding earned through a string of successes across several states.

Elmer has been taking things a little quieter this trail-riding season and, to date, has competed only once - on July 18 - in a ride at Cedar Creek, Missouri.

"We did distance-only for one day," Mary Anna told Horsetalk, explaining they competed in a class that covered a shorter distance and at a slower pace.

"Elmer was very happy to be out there," she says. "We got 20 more miles," she says of his still-growing record tally.

Elmer still tucks into two good meals a day and is partial to regular naps these days, often laying flat for up to two hours at a time.

Mary Anna says there are eight rides within reach of her home this season, five of which have already been held.

She missed the first because of work commitments and the second had a reputation for mud. She instead rode a friend's 24-year-old mount named Chester. On one day, they rode through 12-inch deep mud for 26 of the 30 miles, she said.

"Elmer would have been disgusted."

In the next two rides she rode a 15-year-old horse called Striker.

This weekend Elmer and Mary Anna aim to be back on the trail-riding circuit, competing in the Fall Fiesta ride at Stephens State Forest in Iowa - again on distance only and at competitive pleasure level. They hope to collect another 20 miles.

The duo was out only last weekend for a four-hour pleasure ride in Missouri's James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, which provided Elmer with some easy-going flat terrain.

Mary Anna says Elmer's health remains good. He has been attended to twice by his chiropractor this year. "There were no big issues," she says, "just a tweak here, a tweak there."

He had his jaw manipulated, which she believes gets out of alignment because of teeth loss. "After that he's been able to finish his meals faster."

Elmer lives in a pasture with nine or so other horses just outside Independence, and still tucks into his two meals a day, each of which takes him an hour or so to consume.

If anything, she says, he has probably gained weight in the past year, and has a quarter-inch of fat over his ribs.

"I wouldn't want him to get any fatter," she says.

Elmer has a supporter in Omaha feed producer Biovance Life Sciences, which provides him with as much of its Restore and Revolution product as he can eat.

Mary Anna says Revolution contains low glycaemic carbohydrates and forms a part of Elmer's daily meals.

Each meal comprises two pounds of beet-pulp shred, two pounds of Revolution, a pound of dehydrated alfalfa and two pounds of Purina Equine Senior - a pelleted feed.

Elmer loves the anise flavouring of the Purina product.

Dinner comes mixed with a gallon or so of water.

He also loves his apples, she says, consuming eight to 10 of them a day. "He still manages to chew them up pretty well.

It's autumn in Missouri and Mary Anna fills Elmer's insatiable appetite for apples by picking up windfall fruit from around her neighbourhood.

Given the time involved in feeding, Mary Anna gets regular help to cover some of the meals.

Elmer owes his remarkable genes to his mother, who was an older appendix (part-bred) quarter horse that Mary Anna owned, and his father - a three-year-old Arab stallion.

Elmer was the successful outcome of what Mary Anna calls a "$50 backyard breeding".

He was born on April 8, 1971, and began competitive trail-riding with Mary Anna in 1976.

He used to be known as Bandit - befitting his young-gun status - but gradually became Elmer as the years rolled by.

Elmer's competitive trail-riding career accomplishments are, quite simply, too numerous to mention. In 1980 - the year he was inducted into the newly established Hall of Fame - he won the Bev Tibbitts Grand Champion Award for the highest average score in the US.

The 15.1 hand horse weighs around 1000 pounds, or 453kg, has great conformation, good feet and strong cannon bones, possibly coming from a little percheron back on his dam's side.

He 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.

It soon became clear that Elmer's forte was trotting. He can trot for long periods, and can get get up to 12mph (19.3kmh) - a pace that sees many horses break into a canter.

Above all else, he likes getting out and about.

"I like to see the country. My horse likes to see the country," Mary Anna explained in an earlier Horsetalk interview.

Elmer still loves his work, she says.

"If he ever becomes irritated about something, it only lasts for about a minute."

Life is still busy enough for Elmer. He has already had a dressage lesson this week and, after this weekend's trail ride, has another lesson booked for Monday.

Elmer has been taking dressage lessons on and off for 30 years. "He tries really hard," explains Mary Anna.

He didn't particularly enjoy it as a younger horse, but has warmed to it in his later years. "He enjoys his dressage now."

Elmer, it seems, will be stepping out for a while yet.