‘Companionable Sensibility’

by Emily Real

IN  THE ARABIAN dominated sport of endurance riding, Standardbreds are perhaps not the first breed that comes to riders’ minds when making the decision of what horse they want to take them on 25-, 50- or 100-mile rides through rough terrain.

How could a horse bred for being driven one mile at a time on the racetrack also be trained to be ridden for so many miles on the trail? For the uninitiated, that seems like a valid concern, but in reality, not only is it possible for Standardbreds to be trained for endurance riding, they can actually become quite successful at it. Even though the sport is still largely dominated by Arabian horses, Standardbreds are becoming an increasingly popular choice for endurance riders.

“Some people who don’t know the breed  believe  that  ‘Standies’  are  too hot  for  endurance  competition,”  said Aarene Storms, endurance rider, blog- ger, and author of Endurance 101. “But the reality is just the opposite.”

Storms has been doing endurance rides with her Dal Reo Hop Sing mare registered as Naked Willow—now affec- tionately called “Fiddle”—for the past 11 years. Fiddle began her career as an as- piring pacer, but when that didn’t pan out, she was put up for adoption by Greener Pastures, an adoption agency in British Columbia.

“My first horse ever was a Standardbred and she and I learned [endurance] together,”  Storms  said.  “When  she  retired, I borrowed an Arabian gelding from a friend and rode him in endurance races for eight years and for more than 2,000 miles, but I missed a Standardbred’s companionable sensibility.” So, Storms called Greener Pastures and got Fiddle. Over the course of their 11-year career in endurance riding, Fiddle and Storms have traversed thou- sands of miles, and even won the USTA’s High Mileage Standardbred Award in 2015, given to the Standardbred with the most registered miles ridden in that year’s riding season.

“I’ve ridden lots of non-Standies in my life, but I’m never as comfortable with  other  breeds,”  Storms  said.  “My ideal endurance mount is sane, sensible, and sure-footed, with a good work ethic and minimal silliness—and all that stuff adds up to a Standardbred.”

Often, as is the case with Fiddle, endurance riding is a sport that Standardbreds get into after harness racing.

Endurance rider and inaugural winner of the USTA High Mileage Standardbred Award, Patricia Clark, also chose a former Standardbred pacer as her endurance mount.

Clark’s  horse,  “Eli,”  was  registered as East Meets West, a Western Paradise gelding trained by Archie McNeil. Clark said that, even though Eli is “royally bred through and through,” he proved to be less than profitable on the racetrack, earning $6,707 in purses in 21 starts.

So, he was chosen to go to the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program to find a new career.

“I saw a short video clip on YouTube of Eli under saddle and knew I had to have  him,”  Clark  said.  “I  notified  Dot Morgan, the director of New Vocations, and Eli was mine within four hours of having been put up for adoption. His quality, his regal air, and his athleticism illustrated all of the attributes I was seeking in an endurance prospect.”

Storms said that the Standardbred’s strong work ethic, strong feet, consistent trot, physical versatility, and flexibility with being handled by many different people make them ideal for endurance riding, where versatility, strength, and a cool temperament are a must.

“In a sport like endurance, where the trust between rider and horse is vitally important over miles of rough terrain, a smart and sensible horse is highly  valued,”  Storms  said.  “I  only  wish more people knew about them, and I’m doing my best to spread the gospel.”

While Storms has mainly stuck to riding Standardbreds throughout the course of her career, Clark has ridden many different breeds of horses.

“I have always ridden a variety of breeds, but it is the Standardbred that has captured my imagination and heart,” Clark said. “I also have an Arabian and he is actually Eli’s backup horse. In [endurance], it is very odd that the Arabian is a backup, but [Eli’s] strength, power, and intelligence are beyond compare.”

Clark said that Eli, a bulky racehorse who used to  trip  over  the  smallest knolls on the trail, can now go through tight, single-track trails with little effort. “[Standardbreds] are very different from other breeds,  as  they  seem  to have so many gears in the transmission and so much speed when you ask for it,”  Clark  said.  “Eli  will  work  at  whatever speed I ask of him with very little discussion.”

Endurance rider and 2016 USTA High Mileage Standardbred Award winner Jen Moore said that she actually got into endurance riding in the first place as she was trying to find out what to do with her newly adopted Standardbred registered as Sidney Rain, nicknamed “Sid.”

“I was looking for a sport with a good community, and the people in endurance are probably the most welcoming,”  Moore  said.  “There’s  a  great community in endurance, and Sid loved it—we’d power trot through trees and I could just feel how alive he was.” Moore said she’d argue that not only are Standardbreds just a decent option for endurance riding, but the breed is also actually bred for it.

“They  were  bred  for  [endurance],” Moore  said.  “The  ideal  Standardbred can  trot  all  day  long.  They’re  strong, smart, sane, and sensible—it’s not like you’re trying to control this rocket under you, and we’re starting to see them more and more [in endurance].”

Aside from their mounts’ physical aptitude, intelligence, and good temperament, perhaps the most meaning- ful thing to endurance riders, regardless of breed, is the bond that they share with their horse as they traverse thousands of miles of trails together.

“As we trotted through the dark at the Alabama Yellowhammer 75-mile ride, I was never more proud of my partner- ship with this grand animal,” Clark said. “Our  connection  is  beyond  anything I’ve ever experienced with a horse.”

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