Best breeds for endurance or competitive trail - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 44 Old 07-25-2012, 11:48 PM Thread Starter
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Best breeds for endurance or competitive trail

I have ridden horses for many years and competed mostly in dressage. I used to trail ride and drive too. My horse died in the spring after owning her for 23 years. I am just starting to think about buying another horse. My horse was an Arab/Trakehner cross and she did very well in dressage, but she was always hot on trails. Now that I am getting older, I'd like to get a quieter horse.

I plan on doing mostly trail riding, and maybe working up to endurance or competitive trail (neither of which I know much about). I have only ridden a TWH a couple of times, and it seemed like I would need to learn to ride all over again to ride a gaited horse correctly . So I've been thinking I should get something like a quarter horse, because they tend to be quieter than Arabs. Looking on the internet though, it didn't seem that quarter horses are usually suited for endurance.

I have been enjoying looking at ads for horses for sale, but now I need to narrow down what I am looking for. Disposition is most important to me. I had a bad fall many years ago when my friend's horse bolted and I was dragged. I refused to stop riding, but it took me 10 years of riding 4-5 times a week before I wouldn't tense up every time a horse made a sudden move at a canter. I have improved a great deal, but some of that fear is still there. So I don't want a spooky horse. But after riding dressage for so many years, I still want a horse that will move along at a good clip. I know very little about endurance or competitive trail, but they interest me and I would like to have that option available with my new horse. I am competitive, so my goal would be to finish well if I do end up competing.

So . . . what breeds tend to do well in endurance and competitive trail? Are their specific traits or conformation I should look for when buying a horse for endurance or competitive trail? How about age? How old should a horse be to start training, and how old is too old?

Thank you!

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post #2 of 44 Old 07-26-2012, 12:14 AM
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Mary, any horse can compete - if your objective is just to compete and not win. To ride and finish is to win for some. I am trying to get up the cajones to ride in a Limited Distance ride. I do ride a QH and my partner in crime for endurance training rides an Arabian. Not all Arabians are hot - some are a little quieter. My horse is stabled at an Arabian ranch so I am around them all the time. Find a horse that you are comfortable with and get out on those trails. I so understand the tense up...I had a bad spill myself and have spent the past 3 years trying to not get anxious or scared at times. Working on it - haven't totally mastered it but hey...I am making strides by leaps and bounds. Now if it would just stop raining and I could get out and ride!!!
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post #3 of 44 Old 07-26-2012, 06:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Reflections View Post
I am competitive, so my goal would be to finish well if I do end up competing.

So . . . what breeds tend to do well in endurance and competitive trail? Are their specific traits or conformation I should look for when buying a horse for endurance or competitive trail? How about age? How old should a horse be to start training, and how old is too old?
If you want to be competitive, then finding an arab or part-arab gives you the best chance. There are certainly other breeds that can do well, but in general, the most competitive horses have arab blood (rather like saying you can run barrels with a non-stock horse.. but it's going to be a lot harder to find a welsh pony who can be highly competitive versus looking for a QH).

For me, I like a horse with a decent amount of bone and good overall balance. Age isn't as big of a factor, though your horse has to be 4 to do limited distance and 5 to do endurance. You are not going to find a "seasoned" endurance horse much younger than 7 or so because of that. As for the older end of the age range.. that just depends on the horse. There are a couple horses in their 20s in my region which consistently finish endurance rides (but note I said finish, not win).

From your post, it seems like focusing on a horse with a personality you like/can trust will be the most important to you.
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post #4 of 44 Old 07-26-2012, 07:59 AM
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Basically what the others have said.

Remember that in a group setting many horses are different than when alone. My Arab is very mellow when we ride alone but add in other horses and he gets hot. If its one other horse and it's a pokey fella my horse keeps it together but add in horses that want to go and m horse wants to GO GO GO. His acrobatics look really flashy but they are actually really easy to sit out - his Dressage training makes him lift his back and really use his hind end so his leaps are not hard to ride. My horse under many circumstances is so mellow that people comment on it! I tell them to reserve their opinion until we're moving!

Basically while Arabs can be hot, how they express it will vary. My horse likes to canter in place which is pretty harmless. Some horses will try to run through the bit, something which is more concerning. Best thig to do is to find a farm that specializes in endurance Arabs and go from there.
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post #5 of 44 Old 07-26-2012, 10:37 AM
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Forgive me if I say something that seems obvious - having given lessons for a while now, you never know what people will assume about horses :P

Originally Posted by Reflections View Post
I'd like to get a quieter horse...So I've been thinking I should get something like a quarter horse, because they tend to be quieter than Arabs. Looking on the internet though, it didn't seem that quarter horses are usually suited for endurance.
- I've been raised with quarter horses. Yes, quarter horses have been the quietest "just do it" horses I've worked with - but I've also had one that was out of cutting stock that was HOT HOT HOT, as many lines are bred to be. As others have said, it all depends on the horse, not necessarily the breed. And while quarter horses are quiet, their spooks are in quality and many, once the rare spook comes, loose it and it's hard to get them over it. My arab, who I LOVE on the trial, spooks or shys occasionally (which is HUGE because he used to set back at the squeak of a gate!), he's so smart and works through it now. Basically, if I say it's ok, he knows it's ok. So it just all depends.

As for endurance ability, I believe endurance news just ran an article about some of the regular 100-miler draft horses, and I know a few ladies that ride drafts on our rides as well as a few ponies! If a draft can do it, any breed can. And any horse, conditioned sufficiently, can complete an LD. However, NOT every horse can be competitive, and not every horse can complete the 50+ endurance rides. Traits in these horses include an efficient mover (with more forward movement rather than an "upward" movement - this depends on the shoulder), good conformation of course (particularly in the legs), and a general willingness and happiness to just keep going. Trust me, you don't want a happy horse for the first loop, who thinks the vet check means they're done, and then you still have 15-25 miles of fighting your pissed off horse after he realizes the vet check was NOT the end of the ride.

Originally Posted by Reflections View Post
But after riding dressage for so many years, I still want a horse that will move along at a good clip.
Some quarter horses will, others won't. Again, see how efficiently they move, particularly at a trot. If you have to push, push, push to get them into a working trot (approx 8-9mph), it's not going to be a fun ride for either of you. I.e., don't get a western pleasure jogger :P On the other hand, one girl I know has to hold her quarter horse back because she trots so fast I have to lope behind her (thus why I started riding on my own - this was not good for my horse). Starting out, though, you don't want to be going that fast because you'll ruin your horse. Build slowly but surely ;)

Originally Posted by Reflections View Post
I know very little about endurance or competitive trail, but they interest me and I would like to have that option available with my new horse. I am competitive, so my goal would be to finish well if I do end up competing.
Going into endurance with this mindset is dangerous. Even if your horse can be competitive right off the bat, it's not necessarily the best to let them do so. You can really do some damage. It takes time to build the muscle, lungs, and eventually the bone density required to prevent sprains and stressed ligaments, worst case scenario hurt the bones. This can only come with time. I've been told it takes 3 years of regular endurance to build a 100-miler horse. Until then, just admire the people who've worked hard to get there.

The best advice I got was to treat actual rides like a really long conditioning session. Eventually you'll "accidentally" top 10. There are two kinds of riders - those that compete for miles and those that compete for placings. Usually, these are two different riders and don't mesh well. The people I've worked with that are very competitive only ride the rides they think they're going to win (based on terrain, time, who's competing, etc), and pass up all the others. They've also been doing this for years and years - most around here since the 80's and even 70's. Unfortunately, we had quite the scare at the last ride when one seasoned rider won the 50 two days in a row. Minutes after the final vet check on the second race, the horse went severely downhilll and was in danger of dying for the remainder of the day. And when you're in the middle of nowhere for a ride, you do not want to need a vet. The vets there do not have all the resources they'd normally have, and treating a horse is their worst case scenario. The guy almost lost his horse - and the same guy DID lose a horse a couple of years ago at a ride. Please don't become this kind of rider.

