Monday, September 21, 2009

2009 AERC National Championship 100: Any Given Day

Friday September 11 2009

Phase 1 - 13 miles
Vet Check 1 - 30 min hold
Phase 2 - 24 miles
Vet Check 2 - 1 hr hold
Phase 3 - 13 miles
Vet Check 3 - 40 min hold
Phase 4 - 15 miles
Vet Check 4 - 1 hr hold (out)
Phase 5 - 22 miles
Vet Check 5 - 50 min hold (out)
Phase 6 - 13 miles

Any given day in endurance riding, anything can happen. What happens with you and your horse may not be what you carefully planned ahead of time. You might come to try and win, and you might only get a completion instead, or you might get pulled. You might come for a completion and you might win instead. You might come just to complete, and your horse may end up in the treatment barn. You just never know.

It was quite dark as 63 riders gathered along the road to await the controlled walking start of the 100. A little bit of moonlight filtered down through the tall pine trees in camp, but it would be very dark on the trail till the dawn began lightening things up a bit.

Most of the horses were either efficiently warming up by trotting up and down the road; other horses were standing quietly; but a few were wound up. One horse was spinning in circles with the rider saying WHOA! WHOA! and trying to hang on. Brad Green's horse, Pawnee, the "sweetheart," a ghostly gray in the darkness, skittered his way through horses, bulling his way to near the front of the line, plunging and whirling his way into a small meadow near the front, standing and trembling when he wasn't plunging his head anxiously to the ground.

The first phase of 13 miles was not an easy one: a climb of 2500 feet to the first out vet check near Mountain Meadows Reservoir and a 30 minute hold. It would still be too dark for pictures out there, so instead I headed up some logging roads and found a spot at about 32 miles and waited there as the sun came up over the mountains. I heard cantering hoofbeats across the broad valley long before I saw anything - first around the corner kicking up dust was Tamara Nute on her two-time Tevis cup finisher Crossing Jordan and Caroline Williams on Perpetual Bliss. Within the next 8 minutes came Rachel Shackelford on BR Cody de Soi (a 3500 mile horse, and Tevis Cup finisher in August), Lori Oleson and Ms Roze Grey, Suzanne Ford-Huff on Chase the Wind AH, Ron Belknap on Sussman, Brad Green and Pawnee, and Lindsay Graham and Monk.

The leader coming into the first vet check had been the first to fall out, having been pulled. Charisse Glenn, riding FX Zuma Rose was another one pulled at the first vet check - certainly not what she'd planned for the day. Rose ("She can be sweet, or thorny!") was attempting her first 100. "It's a shame, because that horse is so fit," Carl Merganthaler - Charisse's other half and her crew - commented. Rose was lame, but one consolation was that her CRI was 56-44. "That's how it goes," Charisse said optimistically. She was adhering to her policy of always wearing a smile - during the ride, in the vet checks - and having fun, despite her pull.

The front-running group that passed me on phase two was the same group going out from vet check two onto the 13-mile phase three, within 11 minutes of each other.

At vet check two in camp, Carolyn Dawson found herself 1 hour and 20 minutes behind the leaders - much closer to the front on Orzo than she wanted: "He was just full of it out there!" Carolyn and Luanne Holmsen had come cantering by me awfully fast down that logging road - they were both sitting back in their saddle, hauling back on the reins of their over-enthusiastic horses, saying, "Whoa!" trying to slow their momentum. Carolyn's crew and husband (and my adopted uncle) Dick said Carolyn was already tired from Orzo pulling so hard - that Carolyn had to switch to a stronger bit going out on loop 3.

It was a tight race between the same leaders coming off of phase three, with 50 miles completed already, and not yet noon. Brad Green and Pawnee were the first to enter the pulse box. But Pawnee was not down to 64. They had to exit and try again. Rachel Shackelford and BR Cody de Soi were in first, passed their vet check, and would be first out after the 40 minute hold. Tammy Nute and Crossing Jordan were a minute behind, after they were asked for a second trot-out, which Crossing Jordan passed. Three minutes later were Brad and Pawnee; 4 minutes later Lindsay Graham and Monk; 2 minutes later Ron Belknap and Sussman.

It was getting warm now, the temperature reaching the 90's. Phase 4 would be a 15 mile loop to an out vet check and a 1 hour hold.

Forty minutes behind the leaders at this point were Canadians Elroy Karius on Apache Eclypse and Gail Jewell on A Salisbury Rose. Next were Californians Joyce Sousa on LV Integrity and Jennifer Niehaus on NH Copper Blaze, focused on their goal of maintaining their 10 mph pace.

