Elmer Bandit passes away at 38

February 16, 2010

by Neil Clarkson

Elmer Bandit
April 8, 1971 - February 14, 2010


Elmer Bandit and Mary Anna Wood out on a ride last year.
Competitive trail-riding legend Elmer Bandit, an inspiration to horse owners around the world, has passed away at the age of 38.

Thehorse.com reports that Elmer was euthanized on Sunday at 6.30pm in his long-term pasture in Independence, Missouri.

Elmer was surrounded by friends, including his breeder and owner Mary Anna Wood. He had been unable to get up in his pasture. He was in a hypothermic state and, in deteriorating conditions that included a bitter wind and falling snow, the decision was made to euthanize him.

Elmer forged a remarkable career in competitive trail-riding under Mary Anna's care, finishing his last competitive ride near Lucas, Iowa last September, which carried his career tally to 20,780 miles.

It is a national competitive trail-riding record.

He had claimed the record in October, 2008, surpassing the mark previously held by Wing Tempo. Flowers and a bucket of apples awaited the pair when they crossed the finish line in Kansas.

Elmer had always been particularly partial to apples, and would readily consume 8-10 a day when they were in season, still managing to chew them in his later years despite a lack of teeth.

His career spanned a remarkable 34 years. The grey part-Arab gelding was already an accomplished competitive trail-riding horse in the US when, in 1980, he was among the first five horses inducted into the sport's Hall of Fame.

His longevity has been credited to great genes, excellent conformation and the life-long care of Mary Anna.


Elmer Bandit could maintain a trotting speed of 19.3kmh.
Elmer in his later years received two carefully measured and balanced meals each day to ensure he was getting enough calories, which he ate at his leisure, taking anywhere from one to three hours.

His health had been remarkably good, with only a touch of arthritis in his hips.

His mother was an older appendix (part-bred) quarter horse that Mary Anna owned and his father was a three-year-old Arab stallion. Elmer had been the successful outcome of what she called a "$50 backyard breeding".

Elmer Bandit 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.

They built their miles in competitions around Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

The duo used to compete in 10 to 16 competitive trail rides each year, but cut this back in later years.

Elmer, with a long, easy trot, was in his element on any wilderness trail.

He got his first taste 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.

The 15.1-hand horse could trot for long periods at around 12mph (19.3kmh) - a pace that would see many horses break into a canter.

Mary Anna was in little doubt as to what made Elmer a stand-out performer. His great conformation included good feet and strong cannon bones, possibly coming from a little percheron back on his dam's side.

Elmer liked nothing more than to get out and about, she said.


Elmer Bandit with Mary Anna Wood during a trail ride in October, 2006, in the Kansas Flint Hills.
© Olivia Huddleson
"I like to see the country. My horse likes to see the country," Mary Anna once told Horsetalk.

Elmer spent his days in a pasture with other horses a few miles to the east of Mary Anna's home. He had been on pasture 24 hours a day all his life.

The pair had taken dressage lessons on and off for more than 30 years, which Mary Anna said had helped to keep him straight and balanced. He hadn't always enjoyed his dressage, but warmed to it in his later years.

Elmer maintained a positive outlook on life throughout. If he ever became irritated about something, it only lasted for about a minute, Mary Anna said.

Elmer's remarkable abilities did not escape the United States media.

He featured in newspapers and attracted media attention from around the globe. In one year alone, he received coverage in four US national magazines. He has featured in Equus, Western Horseman and Trail Blazer.

While Mary Anna competed from time to time on other horses when it suited her, Elmer's great age and health never proved a barrier to entering competitions.

As she once told Horsetalk, why compete on a younger horse when you had an older one that would do perfectly well.