Want to be competitive right from the start? Compete for turtle (last place) - it's quite a nice ride when you're not stressed about everything else, including overriding your horse, and you still get a prize! Turtle can get pretty competitive, at least around here - one time a few riders hid off-trail and waited for a friend of theirs (who ALWAYS got turtle) to pass them - it was quite a shock at the award ceremony when she thought she'd gotten it again until they announced it!

As the AERC motto goes, "To finish is to win."

Originally Posted by Reflections View Post
How about age? How old should a horse be to start training, and how old is too old?
They can do LD's at 4 (based on actual birthday, not Jan 1); They can do endurance rides (50+) at 5. If you plan on doing the higher milage (like 100's), I'm told you want to wait until they're 9 or so to fully mature. It's a whole new ballgame when you start talking about "training" and how young is too young - I'll leave that debate to the training forum. But for beginning an endurance horse, I think 6 or 7 is about ideal for starting conditioning, but definitely no younger than 4 for LD conditioning (I personally think that is too young though, especially for Arabs who mature later) or 5 for endurance since that's the limits you have to follow anyway. I've seen horses into their early 20's competing on endurance rides, and a few in mid 20's doing LD's, but it all depends on how hard you've ridden your horse. If you've ridden hard, your horse will not last as long in life. I personally want to go for the decade team - at least one 50+ mile endurance ride with the same horse and rider for ten years in a row. I won't make it there if I'm shooting to win all the time.

Anyways, that's my 2 cents. My biggest fear is people getting into endurance and just going about it all on their own and then ruining or injuring their horses. This is one of the most extreme equine sports and we ask so much of our horses - everything has to be done with the horse's health as top priority. Once it stops being the priority, you move closer to loosing a horse at the ride. Above all, find a good mentor that has goals similar to you and has ridden for years - as in at least a decade. You can find people who've competed for much longer. Good luck :)
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Last edited by jillybean19; 07-26-2012 at 10:40 AM.
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post #6 of 44 Old 07-26-2012, 09:53 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you everyone for the detailed answers! They have given me lots to think about.

I think I wasn't clear when I mentioned being competitive. I didn't mean competitive right away. I meant trying to get a horse that was closer to being physically able to do well. e.g. I owned my horse's mother (1/2 Arab, 1/2 quarter horse) and showed her dressage, then bred her to a Trakehner because I wanted better conformation for dressage. I owned her foal for 23 years, and we did better than I ever dreamed we could, because she had the conformation to do well in dressage. I'll post a poem sometime about what my wonderful mare meant to me. I carefully raised her and trained her. She wasn't rushed. We competed at Training Level Dressage when she was 4, and First Level when she was 5. We only showed a few times a year, but it gave me goals. We competed successfully to 3rd level, and then worked with a classical dressage instructor for many years because I loved the softness and beauty. Tara was never lame or seriously sick a day in her life, until she hurt her knee in a pasture accident in her late teens and developed arthritis in it. I couldn't get another horse, so I had nothing to ride for 5 years before she died, but I wouldn't part with her. I care a great deal about the welfare of my horse. If I do end up competing with my new horse, I'll be just as careful not to hurt her.

Since my horse died, I have been fostering horses for the local Humane Society - ground training them and introducing them to under saddle work. The first one was a 7 year old Arab mare. She was the one who got me thinking about endurance. She has a beautiful long walk and trot. I love her. She is sweet and learned very quickly. For an Arab, she wasn't super hot. However, when she spooked, she took off like a lightning bolt. Many, many times I considered adopting her. But the bottom line was that I want to relax while I trail ride, not worry about spooking. I don't think I am the right person to train her to calm down. I still have that fear. This was reinforced when she went back and I started working with a 3 year old quarter horse mare from the Humane Society. The difference in temperament was huge. The quarter horse is easy going and hardly anything bothers her. She has some Thoroughbred in her I think, and she's not poky. Her canter is fantastic. I can see me enjoying a trail ride with her. But her trot is up and down, and her walk is stiff so she may not be very comfortable on a long ride. Fostering has renewed my interest in owning a horse of my own. I am having a lot of fun looking at ads and dreaming about what I want.

It's been over 30 years since I bought my mare's mother. I feel like a kid, because it's been so long since I bought a horse. I figure I should try to get one that might be physically and emotionally able to compete some day, just in case. Realistically, I know that it takes years of training to successfully compete. I'd need to learn a lot and build her up over the years. Only time will tell if I decide to go that way.

Everyone's feedback has given me lots to think about. Thank you all so much!

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post #7 of 44 Old 07-26-2012, 10:43 PM
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The very first competitive trail ride I entered, it was on my 8 yr old QH gelding and we won Novice Sweepstakes right out of the barrel. That was a blast, but there was one thing about him that made him a little more competitive than other QH's...he was narrow built, long and lean, more TB type. He had a deep chest, but he wasn't heavily muscled - in fact, he was more sinewy, lean and greyhound type, right at 15hh.

Any horse can do distance, but heavier muscled types are not good radiators and can't get cooled down. Now like others said, if you don't mind competing in rear of the group (maybe even for the coveted turtle award) then that's fine.

I have an Arab who is dead quiet but incredibly smart. He reminds me of a rattlesnake - sits and watches and learns. Sometimes things scare him, but I would never consider him hot by any means. So I consider that the best of both worlds - the arab genes for distance, and the brains to keep us safer.

My walker (who has a LOVELY 8 mph trot -yes, I said trot!) is a hot hot hot type - 14.3hh - but because of his competitive spirit and drive (he is also very lean built and greyhound like) he does SUPERB at vet checks because he's always giving everyone sass and the vets always give us A+'s for his obvious relentless energy to continue.

You sound like you might enjoy a 'jack of all trades' type horse that can compete in anything you point his nose to and will behave enough that you can actually enjoy it. I think any breed can fill that job!

Can I recommed a couple of good books to you if you are considering distance riding? Check out 'Go the Distance' by Nancy Loving and then 'The Complete Guide to Endurance Riding and Competition' by Donna Snyder-Smith - they have details on attitude/body type/how the horse was raised/ etc when choosing a distance horse. Just a little tid-bit (off topic a bit) of info for you if you ever find yourself down that bunny trail.

Good luck!

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post #8 of 44 Old 07-27-2012, 09:19 PM
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My best advice as to breed is along the lines as what other have said in reguards to a horse with good conformation and a temperment you can work with.

I have known some crazy arabs, but I know more arabs with nice calm dispositions.

If you hope to be competitive several years an arab, morab or other arab cross or per change a morgan. Any breed can do well if conditioned correctly and if they enjoy their work.

The love for a horse is just as complicated as the love for another human being...If you never love a horse, you will never understand.
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post #9 of 44 Old 07-27-2012, 11:00 PM
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Any breed cannot do well. That is a myth of wishful thinking. The reality is if you want to do endurance you pretty much need an Arabian. If you got into it and already have horses go for it. But no way I would intentionally shop for a horse with the idea of doing endurance and have it not be at least half Arabian. ALso stay away from mixes with heavy muscle breeds like QH's. You are just gonna end up banging your head against heat issues.
Yes I am well aware that Billy bobs cousin's uncle down the road had a 3 legged shetland clydsdale cross that did endurance. If you want a competitor, or even a finisher with alot less work look for an at least 50% polish Arabian. The Arab crosses that show up as competitive seem to be Morgans, TB's and Saddlebreds.

Last edited by Joe4d; 07-27-2012 at 11:02 PM.
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post #10 of 44 Old 07-28-2012, 10:19 PM
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Joe, you are too funny!

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