Ten minutes behind that pair were the father-son duo of Matt and Colton Medeiros. Matt and Colton were riding the Patriot's Day 100 for the third year on two Rushcreek horses, Oladom and Lance. What's a bit unique about Colton is that he is only ten years old! Matt and Colton were also clipping along at the steady pace that was keeping them in in the top 15 riders.

The Patriot's Day 100's are not the only hundred mile rides Coltan - who started endurance riding when he was 7 - has ridden in; he's done so many he's lost exact count! "This is my fifth or sixth one." (This was his fifth 100, having also completed the 2008 Swanton Pacific on Rushcreek Lance, in 11th place). Colton prefers 100 milers to 50 milers, "because they don't rub me and because we don't go as fast!" Dad Matt says "It doesn't feel much different to me!" Colton has already ridden almost 1000 miles on Rushcreek Lance. Colton always had a smile on his face throughout the day, and he never looked tired!

Making a (nice) spectacle of themselves, on the trail and in the vet check, were the quadruple team of Montanans Doug Swingley on Pal of Mine, wife Melanie Shirilla on Iamsamm, Suzy Hayes of Montana on RS Silverado, and Tennessee Mahoney of Colorado on JV Laredo, owned by Doug Swingley. For those of you who don't know Doug, previous to his start in riding endurance in 2006, he was a dog sled racer. He won a race called the Iditarod 4 times. Heard of it?

You couldn't miss this group, as they were all riding together, strong and steady, and they were all riding greys wearing black tack. It was time to bridle up and go out on Phase 4: "Which one is my grey horse?" "I don't know, which one is your grey horse?"

Tennessee had planned - and followed through - on qualifying her mare DWA Pearl for the 2010 World Equestrian Games: the FEI Fun In The Sun 50 in March, the FEI 75 miler at the Git R Done in April, the FEI 100 miler at the Owyhee Fandango in May (11th place) - and then found out her mare was pregnant and due to foal this Halloween! It was a shocker (having been told she was NOT in foal, otherwise Tennessee would not have ridden her in these rides), so she was riding Doug's horse today.

The next two vet checks were out of camp, in a meadow at the front of a local's property. He was hanging out at the out-timer's table enjoying the day with everybody.

Coming in first off the fourth 15-mile phase was Brad Green on Pawnee, followed closely by Rachel Shackelford on BR Cody de Soi, and Tammy Nute on Crossing Jordan. Brad went into the pulse box first. Once again, Pawnee was not down to 64, and he had to exit. Rachel's horse was the first down, and the first to see the veterinarians: she was asked for a second trot-out. Cody passed. Tammy and Crossing Jordan were next in the pulse box. The horse was down to 64. They went to the vets: Crossing Jordan was lame! He was pulled.

Lindsay Graham and Monk were next in. They passed the vet check with flying colors - Monk's CRI was 52/48, and Monk looking like he'd just been saddled up for the first time today. The vet said, "Your horse is looking pretty spiffy!"

Monk, only 7 years old and owned by Chris Martin and campaigned by Lindsay ("She's more experienced in FEI, and I wanted a good rider for Monk"), came just to get his COC - Certificate of Completion - a finish in a time for the 100 miles of 12:20 or less. The team had come with a game plan of going this speed if possible - and now found themselves in the front of the pack, with Monk going along so easily.

Monk was a "backyard horse," Chris says. "I had him a couple years, then I threw a saddle on him at 4 and messed around with him. He was that easy." Chris has had some good horses, but nothing like Monk. "His attitude was great from the beginning, all business, and Lindsay really likes riding him - they get along great."

Monk has trouble holding weight, but I noticed he'd put some on since the May Owyhee Fandango ride, where he finished second in the 75 miler. In fact, he had put on about 30 pounds. "And that's because he was at the Fat Farm, at Lindsay's mom's house, where he got spoiled with three meals a day."

Pawnee finally pulsed down for Brad and passed the vet check, which left Rachel leaving in the lead on the fifth phase, 22-mile loop 5, by 6 minutes, followed by Lindsay and Brad.

Rachel was riding for the first time this year as a senior. Cody is a 15-year-old, 3500-mile gelding who started endurance with the Shackelford family in 1999. Rachel started riding him in endurance 2 years ago. Cody and Rachel finished Tevis this August in their most recent ride.

By now the first and last riders were separated by several hours. All day I had not seen the last two riders, Gail Hought on her big, gorgeous, Arabian-Quarter horse CC Maverick, and Ted Goppert on APL Savannah. Horses were coming in and out of the vet check from every which way: horses just arriving off phase 4, horses going out on phase 5, and the leaders coming in from phase 5 for their last hold.

Christoph Schork of Utah, riding Double Zell, was further back than he'd planned today. "My horse didn't take a drink, or eat one blade of grass for 37 miles this morning. I realized I wouldn't win today. I wouldn't Top Ten today. So, I changed my plans, slowed down, and lived to ride another day." Since he'd slowed down, his horse was feeling better and going stronger on every phase.

Connie Creech and LS Shardonney Bey were about 5 hours behind the leaders as they went out on their long 5th phase. Shardonney was doing well, though she was feeling "a little sad" about going out on this phase by herself. Carolyn Dawson and Orzo were just arriving off of phase 4, with Orzo doing well and Carolyn looking a bit peaked. It was a hot day.

Cynthia LeDoux-Bloom and her horse SJ Kerensky - a 1700-mile rider and 1600-mile horse team - were going along in mid-pack and having a good day. "He'd been doing everything right all day - EDPP (eating, drinking, peeing, pooping). At the vet check, as he was eating, I saw this cramp go through him. Jerry Gillespie (a retired veterinarian, and father of Cheryl Dell - there crewing with Cheryl for Becky Hart) saw it too, and told me to walk him around. I did, and he seemed fine, and went back to eating. Then this really bizarre cramp went through him. Jerry didn't say anything but he looked right at me, and pointed straight at the horse van, as in, 'Go - NOW!' It was just something wrong he saw, and with all the knowledge he had, he knew that was a sign of early metabolic problems. We hauled straight in to camp and went straight to the treatment barn, where my horse got a couple of liters of fluid."

Cynthia says she is a "die-hard Middle-of-the-Pack" rider. She and SJ Kerensky have 6 seasons, over 1000 AERC miles, and 4 out of 4 100's (including Tevis) together, and he'd never had a problem. "And I would have gone out on that 22-mile loop, thinking my horse was fine, and then run into trouble. It just makes you think: Any given day, anything can happen. You just never know." (SJ Kerensky was fine later after treatment, alert and looking for his trailer buddy.)

Meanwhile, coming off of phase 5: Brad and Pawnee, Rachel and Cody, Lindsay and Monk arrive together. Their crews - and many other volunteers - jump in to strip the tack, offer water to drink, and cool the horses down with hoses and buckets of water as they make their way toward the pulse box. Within just a few minutes, Monk is down, and goes in. He vets through. Cody takes about 10 minutes to pulse down, and Rachel takes him into the pulse box. They go to the vets and trot out - Cody is lame! He is pulled. That leaves Pawnee - whose pulse is still not down. It takes him nearly 20 minutes to pulse down to 64 (the limit is 20 minutes for FEI); Brad takes him in, and he is down. They go to the vets and trot out sound.

It leaves Lindsay and Monk with a 16 minute lead going out on the last 13 mile phase back to camp. Brad decided not to race after them because he wanted to make sure he got his completion. Lindsay and Monk got a big cheer as they left the last vet check headed for home.

Back at basecamp, an excited crowd gathered around the finish to wait for Lindsay and Monk. Someone saw dust down the trail "Here they come!" Everybody pressed close to the finish line. But it was only Dave Rabe! Out on the ATV, hanging glowsticks for the coming darkness. (Dave had planned to ride the 100 today, but when he woke up early this morning, his horse White Cloud was mysteriously sweating, so he decided not to go, and instead helped out during the day, crewing for people and hanging glowsticks on the trail.)

Finally, here they came, just as the sun was setting, Lindsay and Monk, both of them smiling, cantering across the finish line - Monk spooking a bit at the white line - ears pricked, still looking fresh. If I hadn't seen it all day, I would not have believed he'd just finished a hundred miles.

As darkness settled, the other riders trickled in, the next seven within 9 minutes of each other: Elroy Karius and Apache Eclypse, Gail Jewell on A Salisbury Rose, Joyce Sousa and LV Integrity, Jennifer Niehaus and NH Copper Blaze, Deanna Guinasso and RGR FlashFire, Crockettt Dumas and OT Gunplay RSI, and Suzanne Ford Huff on Chase the Wind AH.

A half hour later, Matt and Colton Madeiros finish on their Rushcreek horses, with Colton still smiling, and still not looking tired.

Connie Creech and LS Shardonney Bey finished in 23rd place at 12:21 AM, with Canadian Terre O'Brenan on Koszaar. "Shardonney was dragging going out on that long phase 5 by herself, but then she got company, and she turned into a maniac! Coming back to camp in the dark on the last 13 mile phase, we were doing a 5 mph walk!" You can still see the big bony lump underneath Shardonney's chin from her broken jaw accident, but she's obviously back to her old self.

At 1:09 AM Carolyn Dawson and Orzo crossed the finish line. Carolyn was leaning slightly back and to the right in her saddle - uh oh, she must be worn out! She didn't spring right off Orzo (imagine that!), and when another horse that finished with her bumped into Orzo, it freaked him out a bit, and he started to spin. Carolyn started to lean further out - like one of those bucking bull riders about to get flung across the arena. Uh oh! A gal jumped in and grabbed Orzo, and I jumped in and grabbed Carolyn. I helped her off Orzo, and helped her stay on her feet - "I lost my equilibrium out there the last few miles!"

She had to sit down a minute - the other gal had taken Orzo on to the vet ring 5 minutes' walk away - before we tackled the hill (which got longer and steeper every time I walked it that evening; by this time of morning it was a mini-mountain). Carolyn was quite exhausted but she insisted on walking by herself ("Come on feet! - one after the other") with no help all the way to the vet ring.

Orzo passed everything well except for his back - Dr Hounsel gave him a C because of his sore back. The vet sent them away without a completion: "Come back before your hour is up - work on that back." The vet thought it was the water bottles in the saddle pack bouncing on Orzo's back that made it sore, but Carolyn said "Oh, no, I know it was me. I couldn't sit up straight on him. I needed to eat and drink, but I couldn't let go of the saddle to get anything or else I'd fall off!" And Orzo was jumpy in the woods in the dark, too. "He was getting funny at night here - he spun a 360 once, and I almost got flung off, but I hung on and stayed on." The thick woods are quite different than the open desert, especially at night.

Dick and Sherry and the other gal brought Orzo back later after massaging and stretching him, (Carolyn was already in bed), and he passed his vet check, to finish in 26th place. Hooray!

I managed to stay at the finish until the next-to-next-to-last riders came in at 2:45 AM, but hearing Gail Hought and Ted Goppert still had another hour to hour-and-a-half to go, I hit the hay. They ended up completing at 4:52 AM. Gail later said "It was pitch black out there. My horse did great - when I let him pick his own way in the dark. The few times I tried guiding him, I got him off trail. So I just let him alone!"

The following day, Elroy Karius - third place finisher, with his wife Gail in fourth (riding only for miles, so got a completion, not a placement) was wearing a knee brace. Elroy had a total knee replacement in January, and got back on a horse after 40 days, and did his first 100 in July. Nothing like a new knee to keep you riding in hundred milers. The ride went great for him and Gail: "The stars have to align - and they did yesterday for us."

Naomi Preston had a great ride on Karlady - "she only bucked me off once!" That was on the first loop, though she'd been shying all day. Lee Pearce insisted Karlady gained weight during the day. "Everytime I put the saddle on and cinched it up, I lost a hole!"

I happened to be standing in the dinner line, before the awards presentation, by Roger Yohe. He finished 14th the 100 on Red Sans Legend. Roger and Red Sans Legend happened to finish Tevis this year. They also happen to be the pair that fell off the Tevis trail in 2007, off the cliffs along the California loop in the dark. The horse managed to scramble to safety, but Roger laid down there for hours broken and battered (help was above, on the trail) waiting to be helicoptered out till 5 in the morning. He was in intensive care for a while, but obviously recovered enough to ride Tevis this year again, and finish quite successfully at the AERC NC. (I also happened to be standing beside Shel Schneider - another person who fell off the Tevis trail with Drew - the lovely horse I rode - on the California loop one year - but they escaped injury.)

Most ecstatic group of the day were the Monk crew - not just for winning the ride in the outstanding ride time of 9 hours and 58 minutes, but for Monk also winning AERC and FEI Best Condition. The horse did look absolutely amazing, all during the 100, and at the Best Condition judging the next morning. The best thing of all: Lindsay never let him go. They have yet to ask him for his best.

With 61 starters, 42 finishers, it was an excellent completion rate of 69% for any ride, much less a Championship 100-mile ride.


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