Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The New Recruit

December 4 2012

People have been discussing new ways to recruit new endurance riders into the AERC fold.

One way is to have a horse-crazy endurance aunt (one named, let's say, Connie), who brings her 9-year-old niece (one named, say, Sarah) out to ride on, say, a former international FEI competitor and now gentle giant of a horse named Krusty, and takes her out in the desert to ride and ride.

Connie's endurance infectiousness of course quickly consumes Sarah, and it's clear that you can't separate the goal of Sarah's first endurance ride, whether it's mostly Connie's or Sarah's idea.

Sarah's first endurance ride, the LD on Day 1 of the Owyhee Hallowed Weenies was not easy. 30 miles of trotting is a big jump from summer weekend lessons back home, and from the 8-10 mile training rides a long two months before Sarah's endurance debut. 30 miles was a long day of tiredness, sore muscles, and a saddle that fit Krusty but not quite Sarah's short legs. Crossing the finish line was a huge accomplishment, but that first endurance ride was quite enough.

However, by the time the awards dinner rolled around, and Sarah had had time to rest, and she heard all the other riders' stories (including several other juniors, 2 with whom she rode), and she heard all the cheers from fellow riders as she got her finish award, Sarah was up early the next morning for Halloween, Day 2 of the Owyhee Hallowed Weenies, decorating Krusty's and Finneas' mane with ribbons as costumes.

As it goes with all seasoned multi-day riders, Sarah felt better and got stronger during the 25 miles of day 2 (and rode in a better-fitting saddle). Had there been a Day 3, she would have done it.

Over Halloween in southern Idaho, another endurance addict was created.

[video here]

(or link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWs-Me58gfA )

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Do You Want in an Endurance Horse?

Monday November 26 2012

It appears we aren't ALL crazy.

Over 100 of you responded to the poll: "What are the Top 3 traits you require in an endurance horse?"

Despite some of the crazy horses I've seen on some endurance rides, the number one attribute required of an endurance horse is a good brain. A horse with a good brain is less likely to injure himself or you, and he's likely to last longer because a good-brained horse will listen to his rider (and hopefully the rider shares this good quality).

A very close second is good conformation. That will take care of much of another aspect of your endurance horse. A horse with a good build from the ground up - good feet, straight legs, proportional and balanced neck and back will help those muscles and tendons work smoothly over time and distance.

The third most popular requirement of an endurance horse is being smart - he or she knows how to take care of him/herself. We can assume that means a horse will eat and drink well out on trail and in vet checks, and he'll know to slow down and take a breather if he needs one (especially if his rider isn't aware). Some horses will go and go and go down a trail, with no sense of how fast is too fast or how much is too much till they about kill themselves. A smart horse is one who won't do that.

Having a special bond with a horse was mentioned by several people as being important, as was smoothness, and willingness to go forward down the trail. The 3 most amusingly stated requirements were: 
"1. Whoa
2. GO
3. A back that fits my saddle."

The best single reason to choose a horse was: "He had the most spectacular mane I'd ever seen!" (I rode with a girl once whose horse had the longest most gorgeous mane I'd ever seen, but it always got tangled in her hands and the reins if she didn't braid it!)

One reader suggested it's important for the horse to have had ample space to run around in his early years, naturally developing and strengthening the tendons, ligaments and bones as he grows up. There are always a few exceptions to the rule, and one doesn't always know how a horse has been brought up, but it's a fact that a horse who will be expected to compete in endurance over many years must have a solid foundation of conditioning. A horse that has grown up building his own foundation will have an advantage to one brought up in a stall.

And that's the great thing about endurance - we don't all have to ride 16.2 hand Arabian geldings with the perfectly manicured 2 inch mane, all going down the trail in the same frame at the same speed with the same comportment. It just goes to show that our horses are as diverse as we riders are, in personality, conformation, and ability - and manes. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

2012 Owyhee Hallowed Weenies: Small, but Mighty

Monday October 29 2012

It looked like a sad little Ridecamp, with but 3 trailers huddled together in back, and a small group parked out front, but it was really a family gathering of horse nuts come for the last Owyhee endurance ride shindig of the year, with old timers and newcomers and a bunch of juniors, three of whom are in running for year-end National Junior awards.

With great thoughtful foresight, I arranged for a rainstorm down low and a snowstorm in the Owyhee mountains a few days before the ride, eliminating the heavy summer dust on the trails, and providing a scenic snowy backdrop for ambience.

Ride weather was perfect: cold before the golden sunrise, and cool during the day, ideal for those horses who already had a good start on their winter coats. Trails wound through the Birds of Prey Badlands, alongside the Snake River (where Amanda and I discovered 'new' ruins from an old homestead, which, despite riding by here numerous times, we'd never seen before),

on the edge of the Hart Creek Rim Trail, and along the glorious Hallelujah Rim Trail,

while blue storm clouds left riders alone but highlighted the rippling hills of the Owyhee desert and the rocky buttes of the Snake River.

A witch and a ghost, a fire dancer and a clown, Pippi Longstocking and a bikini-clad beach girl galloped the trails, while a saucy pony sported a sunflower hat and boa feathers and a clown horn that scared him when his rider honked it! A Fargo law officer and her dog Hannabelle Licker worked the vet checks while Death roamed around.

When Karen Steenhof won the 75 miler and Best Condition on day 1 on Rusty, she reached 17,000 AERC miles.

When 4-foot tall Sarah rode 6-foot tall Krusty, she finished her first ever endurance ride on Day 1, and a new endurance rider was anointed. Though she was worn out, she still climbed aboard Krusty on day 2 and finished her second endurance ride ever, and an endurance addict was crowned. Two more juniors rode their first endurance rides on Day 2. Each night sounded like a packed cheering stadium with the family group of riders packed in the warm house for the evening awards and home cooked meals.

It doesn't take a horde to make a mighty endurance ride, just a good group of endurance riding junkies with a love of good trails and great horses, like the kindred endurance souls at the Owyhee Hallowed Weenies.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Owyhee Canyonlands: Seaweed in the Desert

October 13 2012

One of the traditions at the Owyhee Canyonlands is the visit from Barb and Grant from Canada. Barb has a little story of her own of the event:

Yes!  Grant and I upped the ante at the Canyonlands ride this year!  We brought seaweed to the "stop and eat" hold on Day 3.

We were going into town on Day 2, and Steph asked us to stop at Costco to pick up some things.  I had told her that the cheese and cracker snack packages for the riders just weren't cutting it! and also that we needed to have more people-water and perhaps lemonade for the riders on these really hot holds. The temperatures just kept going up! So we found some really nice fruit and nut bars, and sweet and salty bars, and then saw the seaweed. 

When we got back to Ridecamp, we decided to pull a joke on Steph and show her the seaweed and get a photo of her reaction.  It was well worth it!

Grant showing her what we got!

Photo 2:  Steph's reaction

Photo 3:  Steph, after we showed her the rest of the stuff!!

Everyone who went through the stop and go the next day was offered all of the 'treats' we had.  The seaweed was a hit!  As was the iced lemonade we rationed out for all the 25's and 50's!  Sorry guys!  We had to make it stretch!

Thanks to Steph for letting us do that!!  and for letting us ride on Day 4 - My birthday!!

Photo up top: Me and "Krusty"

By Barbara Holmes-Balmer

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Owyhee Tribe

Tuesday October 2 2012

Long-time Owyhee endurance rider Tom Noll put it best: we have a good Tribe here. Through the good and the bad, the highs and the lows. we're one pretty special family who keeps coming back to ride here in Owyhee.

For over 10 years, Steph has put on Owyhee endurance rides in southwest Idaho. This fall was the 10th(ish)-year anniversary of the Owyhee Canyonlands multi-day ride. (10th"ISH" refers to 2001 being the first Owyhee Canyonlands ride, a 1-day 30-50-80; 2002 was actually the first 5-day Owyhee Canyonlands, so, okay, it could accurately be called the "10th+ Anniversary".)

It's always been a good group of dedicated people - locals and foreigners - who show up year after year, camping together, riding the spectacular mountain and canyon trails of the Owyhee high desert, sharing meals, helping each other out, cheering for the finishers.

The Owyhee Canyonlands has been graced with some of the highest-mileage riders of the sport over the years. Several of them are from the Pacific Northwest:

• Karen Steenhof (16,000+ miles) rode in 2001 and 2012 - her horse Rusty got Best Condition on the Day 3 50 this year.

• Pat Murray (13,000+ miles) rode in 2001, crewed for the Ride N Tie'rs this year

• Dot Wiggins (8000+ miles) rode in 2001 and 2012

• Karen Bumgarner (22,000+ miles) rode one day in 2001 and was pulled; this year, she and her horse Z Summer Thunder finished all 5 days of the ride for the third time in a row, and got overall Best Condition.

• Dick Root (7000+ miles) rode the 50 in 2001 and this year finished 2 days of (inaugural) Ride N Tie's

• Nance Worman (8000+ miles) rode in 2001 and 2012, and has the high mileage Owyhee Canyonlands horse: Jasbo

• Canadian Northwest 'invaders' Elroy Karius and Apache Eclypse were the overall 5-day winners in 2003, Elroy then a mere 1000+-mile rider, Eclypse a mere 570-mile horse. (They completed all 5 days in 2002, also). They returned this year, Elroy now a 5000+ mile rider, and Eclypse at 16 now a 3400+ mile horse, completing 2 of 2 days.

• Canadian Northwest 'invader' Shari MacFarlane (10,000+ miles) from Canada rode in 2001 and again this year.

• Of course there are the ride managers Steph Teeter (14,000+ miles) and Regina Rose (14,000+ miles), and indispensable neighbor Carol Brand (6000+ miles) who rode in the first Owyhee Canyonlands in 2001 and in 2012.

Several other riders of note:

• Cynthia Peticolas-Stroud (10,000+ miles) rode in 2001, and rode this year with daughter Tonya and granddaughter Makayla, a junior.

• Layne Simmons (4500+ miles) rode in 2001 and did her first Ride N Tie this year!

• Leonard Liesens of Belgium rode Steph's horse Rhett in 2001. Leonard returned this year, finishing beside his girlfriend Caroll Gatellier, who rode Rhett 2 days - Rhett is now 22 years old and has 6000+ miles! (and he won and got Best Condition on the LD one day!)

Other visiting luminaries who have kicked up Owyhee Canyonlands dust over the years were Dave Rabe (55,000+ miles), Karen Chaton (32,000+ miles), Julie Suhr (30,000+ miles), Jackie Bumgardner (29,000+ miles), and Jerry Zebrack (17,000+ miles).

And lest you think it's all about the old folks and high miles, Juniors RULED at the 2012 Canyonlands! 9 Juniors rode and finished a total of 28 rides: Anya and Katya Levermann (from Canada), Barrak and Sanoma Blakeley, Makayla Stroud, and Abrie, Tori, Alex and Calli Church. Barrak won the Day 2 50. Abrie rode an LD bareback with only a halter. Calli (7 years old) rode her first LD.

The day that Calli, the youngest rider took to the trail, so did Dot Wiggins, the oldest rider, at 82 years.

Even if you don't feel like riding a 50-mile or a Limited Distance ride, the Owyhee Canyonlands is happy to have you come enjoy the trails on a trail ride (there were approximately 26 trail riders over the 5 days), or

try a Ride N Tie. The inaugural Owyhee Canyonlands Ride N Tie took place this year: 1 team started and finished the first day; 2 teams started and finished the second day, even though one runner got quite lost near the finish for a while.

The Owyhee Canyonlands may become fewer and far between now: it may happen every other year, or with fewer days. But the legends - those made and those in the making - will ride on in the autumn in the Owyhee desert. No matter your riding (or running) preference, you'll find yourself welcome here. It's never too late to start your own legend with this great Owyhee Tribe.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Owyhee Canyonlands Day 1

Tuesday September 25 2012

The Raven and I were all set to ride Steph's horse and my pal Jose Viola in the 5-day Owyhee Canyonlands, when, right before the ride, a bad attack of allergies knocked Jose out, which sort of knocked the wind out of my sails.

I was the lethargic one, somewhat uninterested in riding (really?? me??), but thanks to our friend Judy, who offered me one of her horses, and convinced me to get in the saddle, on Day 1 I rode one of the most spectacular trails here in Owyhee that I've ever been on!

We wound right up to the mouth of Brown's Creek Canyon, rode right along the edge of the rim, and had the extra treat of stopping at the Spivey Ranch (for sale: $1.19 M, 320 acres, water rights available),

where owner Don opened his lodge and supplied cold drinks and hot dogs for everybody in the spectacular remote setting along Castle Creek. The vets and a few of the early riders caught sight of the herd of some 11 big horn sheep that live in that drainage.

It was a tough ride, crossing several of our big canyons - Brown's Creek, Castle Creek, Hart Creek, and our home Pickett Creek. A spectacular day of trails, great weather - a bit of rain the day before the ride damped down the dust and got rid of the smoke - and a good ride on a lovely horse, made for a great day 1 of the 10th anniversary of the Owyhee Canyonlands.

(Thanks Judy and Milon!)


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Owyhee Canyonlands Preview: Birds of Prey Badlands

Tuesday September 18 2012

Can you stand one more preview video of the upcoming Owyhee Canyonlands 5-day endurance ride, Sept 25-29?

Good! These are some of the trails you'll ride on Day 4, heading north of the highway toward the Snake River and Wildhorse Butte.

Jose knows how to fly along the trails in style!

[video here]

or link:

more videos and photos here!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Owyhee Canyonlands Preview: the Rim Trail

Thursday September 13 2012

You'll ride this Hart Creek Rim Trail at least once on the Owyhee Canyonlands 5-day Pioneer ride. Jose and I had a blast cruising along it, making this video!

[video here]

or link:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Owyhee Canyonlands Preview: Hart Creek Canyon

Sunday September 9 2012

A video preview of the Hart Creek Canyon trail, Day 2 of the Owyhee Canyonlands endurance ride, September 25-29 in Idaho.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Owyhee Canyonlands Preview: Sinker Canyon

Thursday September 6 2012

Hang onto your socks!

A video preview of the Sinker Canyon trail, Day 5 of the Owyhee Canyonlands endurance ride, September 25-29 in Idaho.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

2012 World Endurance Championship - Great Britain

Saturday August 25 2012

You never know who you're going to bump into riding in a World Endurance Championship. Like, say, a Prime Minister (who happened to win), or several Princes (one finished second, one finished 6th; one got pulled at the first vet gate, one got pulled at the 4th vet gate), or a King (who finished 38th). You might see previous World Endurance Champions (one finished 4th, one finished 20th). You might encounter a 71-year-old man from Argentina (who rode a beautiful horse but was pulled at vet gate 3), or a 14-year-old boy who's the 2012 Portuguese Champion after starting his endurance qualifications just 6 months earlier (he finished 47th).

Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the UAE, has been gunning for this gold medal win for a long time. His Highness got involved in endurance in the mid-1990's, when he bought Fire and Gold, the horse Valerie Kanavy rode to a second place finish in the 1996 WEC. His Highness's first World Championship ride was in the 2002 WEC in Spain, where he did not complete; in the Dubai WEC in 2005 he finished 2nd after the winner was disqualified; in the USA WEC in 2010, he finished 2nd. This year he won.

Since deciding to participate in endurance, the Shaikhs did it in a big way: they went out and bought up all the best endurance horses around the world. Paid big bucks in some cases. The Shaikhs have, as rumor has it, 'a thousand horses' in each of their stables around the world (if that number is exaggerated, "limitless" might be apt). They employ hundreds of trainers, grooms, riders, and veterinarians, who prepare and maintain their horses for endurance.

The French used to be the Kings of Endurance, until the Shaikhs bought up all their good French horses - possibly that's why the French were only going for the Silver Team medal this year at the WEC. They got it, with their team members Pierre Fleury, Philippe Tomas, and Jean-Philippe Frances finishing 9th, 10th, and 13th. “This was a strong team," said the French team vet, Christophe Pelissier. "Silver was our target and we will be aiming higher next time,” he said.

His Highness Shaikh Mohammed's mount, Madji du Pont, is a 12-year-old gelding who came from Spain. Shaikh Mohammed's son, His Excellency Shaikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum, who finished second, rode (according to the start and finish lists) Yamamah, a 13-year-old mare, who is actually Kurrajong Concorde. (No word on a reason for the name change.) She came from Meg Wade's Castlebar Arabians in Australia, and Meg Wade was there to watch. It was Meg's first appearance at a World Endurance Championship since a horrific riding accident in 2009 left her in a coma for weeks, and 9 months in a rehab hospital with Acquired Brain Injury. It was quite rewarding to see Meg getting around on her own, and it must have been both a sad and happy day for her, being amongst so many well-wishing endurance friends, and watching one of her former horses perform so well.

UAE's Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri took the bronze medal, riding Vendaval, a 10-year-old gelding from Uruguay. Shaikh Mohammed's son His Excellency Shaikh Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum finished 6th on the 14-year-old French gelding Kangoo d'Aurabelle. Previous owner-rider Virginie Atger and Kangoo got the silver medal at the 2006 World Endurance Championship in Germany. In 2008 she sold her horse to Shaikh Majid who went on to win the 2009 WEC pre-ride in Kentucky. In this 2012 World Endurance Championship, Shaikh Majid wasn't riding up front like he usually does - he rode almost exactly 15 minutes behind the leaders on every loop.

His Excelleny's 6th place finish also gave the UAE Team Gold (His Highness and Ali Khalfan also composed the UAE team). As Mohammed Esse Al Adhab of the Dubai Equestrian Club said: “We are very pleased with the result. We reached our target – where can we go from here?”

The Shaikhs don't regularly pay as much for endurance horses anymore, but people still hope, and that's one of the reasons that keeps them going to participate in these big championship rides. If your horse performs well at a World Endurance Championship, such as Top Ten or Best Condition, you'll likely be offered a high 5 figures or more from some interested party anxious to relieve you of your horse. That's one reason. Others come just because they are able to make it here and compete, perhaps on a horse they bred and raised and trained, and to represent their country.

This was the King of Malaysia's first World Endurance Championship completion, after failing to finish in the 2008 WEC that Malaysia hosted. Due to the absence of the cadre of camera-toting journalists usually following the royalty around at these rides, one might not have even recognized him. His Majesty's finish is a great accomplishment for the Malaysians, who dove wholeheartedly into the world endurance scene headfirst in the early 2000's, and hosted a well-organized WEC in 2008.

Unquestionably, the most popular horse and rider in this year's World Endurance Championship, regardless of which country you came from and supported, were Spain's Maria Alvarez Ponton and Nobby. Former World Champions in 2008 (Malaysia) and 2010 (USA), and European Champions in 2009 (Italy) and 2011 (France), the pair turned the most heads and illicited the biggest cheers throughout the day. Even after the 3 UAE riders finished the race in the first 3 places, taking their large retinue with them to the vet gates, the largest crowd remained behind in the rain waiting to cheer Nobby and Maria across the finish line, even when there was no hope this popular pair would be able to catch the leaders.

Despite consistently running at the front on every loop in the last 3 World Championships, Nobby's pulse-down times have consistently been under 2 minutes at every single vet gate in each of the last 3 World Championships. All except for the 5th vet gate at this year's WEC, where it took him a whole 5 minutes 7 seconds to pulse down, putting the pair 5 minutes behind the UAE riders going out on the last 20-km loop. That still provided slim hope for fans that Nobby and Maria might repeat a third time as World Champions, but instead they dropped back another 6 minutes on the loop, putting them solidly in 4th, 11 minutes behind the winner Shaikh Mohammed, and still a safe 8 minutes ahead of 5th place, Spain's Alex Luque and Ikland, and they still received a huge round of cheers as Maria and Nobby cantered across the finish line, Maria pounding her fist in the air and pointing at Nobby, indicating, "It's all him - he's amazing!"

At 16 years, Nobby was the 3rd oldest horse in the race. Perhaps he's not done yet; Maria and her husband Jaume Punti know how to keep this champion performing at the top of his game, with only 1 or 2 starts a year. Spanish Chef d'Equipe Ignaci Casas confirmed before the race that Nobby was training brilliantly, both in the UAE in the winter, and in Spain in the summer.

Spain's Alex Luque and Ikland: 5th place and Best Condition. Everybody who saw the Best Condition judging on Sunday said Ikland stood out far above the other horses. It's the biggest accomplishment for Alex since his endurance records begin in 2004. He was part of the Spanish team in the USA 2010 WEC, finishing 23rd on Sankoc. Alex and 8-year-old Ikland show a previous 11 starts and 8 finishes over 3 seasons, with a 1st place in the 120-km El Paular in 2010, 1st in the 160-km Lucanes in 2011, and 1st in the 3x80 km Bratislava ride in 2011.

After dominating endurance racing in the 1980's and 1990's, the USA hadn't hit the medal board since. This year, new Chef d'Equipe Emmett Ross had an excellent team that was focused, confident, and well-prepared. They were aiming for a team medal, and it looked as they might be on track for a bronze medal, until John Crandell's Heraldic vetted out surprisingly at the recheck before the last loop, for lameness. It was quite a blow, as Heraldic has been quite the superhorse, winning, in the USA, the grueling Tevis Cup twice, Old Dominion twice, and the AERC National Championships twice. In the middle of those wins, he severely damaged his stifle in a near career-ending injury. After signaling his return to extraordinary form in 2009 and winning the Tevis Cup and Old Dominion for the second time, John and Heraldic brought home the silver medal (and Team Silver) at the 2011 Pan American Games in Chile.

It was USA's Meg Sleeper who surprised many people by finishing 11th on her homebred 12-year-old mare, Syrocco Reveille. It surprised even Meg, who hadn't realized what place she was in on the last loop. Had she known, she said later, she might have raced for the 10th slot, instead of finishing together with France's Philippe Tomas (10th place) and Belgium's Maritza Pereira (12th place). Still, 11th place is an extraordinary accomplishment, after not completing the 2008 WEC and the 2010 WEC, and finishing 22nd in the 2006 WEC in Aachen.

The rest of the USA riders all finished: former World Champion Valerie Kanavy finished 20th on Reach for the Gold; Jeremy Reynolds and A Kutt Above finished 21st; his wife Heather Reynolds and Riverwatch finished 36th. The USA team came 4th, 50 minutes behind Oman, who surprised many people in getting the bronze.

Emmett Ross said afterwards: "We are proud to be a part of this elite World Championships. A great deal of training and preparation has guided the team through this technically challenging course and today's weather conditions. The calibre of riders is high and competition fierce but the team has stayed focused throughout the loops and ensured the safety and welfare of the horses at all times."

The last of the US horses were doing their final trot-outs when a violent thunderstorm passed over the area, replete with heavy rain, hail, wind, and fierce lightning, severe enough to cause officials to stop the race due to the danger to horses and riders. All riders were given the placing they were in at the time; all had to pass their last vet check to get a completion. Some were lucky enough to be in the venue at their 5th vet gate hold and not have to go out again; unlucky others were caught out on course during the storm. The dry course was challenging enough, with tall grass to make the many 90 degree turns slick if you took them too fast and didn't pay attention to your horse's transitions, and uneven footing over much of the course.

One of the unlucky ones was Australia's 17-year-old Alexandra Toft, riding 9-year-old Emily Jone te. Alexandra had experienced some heavy rain and cold in the 2009 pre-ride for the 2010 WEC in Kentucky, where the 160-km race was called at 120 km due to similar dangerously slick conditions underfoot. There, though, they didn't have the wind or lightning. "It was very scary," Alexandra said of this race. "My horse was great though, she handled it well." This was Alexandra's 3rd World Championship, but her first one riding as a senior. She'd previously finished the World Young Rider/Junior Championships in Hungary in 2009 and Abu Dhabi in 2011.

Alexandra was the last rider to come in off loop 6 of the course in the dark, awaited anxiously by her parents Peter Toft (Australia's Chef d'Equipe) and Penny Toft (she withdrew her 10-year-old mare Travina at the 3rd vet gate), and it was a great relief to see Emily Jones te pass the final vet check. They finished in 52nd place, the only member of the Australian contingent to finish.

It can cost a King's Ransom to participate in a World Endurance Championship if you don't have the help of a national federation, especially if you have to cross an ocean to get to the starting line. Not counting all the qualifying rides, just an overseas trip to a WEC can put you in the red around $20,000.

Canada had 5 horses and riders on the nominated list for the WEC, but only Yvette Vinton could, in the end, afford to come. She, too, was caught out on the 5th loop in the storm. "I kept trying to pretend those dark clouds were moving the other way…. but - BOOM! It caught us. Lightning here, lighting there, my horse's head was going sideways against the big raindrops… The track was terrible. We slowed down a lot to make it in safely." Yvette and her 8-year-old gelding Quiwi de Breventec finished 68th.

Norway's Ellen Suhr's ride was almost over before it even started. Her 10-year-old gelding Shah Nahim was having rearing fits at the start. She let 143 horses and riders go ahead on the trail - every single one - to where the major excitement (close quarters, stumblers, bolters, runaways, buckers, crowds cheering loudly) was diminished before she dared start across the starting line, but even then Shah Nahim reared in the air again. Ellen lost a rein, and she had no choice but to bail off. She continued leading her horse down the trail on foot, spotting the entire field many minutes, before she mounted up, but even then, it took a whole loop before he settled down. "I don't know what it is," she said later. "He's been getting worse every ride at the start. It's hard to replicate the crazy conditions of 150 horses starting in a ride in Sweden (his last ride, where he finished 2nd had only 17 starters). Once he gets going though, he's beautiful to ride…" she said ruefully, the agony of his scary antics at the start conflicting with the beauty of his going once he settled down in a ride. She got Shah Nahim because he's a brother to another good horse she rode. One can only hope he can learn to settle down, as his 42nd place came at a fine average of 18.12 km/h.

For one rider, it was all over soon after it started. The Netherlands came to the WEC with 5 horses; only 3 vetted in. One of them was Donna Oudshoorn and Karrimh, an 18-year-old gelding (the 2nd oldest horse in the race). They'd previously finished 2nd in the 160 km Gartow race in Germany in April. Not long after the start, Karrimh stumbled and fell. Donna was unhurt, but Karrimh broke a shoulder and was put down. A terrible tragedy for Donna, and the entire Dutch endurance world. Endurance is a small family in Holland, so everybody felt this one.

"I'm so proud of my horse!" said the lone rider representing Lithuania, