Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Utter Disaster

Wednesday October 28 2009

If you ride up onto the flats above Pickett Creek and look to the southeast, three drainages over is Castle Creek, coming down from the Owyhee Mountains. Look northeast and you'll see where Castle Creek meets the Snake River, and part of the Oregon Trail and Castle Butte just this side of the river.

If you were here 149 years ago, following the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon by Castle Butte, you might have been riding into big trouble. On September 9th, 1860, (an alternate date recorded is August 1860) the wagon train led by Elijah P Utter (sometimes spelled Otter) was attacked by around 100 Indians, probably Bannock and Boise Shoshone.

There were 44 emigrants total in the group - 4 families (12 in the Utter family, led by father Elijah) and 2 Reith brothers. They had gathered together from southern Minnesota and Iowa and started on the Oregon Trail westward.

One of the biggest dangers faced by the emigrants crossing the country - besides injuries, illness, bad weather, wild animals, treacherous terrain, getting lost, and anything else under the sun - was attacks by Indians.

The Utter wagon train was attacked. The wagons were circled to protect the livestock the Indians were trying to stampede. The conflict stopped momentarily when the white men offered the Indians food. The wagon train started moving again, but they were shortly attacked again on Henderson flat. The fighting lasted into the next evening, when the emigrants again tried to move onward to the Snake River, as they and their stock were desperate for water.

The Indians renewed their attack; in total approximately 50 Indians and 19 whites, including Mr and Mrs Utter and 4 of their children, were killed. The Indians turned their attention to plundering the wagons; the remaining 25 emigrants fled and hid, leaving everything behind but a few firearms, and continued on foot down the Snake River, traveling by night and hiding by day.

A week later the survivors arrived at the mouth of the Owhyee River 75 miles away, where most were too weak to continue. The two Reith brothers went to look for help; the rest hunkered down here and waited for rescue, including 18 children.

After two weeks, more Shoshone Indians appeared at the Owyhee camp and traded some food for the last of the survivors' possessions, and stole their guns.

The Van Norman (sometimes spelled Van Ornum) family then struck out to look for help. Three young girls were taken captive by Indians; the rest were murdered. (The girls were apparently found several years later.)

By this time the Army was out looking for the survivors, having gotten word from the Reith brothers, who had finally made it to the Umatilla Indian Agency in Oregon for help.

The murdered Van Norman family was discovered by the Army, six weeks after they had fled their wagon train; and finally the debilitated party on the Owyhee River was found, 16 people who'd survived on berries, frogs, snakes, mice, a few fish from the Indians - and the bodies of a man, boy and infant who had died. Several young children had starved to death.

This Saturday, at the Hallowed Weenies endurance ride down the road in Owyhee county, we'll have something besides Halloween ghouls and goblins to ponder as we ride over the site of the attacks.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Perfect Taste of Fall

Monday October 26 2009

It's a national pastime, isn't it? Going out for a drive to see the fall colors.

Here in Owyhee, to get your taste of fall, saddle up your beloved horse

on the perfect October autumn day, and take a ride.

Up on the flats toward the mountains;

down into Pickett Creek canyon

where the cottonwoods are golden

and the quail bush shouts in red, crimson, scarlet, maroon, sangria, burnt orange, rust.

Your horse cruises along, stops to pick at new green grass from last month's rainstorm; cool autumn breezes hinting of winter finger through your hair and tickle your nose.

Nature sightseeing on a perfect cool fall day in a beautiful country on a most beautiful horse

(and, first post-busted-rib ride) - the perfect taste of fall.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Where's the Beef?

Friday October 23 2009

Where's The Beef?

Who is this slim, shapely, handsome beast? Could this be Dudley, the perennial overweight buffalo-fat lard-butt pudgeball?

No matter what kind of diet he's been on, he can just gaze longingly at the big hay bales behind the fence and it goes straight to his hips. And everywhere else.

So in addition to putting him on a strict diet (AGAIN), we started him on this D-Carb Balance formula. It's for Insulin Resistant horses (we suspect Dudley is), laminitic horses (Dudley's had several episodes), and obese horses (DUDLEY).

The D-Carb is supposed to help the body use the feed as energy instead of storing it as fat. We started him on it on mid-September; he was in a large pen with Finneas - who drove him all day (somehow Finneas thinks it keeps the flies off his face to drive Dudley around all day long). They probably walked at least 10 miles a day, so Dudley was getting plenty of exercise, along with his diet of hay only, and the D-Carb.

During the 5-day Canyonlands Ride, Dudley was stuck in a small pen for about 8 days, and I thought he was getting a little slimmer, though that had to be my imagination, because he was getting zero exercise.

After the ride, he was turned back out to plenty of roaming around. I was gone for two weeks, and I come back to see: hipbones! Dudley has hipbones! And a neck that is not so cresty. The fat dimples over his butt are almost a memory. He's a horse that looks like... well, a horse! I want to say he's not even so obsessed over food, because there are times I see him up the canyon just standing there and hanging out, and not looking for food, scheming for food, escaping for food, or scheming to escape for food.

I'm not saying this D-Carb stuff is a miracle, and I'm the world's greatest devil's advocate and skeptic, but, Dudley the Beefalo, for whatever reasons, is becoming Dudley Slim Jim.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Welcome to the Club

Thursday October 22 2009

I didn't realize it at first, but after I fell off Kazam and busted my rib, I became a member of an elite group. Tim Floyd let me in on the secret at the Owyhee Canyonlands ride when I told him why I wasn't riding. "Oh! Welcome to the Broken Rib Club!"

I'm sure lots of people break ribs, but a LOT of endurance riders are members of the Broken Rib club. I can't count how many times, just during the week of the Canyonlands ride, I heard, "Oh, (roll of eyes) been there done that, don't want to do it again!" "I broke 4 ribs!" "I broke 2." "I broke 3 ribs and punctured a lung!" (Note: the Punctured Lung Club is an E-LITE club, one I don't aspire to.)

So you can see why, instead of going to the doctor, I consulted my numerous endurance friends who have dealt with broken ribs, for advice. (Karen B said, "Gee, I don't know whether to be "honored" about being a broken rib consultant or not!")

Best most optimistic scenario for being able to ride again as usual without causing more damage (if I don't go out and fall off and re-break it - or go out and do a dumb thing again like ride an ATV on a bumpy road) is 6 weeks.

Which would just about fit the 2-day Hallowed Weenies endurance ride just down the road at the end of October right neatly into my schedule. That's almost 6 weeks. It's been a very difficult 29 days so far, turning down rides, watching people ride off and have fun without me. That's about as bad as the pain itself. (I can feel sorry for myself so very well, don't you think?)

But meanwhile, through the peevishness of sitting on the sidelines, I've rested enough so that the acute pain has gone away. Now it's more like a butter knife against my insides at certain times instead of a Buck Knife all the time, and I don't have trouble sitting up. It's mostly just twisting now that gives me the most problems. I'm always mentally calculating and measuring everything against, "Well if I'm riding and a horse stumbles, or spooks, how will it feel?" The answer now is, Not too bad.

And so my rehab has started. Besides warm water therapy, massage and herbal liniment, now I've added sit ups, and today, hiking. I went on an hour hike (with one little hill), the most I've done since I broke the rib. My lung hardly felt anything from heavy breathing.

Actually I will probably cheat a bit early, get on Stormy for a little ride on Sunday (special day, his half-year birthday more or less), so that's almost 5 weeks. That should be good enough, shouldn't it? I should be fine, as long as I don't fall off again (unlikely with Stormy).

You don't get extra credit or a promotion in the Broken Rib Club if you rebreak your rib or add some new ones. And Lord knows you people don't want to hear any more weeks of whining from me, so I'll be careful.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2009 Kentucky Cup Wrap-Up

Thursday October 15 2009

I have to say that the Best Condition judging was quite a disappointment. None of the horses from the 120 km race were seen the morning after the race, when the horses from the 160 km-reduced-to-120 showed, because the UAE and Spanish horses all left Wednesday night after they finished the race. (Incidentally, other foreign horses could not get their passports to leave the stable area until after the BC on Thursday.)

Nobody knew if the 120 km horses 1) didn't show at all, 2) if they showed the night before and one was awarded a prize, or 3) if the 120 km BC was combined with the 160 km. In any case, it would have been nice to see these horses, which looked good when they arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park, and good all during the ride. Phenomenal horses, some of them, and we never saw them again.

Additionally, the actual inspections and trotting out of the 160 km horses at the BC judging was, I must say this, and can think of no other way to put it, conducted like a funeral. Nobody was allowed to clap, whistle, or cheer in any shape or form until after each horse was finished and given the 'Okay All Done' nod, and if anyone mistakenly peeped too soon, officials rushed down the sides of the arena to shush anybody doing so.

Which brings me to Protocol. Some people observed that Protocol was strictly followed in some things and not in others, was reasonable in some cases and unreasonable in others. Protocol is a fine idea if it applies to all, and if it's reasonable.

Everybody dressing up for the initial vetting in of their horses is a practical idea. It looks good for the spectators. Everybody dressing up during the race to cool down horses and vet in horses at the vet gates is not practical (especially with messy conditions of Wednesday). Riders waving their country flags across the finish line is an excellent idea, for the riders, countries, fans, and spectators - it expresses enthusiasm. I don't see why everybody shouldn't be able to do this. It is done in other countries in FEI rides, why not here?

I've been to big important endurance rides in this country and other countries where the Best Condition judging is a lively cheerful event with audience participation, where everybody is understandably proud of the horses that made it through the ride in the Top Ten (especially through the strenuous muck of yesterday!), and they cheer for the horses as they trot out. The gloomy, silent, and funereal showing of the horses on Wednesday is not practical (you can't tell me a judge would be influenced by cheering), nor is it fan or spectator friendly. Why can't we show that we are proud of our best horses and riders after what they have accomplished?

The ceremony itself was nice, with the individuals and teams in their matching outfits bring out their horses and riding them around the arena. The only almost sad thing was, when Jan Worthington's horse Golden Lightning was announced as the Best Condition winner (hooray Leon!), Jan was stuck on the podium as Leon's trophy was handed to Leon's groom! Nobody said anything, and perhaps with the solemnness of the BC judging, maybe Jan was afraid she might do something wrong if she stepped down to be with her horse.

I waved at her, said "Jan come on down!" - still nobody said anything, and at the risk of me getting kicked out of the arena I said, "Jan - IT'S YOUR HORSE!" and finally she stepped down to be united with her beloved Leon, and she recieved a horse blanket blanket from the representative of the Emirates Equestrian Federation.

Now on to the event itself. We were reminded several times, "This is a TEST EVENT." Emmett Ross and his staff and volunteers were truly tossed a big TEST to deal with. October truly is the driest month in Lexington, so while possible rain could have been predicted, nobody would have been prepared for the deluge we got, right on race day. Emmett will have a year to figure some things out, and, as he said, "Pray!"

And despite the difficulty of the footing, making it possibly the toughest ride most of the riders and horses had ever done, everyone I talked to enjoyed the course and realized its great potential in good weather.

Carolyn Hock, who pulled her horse GT Sando at the second vet check, said, " It was way cool! We cantered through this wrought iron gate, down this driveway lined with trees shading it, to this old mansion, where we galloped around their circular driveway, and people were out on the porch waving at us! It was fabulous!"

160 km winner Danielle McGunigal said, "Had it been nice it would have been fantastic and fast."

I only heard praise for the well-marked course despite all the twists and turns and the trail crossing itself many times. Any riders that I heard who were disappointed with the shortening of the 160 km to 120 km still saw the wisdom in that decision. Footing conditions were not going to improve through the night, even if it did stop raining.

Second place Ellen Rapp commented, "The trails were marked beautifully, I had no hesitation at any turns or crossings."

The top three finishers in the 160 km showed up at a press conference after the awards. 38-year-old Danielle McGunigal, 1996 World Endurance Champion and daughter of 2-time World Endurance Champion Valerie Kanavy, said it was the most difficult ride she's ever done. "With the mud, rain and cold, it was like swimming uphill with a hole in your paddle." She was disappointed the race was shortened, because she needed her COC - but also glad, because she didn't know how the horses would have done attempting the full distance.

From Fort Valley, Virginia, she's been racing since she was 8; she rode in her first National Championship at 10, and was on the US Team for the first time at 15. Danielle's mount, 8-year-old Gold Raven, "is a rising star." Danielle helps train Valerie's horses, and while something about every horse is special, Raven is unique. "She can be such a bully; in the vet check, she can be difficult - but at the same time that's what is great about her." Danielle has competed on two of Raven's sisters, and "they are all very tough, and really put their teeth into their work, and they get 'er done."

Ellen Rapp, a 27-year-old former eventer, from Dubuque, Iowa, was somewhat overwhelmed with the awesome performance of her horse, Berjo Smokey. "Lots of horses come and go, but no horse can hold a candle to Smokey." Her partner Jeremy Oleson found Smokey as an unbroke, untrained 7-year-old, 7 years ago. She and Jeremy are the only ones who have ever ridden him - "He hates people, he was wild, still is." Ellen gets on him at rides only, where "He tolerates me. He's gotten me far, he's absolutely amazing!"

Jan Worthington, from Scales Mound, Illinois, said it this was one of the hardest rides she'd ever done in her life, "and I've done a lot of rides." (Over 27,000 AERC miles, and countless rides around the world.) "It was so bad, so cold, raining... I couldn't see out of my glasses at times, couldn't see the markers." She was very proud of her 9-year-old gelding Golden Lightning's performance today. Jan didn't like Leon at first as a 5-year-old: "He was shy, was a racehorse, didn't like people, you couldn't catch him. Now he's an easy horse; what you want him to do he'll do. Anything is okay with him." And maybe the reason he did so well in the mud, said Jan, "Is because he has tiny feet, like a mule." The Best Condition award was a surprise - "I've been blessed with a very very nice horse."

Besides the accomplishments of the individual riders, this was also the North American Endurance Team Challenge. There were some nice horses and riders in all the US and Canadian regions that were thrown monkey wrenches by the weather and footing and luck. Riding plans certainly changed with the weather and footing. As Jan Worthington said, "The horses do get sour in the mud. You had to know when to go slow and when you could go faster."

Team USA East won the Gold Medal: Danielle McGunigal on Gold Raven, Dr Meg Sleeper on Syrocco Harmony, Stephen Rojek on Savvy, and Farzad Faryadi on Hot Desert Night.

Remember the quote by Team USA Central's coach Grace Ramsey? "I've got old age and treachery on my side! Two pups and two old ladies!" Team USA Central won the Silver Medal: Ellyn Rapp on Berjo Smokey, Jan Worthington on Golden Lightning, Darolyn Butler on DJB Juniper, and Julie Jackson-Biegert on Halsteads Firesky.

The Team Mountain USA won the Bronze Medal: Christoph Schork on TC Mounshine, Suzy Hayes on Pal of Mine, Doug Swingley on JV Laredo, and Tennessee Mahoney on Ruleta PJ.

With the lessons learned, next year everyone will be a little more prepared for just about any circumstances. Emmett Ross insists it won't rain. "It can't!" But in the meanwhile, let's all just worship the sun and pray a little. Can't hurt.

2009 Kentucky Cup & North American Team Challenge

Wednesday October 14 1009

Great weather for an endurance race, if you're a duck. On second thought, I didn't see any ducks anywhere around. The rain began just around the start of the 120 km ride at 7:30 AM - and didn't stop all day. Mid-40's and dumping rain most of the morning, then rain and wind, then light rain and wind, then mist and wind, more rain, more wind, and colder, dropping into the upper 30's. The condition of the course - 70% of it over mowed grass - got worse proportionally with the amount of rain: slick, with mud, that only got slicker and deeper as the day wore on.

In the vetting area, under the media and volunteer tents, it was wet - not from falling rain, but from rainwater that seeped up from the ground. Within an hour, footsteps left everything muddy, so that by noon mud was ankle deep everywhere, in the vetting and crewing areas, in the tents. By afternoon I had to walk funny because my shoes threatened to get sucked off at every step. The tracks for the horses were even worse, up to 8 inches of deep mud in some places. A little river formed at the out-timer where horses went out onto loops 3 through 6.

It was truly a test of endurance, for horses and riders, and the crews who got to stand around and freeze while they waited for their riders to come off the course.

Loop 1 - 28.7 km
Loop 2 - 39.8 km
Loop 3 & 5 - 20.4 km
Loop 4 - 31.1 km
Loop 6 - 19 km

The UAE boys, including 21-year-old Shaikh Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, were the first to canter off at the start at 7:30 AM, when it was just light enough (with the heavy cloud cover and rain) to see without headlamps.

The 160 km riders were warming up in a big circle around the starting line for the 7:46 AM start. Becky Hart commented that some of them looked cold and should warm up better, even as some of the horses stopped and stood with their butts turned to the wind and rain (they'd be going straight into it). Tony Benedetti, coach for the Pac South team, joked, "It's just like California out here!" One of the riders said "My hands are frozen already!" Some of the horses wore butt blankets all day.

Off they went, an orderly start, while I tried to find a dry place for the next 1 1/2 hours that it would probably take the leaders to finish the first 28.7 km loop. The small media tent, while it had a nice heater blasting out hot air, was nowhere near the course (or near anything), nor did it have any food or water, or coffee which would have been quite welcome, so I hunkered down most of the time in the volunteers' tent, which was bigger, had coffee, another blasting heater, and I found I was able to take pictures of a bit of the finish line chute - where all the loops came in - through a divide in the tent walls. By the time riders started coming the wind was knocking the tent flaps, and therefore my camera, around so much I didn't know which was worse for my camera, the banging from the tent or the rain outside.

The heavy rain let up a bit, but by the time the first riders came in off Loop 1 at 9 AM it was back to raining hard. The first ones in were the UAE boys and Spain's Jaume Punti on Kopal de Cabirat on the 120 km, with the leader Shaikh Majid's horse Kangoo d'Aurabel averaging 18.7 km/h (11.6 mph).

Valerie Kanavy, riding the 8-year-old mare LM Parys, and her daughter Danielle McGunigal, on 8-year-old Gold Raven (an auspicious name to be sure), were the first riders from the 160 km to arrive at the vet gate, averaging 19.4 km/h (12 mph). Farzad Faryadi on 9-year-old Hot Desert Night was in hot pursuit, 3 minutes behind them, followed by Jeremy Reynolds on Sir Smith, Canadians Tara and daughter Ariel MacLeod on Cairos Summer Rmance and Driftwoods Bellanca, Gabrielle Mann on CM Big Easy, and Cheryl Dell on TR Reason to Believe.

Tara and her 7-year-old Anglo Arab mare last rode in the Ft Howes 100 in June - in similar (worse, really) weather conditions and over similar (in the morning, anyway) terrain. Ariel and her 8-year-old Arabian mare completed the 75 at Ft Howes. Maybe their horses would have an advantage today.

Conspicuously at the back of the pack on the 120 km, with only one horse beaten, was Maria Alvarez Ponton on Sahara, nearly an hour behind Shaikh Majid's lead. It seemed rather slow for the World Champion... but maybe she's a World Champion because she knows what she's doing.

Just 6 horses in both distances were eliminated after loop 1, including Penny and Alexandra Toft who retired their horses. "I've never been so scared in my life!" Penny said. They decided to stop: "These are good horses, and it's not worth the risk." It was a very expensive endeavor, flying two horses in from Australia for this ride to finish only one loop, but since I've known the Tofts, they've always put the best interest of their horses first.

Besides, 14-year-old Alexandra was near hypothermia, standing under the Australian crewing tent (open on both sides) shivering, with her teeth chattering. Madonna Harris, the High Performance Coach of the New Zealand team, here to scout out the trail with an eye to bringing a team next year, grabbed Alexandra and dragged her to the other side of the property, into the media tent, setting her down right in front of the heater. She got wrapped in a blanket, and I peeled her helmet off and stuck my wool hat on her head, and fifteen minutes later she was still shivering in front of the blasting hot air. A couple of medics were there monitoring her temperature. "That's nothing," Madonna said, "You should have seen Matthew Sample!" He was the Australian who just won the Quilty with his brother Brook in September. Madonna had brought Matthew to the heater also because he was even more frozen. Matthew warmed up enough to go out on the second loop, but his horse - DJB Boomer owned by Darolyn Butler, ended up lame.

Russian entrant Nikolay Melbard, riding Christoph Shork's DWA Express was one eliminated for lameness at the first vet check. Nikolai had been looking forward to his ride on the stallion: "He's very strong, I like that!" He said he'd be back next year to try again.

Now, what to do while waiting for the riders to complete the 2nd 39.8 km loop? There was a Hospitality Tent which had food, but was not so hospitable - it was by invitation only. Still no food or drink for the media anywhere, and the volunteer tent was under water and the heater crowded. The UAE had their own temporary building put up, and their own catering service where, if you walked on the backside road (we weren't allowed in the crewing areas either, so the only way from one side to the other was on this back road behind the UAE building) your mouth watered when you saw the hot steaming food being cooked and carried into the building. (sigh)

However, I'd had the great fortune and pleasure of meeting equine photographer and journalist Genie Stewart-Spears, and she had the luck or foresight to have a camper in the campground which just happened to be a short distance from the vetting area. She took me in and gave me hot coffee and hot homemade soup, giving us both a little respite from the cold and rain. (She'd also given me a pair of rain pants, which saved my legs, and I'd run to Walmart the night before to pick up a $1 emergency rain poncho which was a brilliant move.)

Back into the elements to wait for the riders arriving off Loop 2. Ian Williams had been announcer during the day - it was a great way to keep up with what was going on in the ride. He kept presenting a cheery forecast, insisting "The rain is going to clear up around noon," but I was a bit skeptical, as I sloshed through the mud toward the course.

It was still - guess what! - raining at 11:33 when the riders came splashing in off Loop 2. The first 4 in were the UAE boys led by Shaikh Majid; next two were the Spanish Jaume Punti and Jordi Arboix. Second place, Yahya Sughayer Danoon's horse Medjerda, a nice eye-catching 9-year-old dark gray Arabian, was asked for a 2nd trot out, but he passed. Third place Lillig Armor, ridden by Mubarak Khalifa had a CRI of 60/40 - and that after pulsing down in 3 minutes. The first 8 riders all did this loop faster than the first one.

On the 160 km, clipping along at 20 km/h put Farzad Faryadi and Hot Desert Night in first place, a couple of minutes ahead of Valerie and Danielle.

Valerie's horse LM Parys was asked for a 2nd trot out in the vet gate, and was out for lameness - her horse had slipped and fallen on one of the paved roads on loop 2 and they both went down. LM Parys had scraped up her hind leg, although she was lame in front at the trot out. (Next morning, she was okay).

That left Farzad in first, Danielle in 2nd 6 minutes later, Jeremy Reynolds and Sir Smith moving up into 3rd 7 minutes later, followed by Mark Ibanez of Chile, riding Cheryl Van Deusen's Precious Beaunita. Next was Bob Gielen of Canada on FC Galaxy, Ellyn Rapp of Illinois on Berjo Smokey, and Jan Worthington of Illinois on Golden Lightning. Leon looked good - but then he always looks good to me.

Maria Alvarez had kicked up the pace on Sahara on this loop of the 120 km; 18 km/h (and a 2:12 to pulse down) put her in 11th place. French riders Virginie Atger and Caroline Denayer were riding together in 14th & 15th place, averaging 15 km/h.

Now the tough condition of the course was starting to take its toll - the eliminations were proportional to the rain and the deepening mud. 15 horses were pulled at Vet Gate 2 for lameness, and 1 for metabolics. Two were retired by their riders, including Carolyn Hock and her gelding GT Sando. "He passed his vet check, but I could tell he was just not moving quite right in the hind end. I conferred with my coach and the team vet and asked them for advice; we decided not to go on."

Cheryl Dell and Reason were pulled for lameness behind - and it wasn't till after the trot out that they discovered, in all that mud, they'd overlooked the fact he was missing a hind shoe. Argh! Cheryl later said that the person assigned to look after the shoes had been pulled to help elsewhere, and it was just overlooked. "Well, you live and learn." A disappointment, but, with the going so bad, maybe it was a blessing in disguise.

Just about this time, Ian Williams announced that the officials had gotten together and decided to shorten the 160 km race to 120 km, since the rain was not going to stop (maybe they'd previously been looking at the weather forecast for, say, Tahiti.) "Due to the weather and the conditions of the course" it was "in the best interest of the horses" to eliminate the last two loops.

There were mixed feelings about it - some riders were happy about the decision, because the conditions of the course really were deteriorating - mud up to 8 inches deep in some places, and the river crossings were getting deep - and only going to worsen; but some riders were disappointed, because they'd come to get their COCs. However, Jan Worthington pointed out the next day that the conditions were so bad, she didn't know if anybody would have finished the entire 160 km.

Meanwhile, the ride continued, and so did the wind and rain and cold. As veterinarian Dr Jim Baldwin said, "It's just another day in an endurance rider's life - there's a limited number, so make the best of 'em." And you didn't see too many unhappy faces, even while riders were shivering and huddled over their cups of hot tea or coffee. Some riders whooped it up as they headed out on their next loops. Mustafa Tehrani from India, riding Linda Crandell's mare LR Jasur Melika, was having a good time despite the weather, and despite the shortening of the distance of the 160 km, since he'd come aiming to get his COC. He agreed with Ian's earlier weather forecast... to some extent. "Yes there will be sunshine. In my home country of India!"

The 20.4 km Loop 3 took just over an hour for the front runners. The UAE and Spanish boys were still leading, with Shaikh Majid staying in front by a couple of minutes, averaging 19.2 km/h on that loop. Jaume Punti retired his horse at the vet check, which moved Leo Steinbruch of Brazil, riding Stars A Flame - owned by Dian Woodward & Christoph Shork - up to 6th place.

Danielle McGunigal, in the 160 km, was actually only 2 minutes behind Shaikh Majid - she'd made up 14 minutes on the trail. Ellen Rapp and Smokey arrived just 3 minutes behind her. Farzad Faryadi was in 8th, but he turned up on the eliminations sheet at the timer. If you didn't see him go out, you wouldn't know he was still going. I didn't find that out till after the top 10 or so had finished the ride, and it wasn't corrected till later on the printouts. It was a surprise when everyone saw his name on the pull list, and it was another surprise to find out he ultimately finished 8th!

By now the rain was lighter, but the wind was stronger and colder. Crewing was either Hit or Miss, Luck, or an Art. Used to dumping water on a horse to cool it down in warm weather, what does the crew do when it's 40* and raining outside, with a wind chill below 30*? The horses would come in steaming from their hard efforts in the mud, with heart rates above the (I believe it was) 64 criteria. Some crews would toss blankets on the horse's butt and not pour water on them at all and just let the rain and cold wind do the cooling. Some crews poured water (it was all cold water) on the neck and shoulders, keeping the butt blanketed. Some crews poured water over the entire horse, and some horses kept their tails clamped to their butts. There was a fine line between cooling a horse down and cooling it down too much to where they then had to be warmed up. Some horses spent their hold times shivering while they ate and rested. Some riders spent their breaks shivering under coats and horse blankets.

Twenty-one eliminations at Vet Gate 3, 10 for lameness, 1 for metabolics, one for "Lack of Time", one "Horse very tired". 8 of them were "retired by the rider", including Gabrielle Mann and Big Easy. Gabrielle echoed a common sentiment, "It just wasn't worth risking hurting my horse." Canadian Ariel MacLeod was another who stopped here; her mom Tara's horse had been pulled for lameness at Gate 2.

And the track did keep getting worse, especially any common trail. Kim Fuess, who ended up with two of her horses finishing the 160 km - Ben whom she rode, and Rushcreek Laramie, whom Charisse Glen rode - recounted later, "I thought the first loop was bad, but when I was out on Loop 2, I thought, 'Wow, Loop 1 was nothing!', but when I was on Loop 3, I thought 'Wow, Loop 2 was nothing, this is bad!', and when I was on Loop 4, I thought, 'Loop 3 was nothing, THIS is bad!'. It just kept getting worse all day!"

Taking it all in stride, and I daresay, enjoying himself, was Bill Stevens from Montana. Bill and Jan (the Chief Steward for the ride) put on the Fort Howes ride in Montana in June, where, this year, it rained, sleeted, snowed, and hailed - and was about 10 degrees colder than in Lexington today. Bill was jolly, zooming around in his golf cart checking the course (he was the hands-on, mud-on, 'loop 2 manager' but I saw him everywhere), spreading changes of clothes all over the volunteer tent to 'dry' - he really was having a good time. "This is nothing like Montana - it's not even snowing yet!"

As the front runners went out on their fourth and last loop of 31.1 km, the rain let up a bit (although it never stopped), but the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. As we waited for the first finishers to come in between 3:30 and 4 PM, even I, a cold lover, was getting pretty frozen (cold, wet, muddy feet and ankles all day, and a wet head to boot now), and was trying to shelter from the wind a bit beside the volunteer tent. I felt for those UAE crew boys, who looked frozen in their Tshirts and sweatshirts, (not one of them wearing a coat) covered only with a thin plastic raincoat that looked suspiciously like the $1 raincoat I'd just gotten at Walmart. Kentucky in October was a loooong way from the Dubai desert!

Just in case there was a galloping finish (i.e. if anybody was silly enough to have to do that), the officials moved the last 50 yards of track over a few lanes, since the original lane was now deep in mud and very slippery from previous horse tracks.

The first two finishers to come cantering in were on the 120 km, Shaikh Majid and Ahmed Salem Ali Sutal Al Sabousi, waving big UAE flag poles, their horses looking fresh. Ahmed's horse presented first after 6 minutes and got a completion, followed by Shaikh Majid's horse after 9 minutes, giving him the win.

Next across the line was Danielle McGunigal in the 160 km. Gold Raven took 13 minutes before she was taken in to be vetted through. After the first two finishers in the 120 km passed their vet check, all the announcing by Ian Williams stopped; so unless you were at the exit of the vet ring, you didn't know who passed or failed.

Without the announcing it was a bit hard to keep up with things - who was coming in to the finish, who was in the crewing area (especially hard to tell riders and crews apart in their layers of rain gear), who was entering the vet gate, who passed and completed the race.

I was at the finish line and never even heard whether Danielle's horse had passed the vet check or not (and was therefore the winner), so I had to ask someone, who'd watched the horse trot out, if Danielle had completed.

Next year there's supposed to be a Jumbotron, to show riders on course, and to project statistics in the vet gates, so everybody will know what's going on during the ride. It was quite nice having Ian announcing what was going on, but when he stopped, it was like turning a light off and having to feel your way around in the dark.

The next finishers in the 120 km were UAE's Kanoon in 3rd, Spain's Jordi Arboix in 4th, UAE's Khalifa in 5th, UAE's Sultan Ahmad Sultan bin Sulayem in 6th, and Maria Alvarez in 7th. Leo Steinbruch of Brazil was next followed by the two French girls Caroline Denayer and Virginie, still riding together on their leased American horses.

In the 160 km Ellen Rapp cantered across the finish line in second, (she had backed way off the pace on this last loop), and Jan Worthington and Leon were 3rd. After Leon passed the final vet check, Jan did a happy dance in the mud, and Grace Ramsey, the Central Team coach and co-owner/trainer of Leon, did a Yahoo too - "We got third!"

Jeremy Reynolds came under the finish line after having gotten off Smitty and leading him much of the last part of that last loop - but Smitty was so tired at the final vet check, he wouldn't trot out. Four times they tried trotting him, and not for anything would Smitty move out of a walk. He was listed as "lame" though "Horse Very Tired" (as was listed for another horse) should have been for Smitty also. Jeremy had done as much as he could, getting off him to walk part of the last loop, but Smitty was just done - the mud got him too today.

Just 14 of 34 starters finished the 120 km, and 31 of 61 finished the 160-shortened-to-120 km. (Chikako Nishiyama is listed as a starter in the 120 km, but she didn't start; and Cici Butler is listed as a starter in the 160 km, but she didn't start. There could possibly be more, but I don't think so.)

A pretty gloomy rate, but then it was a pretty dismal day with dismal footing. Shaikh Majid didn't think so, but then he's a youthful 21. I'll share a quote handed to the media the next day, for a diplomatic point of view: "There wasn't any hard part, other than the ground being a bit slippery. Other than that, it was excellent. There wasn't anything wrong or bad." Mubarak Khalifa (5th in the 120 km) said of the weather, "Endurance riders are used to riding in all kinds of weather, so this is normal."

A couple of horses were treated as a precaution, either by vet's choice or rider's choice, and all were reported to be doing fine the next day.

The 2009 Kentucky Cup really was a true test event - a test of the course (Emmett Ross will have some more planning to do next year, and, as he said, "Praying"), of communications (a bit erratic at times - places and times and scheduling of things changed and much of it was luck if you heard those changes or not), and most of all an extreme test of the riders and horses competing (and their tenacious crews).

Just about everybody came away with something learned for next year, including me: bring Muck Boots, another $1 raincoat, and maybe a couple of Ducks.

Friday, October 16, 2009

2009 Kentucky Cup Pre-Ride Preparations

Tuesday October 13 2009

If your pulse doesn't quicken when you drive into the Lexington, Kentucky, area, along all those immaculate white-fenced farms with gorgeous creatures grazing in those green green bluegrass fields, you probably don't truly have horses in your blood.

Harmonizing with the appropriate state motto, "Kentucky - Unbridled Spirit", Lexington lays claim to the indisputable title "Thoroughbred City" and "Horse Capital of the World". Kentucky's first racetrack was built in 1789, and generations of the world's best Thoroughbred racehorses have graced the bluegrass here. Ever heard of Man O' War? Secretariat?

But even if you're not a Thoroughbred racing fan, it's the home of inexhaustible Horseness: the Rolex Kentucky 3-day Event, endless horse shows, and the Kentucky Horse Park, with its museums and hands-on look at over 40 horse breeds.

And then there's the 2010 World Equestrian Games to be held here, in the Kentucky Horse Park, next year from September 25 to October 10. The test event for the World Endurance Championship would be held on Wednesday October 14th this year, to test the facilities, course, protocols and flow of things for next year's ride. It was also the North American Team Challenge, with riders from the 5 US regions and 2 Canadian regions competing. The Team Challenge was a 100-mile FEI 3* event (160 km, in FEI lingo) and was also open to foreign riders; many riders were here to obtain their COC (Certificate of Completion) as a rider/horse combination to qualify for next year's World Championship (100 miles in under 12 1/2 hours). There was also a 75 mile ride (120 km, in FEI lingo) for those who didn't want or need to ride a hundred miles and just wanted to see most of the course, in the Kentucky Horse Park and over private farms outside the park.

On paper the course looked confusing and complicated, many times crossing over itself and a lot of common trail going both directions, but course designer and event director Emmett Ross almost guaranteed riders wouldn't get lost, as the course was marked "so well," with "thousands of ribbons and signs and markers," and 2000 glow sticks for the night loops.

The biggest challenge was probably going to be the weather - the forecast was dismal, with the chance of rain steadily increasing to 90% chance on race day, and the high temperature reaching only 44*.

Vetting in was to be held on Tuesday at 11 AM in the nearby outdoor arena. The UAE and Spanish horses hadn't arrived yet, and when the vans pulled up, everybody and everything was put on hold for 45 minutes while those horses were dealt with. Riders wanting to go out and ride before the vetting in were stuck in their stables unless they'd slipped out earlier, and those wanting to return to their stalls were stuck outside till the veterinarians inspected the foreign horses and their passports. The horses were then led past the US and Canadian stalls to their roped off stalls in back.

The UAE and Spanish horses were the first to go to the arena and vet in. They all looked racing fit and professional - clipped manes and business attitudes. All were full Arabians, except for one Anglo-Arab and one "part Arab." One was taken for a second trot-out in front of a panel of vets. (Later, after all the other countries' horses had vetted in, two more horses from the UAE went to the arena and were vetted through.) Once the UAE and Spain returned to the stables, the rest of the countries got ready to head to the arena.

As Argentina was waiting to go in the vetting area first with their horses, it was announced that the dress code in the vetting in ring was to be strictly followed. No blue jeans and tennis shoes! Poor Christian Peterson, riding Cheryl Van Deusen's mare CA Amal Hafizolivia, was not allowed to take his mare in and present her because he had tennies on. The riders and crews from the different countries, and from the different US and Canadian teams looked spiffy in their particular colors. All of Canada was a bright bold red statement!

The vetting in itself seemed to go smoothly. A few horses were asked for second trot-outs, but later at the ride meeting, Grand Jury President Brian Dunn announced that all the horses had passed their vet inspections.

Many riders took their horses out for rides as the clouds gathered and got heavy, a portent of things to come. While the mood of many riders seemed to be light, maybe some were just hiding their nerves well. Jeremy Olson noted a "tension in the air"... that maybe some of the horses picked up on. Young Japanese rider Chikako Nishiyama took her horse for a spin, literally - he was a bit rambunctious on the grass track, and must have bolted coming down the hill to the stables. He turned and dumped Chikako, who was hauled off to the hospital. That evening we heard she was still thinking about riding, but she ended up not starting.

Jeremy's 11-year-old Shagya gelding SA Belshazzar, who's "never bucked in his life," did it on Tuesday. "My groom was holding him for me to get on, and she said 'Good luck!' I got on, and he ran backwards, bucked forwards, then planted it!" He gently squeezed his legs, and finally got him moving forward, and then he was okay. Jeremy and his wife Ellen Rapp - riding 14-year-old Berjo Smokey - were hoping for a good ride - and expecting it to be a fast one. Ellen's 11-year-old mount Smokey isn't a pet: "He hates people!" Jeremy trains him, and he "tolerates" Ellen in endurance rides. Jeremy found him as an unbroken, untouched 7-year-old, who "was wild, and still is!" Their horses had been resting since a good ride season over the winter in Florida, and they were ready to roll here.

Endurance 'superstar' (though I doubt she'd want to be called that) Maria Alvarez Ponton of Spain - the reigning World and European Champion - was here to ride Sahara, a horse who was second in the Spanish Championships this year (under Miguel Vila Ubach). Last year's Spanish Champion, Jordi Arboix was here riding his Shagya Arabian Gazal XVIII-3, as was Maria's husband Jaume Punti Dachs, riding Kopal de Cabirat. UAE riders included Shaikh Mohammed's son Shaikh Majid, riding Kangoo d'Aurabelle, an 11-year-old gelding previously owned by French rider Virginie Atger. Shaikh Mohammed himself had been pre-entered but he ended up not starting. All the UAE and Spanish riders would ride in the 120 km.

A couple of other previous World Endurance Champions were at the ride: 3-time winner Becky Hart, US Chef d'Equipe, was present to observe, while 2-time World Champion Valerie Kanavy was riding LM Parys, and her daughter, Danielle McGunigal, 1-time World Champion, was riding Gold Raven.

French Chef d'Equipe Jean Louis LeClerc arrived to check out the course and to watch two French riders, Virginie Atger (riding Cia Reis' horse Trysam Tiki) and Caroline Denayer (riding Jennifer Poling's horse Indigios JC Midnight) in the 120 km, and Sarah Chakil (riding Doug Swingley's Iamsamm) in the 160 km.

Oldest rider in the Kentucky Cup was 69-year-old Jan Worthington from Illinois, riding Golden Lightning. If you think you're a tough endurance rider and you have a tough horse, try getting knocked over by a strike from a lightning bolt 10 feet away, and getting back up and on and going on to finish the hundred miles, like Jan and Leon did in the World Championships in Malaysia in November. (They ended up getting pulled at the finish because Leon trotted out lame.) If you think you're too young to ride in a World Championship, try riding with 14-year-old Alexandra Toft from Australia, fresh from the Junior World Championships in Hungary in September, where she finished 17th on Bremervale Justice, her mount for this ride.

And while there were some nerves fluttering with some people, there was still plenty of amiable ribbing going on between the Canadian and US teams. At a meeting where each of the teams and riders were introduced, good natured challenges flew through the air: "We're going for the gold!" "We don't care about winning, we're just here to beat Pac West!"

Jolly moods carried over to the big dinner the night before the ride, rumored to be provided by Shaikh Mohammed, or perhaps the Emirates Equestrian Federation who was one of the key contributing sponsors of the ride. Tables overflowed with barbecued lamb, beef and chicken, a traditional Kentucky Corn Pudding dish, various salads, fabulous dessert, and free-flowing beer and wine. A guitarist and violinist walked around playing lovely music, though it was mostly drowned out by happy endurance people having a good time and looking forward to tomorrow. Almost impossible to believe the party was "thrown together at the last minute," like I heard.

The start times in the morning were quite reasonable - 7:30 AM for the 120 km, 7:45 for the 160 km - but the party dispersed at a reasonably early hour. Horses were checked on one more time for the night, then it was off to bed for the competitors... after laying out an assortment of rain gear in preparation for a wet day.