By Linda White
The Arabian horse’s ability to meet and conquer arduous physical challenges has elicited awe
From the time some prehistoric nomad discovered an orphaned newborn filly on the steppes above the Syrian plateau and decided she was too pretty to eat, Arabian horses and their human partners have prevailed in the harshest, most inhospitable conditions. They cross vast distances with minimal rest, food and water. The breed’s makeup has served it well: dense bone, economic body size and weight, long shoulder, deep heart girth and huge nostrils that allowed for maximum air intake. His well-constructed feet and legs were durable as iron, and his bravery and acute native intelligence made him unique. We marvel at astonishing stories of Arabians who carried their masters thousands of miles over harsh terrain, often in wartime. Those tales of Arabian horses’ lifesaving courage under fire are not myth and legend; they are matters of fact.
He chuckles. “I should add that the human needs to learn to focus, too! All horses, and especially Arabians, are extremely intelligent and intuitive. As you work in the round pen, the horse will know whether or not you are focused. If your mind wanders, the horse will sense it, and just stop and look at you. Learn to focus, and to cultivate your horse’s potential. When he understands and begins to enjoy the task you are asking of him, the possibilities are unlimited.”
Endurance riding is a mutually rewarding example of the horse-human partnership that was forged
Historically, Arabians have always been among the event’s front finishers. In 2007, for example, eight of the top 10 participants rode Arabians. The breed continues to complete the grueling competition with similarly outstanding performances. Robie’s Western States 100 was soon imitated. Two of the first rides were the Old Dominion 100 in Virginia, and the Bonanza Ox-Trail 102-mile ride in Nevada. The latter was organized by a friend of Robie’s who completed the very first 100-mile ride. Today, hundreds of competitive endurance and distance rides are held all over the world, offering fun, adventure and challenge for human and horse.
The endurance competitor's motto and mindset, "To Finish Is to Win," applies to all types of distance events; every rider can approach and enjoy the sport as a challenging avocation, or a recreational activity like no other. “Horsemen can trade the hectic world of traffic-jammed freeways and skyscrapers for a realm of natural splendor, while passing through cathedral-like groves of virgin forests that shelter vast numbers of wildlife,” boasts the Tevis Cup Board of Governors’ website.
A number of respected breeders of longstanding have found that breeding Arabian performance horses means breeding for a versatile Arabian that can excel in more than one discipline. Some of the breed’s most successful endurance horses were also winners in an earlier incarnation.
“Endurance has been a natural progression for our ex-race horses,” explains Deb Mihaloff. She and her husband, Alan Kirschner, both lifelong Arabian horse people, founded Cre-Run Horse Farm in Hanover County, Virginia in 1986. “We are into the fourth generation of our breeding program,” says Mihaloff, “and we believe in breeding horses that have a life after racing. Many of our ex-race horses are doing well at the 50- and 100-mile distances. Horses we have bred have completed 56,251 endurance miles, and competed in 1,586 rides, to date. Many are consistently among the top 10 finishers.” Bob Walsh’s SheikSheikSheik and rider Teri Carroll tied for fifth place in the 2014 Old Dominion 50 Mile Ride. The flea-bitten grey gelding has 1,170 endurance miles under his belt, to date.
Other Cre-Run-bred horses currently doing well are Cashin In, a chestnut daughter of racing legend
“We were racing our Arabians at Los Alamitos in the mid-1990s,” explains Carl Fudge, of Sturgeon Creek Arabians, in Beausejour, Manitoba, Canada. “We sold one of the horses we had at the track to a girl whose family was very successful in endurance. The horse completed over 2,000 endurance miles, and won several rides and ‘Best Conditioned’ awards. To me, winning the ‘Best Conditioned’ award for a ride is at least as important as winning the ride itself!
“We went on to sell almost two dozen horses into the California endurance market,” he continues. “What I particularly like about endurance is that the care of the horse is THE primary concern. We breed athletic Arabians with racing pedigrees, line-bred to gene pools that are successful race horses; horses that were a known source of successful racing blood in Poland and Russia. All of Sturgeon Creek’s broodmares trace to race- or stakes-winning mares in Russia or Poland. In my mind, racing, whether it be five furlongs or 50 miles, is the ultimate test of a horse’s physical and mental makeup. A horse can be conformed to become an efficient runner, but if he hasn’t developed the mind-set to endure, and to finish ahead of the other horses, he won’t be successful. That is where endurance and flat racing are precisely the same.”
“We don’t ask too much of the young horses,” Fudge adds. “Dr. Deb Bennett says the hock of a horse isn’t fully formed until the horse is 5 years old - which is another good thing about endurance. A horse has to be a full five years old before it can enter a 50-mile ride; 4 year olds can only do 25-mile rides.”
The Arabian Horse Association offers several programs that recognize the efforts of distance riders within the framework of both endurance and competitive trail riding. A number of rides are offered in every AHA Region, from British Columbia to Florida. There is even a National Distance Championship. Other distance honors include an endurance high point award; a horse achievement award, distance horse of the year recognition, amateur and “Frequent Rider” annual awards. For more information, visit the Arabian Horse Association’s website, www.arabianhorses.org/. Click on Competitions, and go to “distance programs” in the drop-down box. All AHA distance riding events are sanctioned by the American Endurance Ride Conference, at www.aerc.org/. The AHA distance riding website lists eight other search sites; and requesting “endurance riding” or “Arabian endurance breeders” on any search engine will yield a wealth of information.