Monday, August 27, 2007

To Compiegne: Crew Extraordinaire!


Thursday August 23 2007

That would be me, for the first time, Crew Extraordinaire, for Belgian Leonard Liesens and his horse Orfeo in the 140 km CEI*** Teams Trophy of Compiegne 2007! I would be the embedded reporter on the battlefield. Actually I would be the third wheel crew person behind Caroll and Julien (Leo's son), but it would still be my first time crewing in Europe! Come to think of it, I've only crewed a few times in America, and our crewing is certainly lower key than in Europe, especially in France, and most especially at Compiegne! What a place to be crew-initiated!

Leo's team of four consisted of himself, Alain Porras from France, Geraldine Brault from France, and Sabrina Arnold from Germany. Leo would be riding his great horse Orfeo des Iviers, an 18-year-old bay gelding who's been around the endurance block.

Orfeo and Leo met in Orfeo's younger days, after he'd thrown and killed his rider. Leo bought him for 3000 Euros. He was a difficult horse to ride at first, but with a lot of work, he turned into a very good endurance horse, very forward, all business on the trail – in the endurance rides, anyway. In training rides you can see he still has a few of his own opinions – as does Leo! - but they complement each other and work very well together. I had the special treat of riding Orfeo one day in the Belgium forest, and he was delightfully pleasant and fun to ride. He's a narrow, angular Arabian, maybe 15 hands, with a long face and a long, ground covering, comfortable canter.

In his career, Orfeo won 4 3-star endurance races, including 2 160-km races, and the 2000 Belgian Championships. They finished Top 10 in the 1999 European Championships in Portugal, Top 10 in the 2000 World Championships in Compiegne, and won the 140-km in Compiegne in 2003. They made the Belgian team selection 6 times, and Orfeo participated in a total of 2 European Championships and 4 World Championships. Not bad for a little bay horse.

Leonard himself didn't always like horses. Leo's previous wife and kids had gone to stables to take riding lessons, but at the time he wasn't interested at all. Then one day about 10 years ago, he went to a country fair and saw Arabian stallions in a show, and said, “WOW! I must get me an Arabian!” In 3 months he had bought a young Arabian mare. He started taking riding lessons, and studying books by the great classical dressage instructor Nuno Oliveira.

While continuing to improve his riding with instructors, Leo broke in his mare, and used her for trail riding. He wondered what else he could do with her, and then one day heard of endurance. He tried it, and, as happens with most of us, he was hooked.

From there he got Orfeo, and then he met Steph Teeter, who invited him to America to do some rides... including his first 100 mile ride, which was the Tevis Cup. He and Steph finished that ride in 21 hours, still his longest ride ever! He also rode the 3-day historic Outlaw Trail ride, where on one of the days he and his horse got bogged down in quicksand (it took several people to pull the horse out.) Since then, Leo's ridden all over the world, including (besides Europe and America) Dubai, Malaysia, New Zealand, Algeria.

“It's funny how thing come together,” he said. “Thanks to Orfeo I did a lot of things, have gotten to travel all over the world, and thanks to Steph I did a lot of things.”

And here I was at Compiegne, crewing for them! “What do I do?” I asked. “I don't want to do anything wrong!” I mean, what if I lose vet cards? What if I do something wrong that loses valuable time in getting Orfeo's heart rate down? What if I get lost in the swirling chaos of a vet gate and cool down the wrong horse? What do I do at a crew stop on a loop?

Leo gave me instructions on handing off a water bottle as he's coming into a crew stop on a loop. “I like to take the bottle in my right hand, so you have to be on my right side, and you'll run alongside me and hand it off – I'll be cantering – like a baton in a relay race.” Sure, I can do that, I've seen many people do that. Leo cracked up, “And don't forget to take the lid off!”

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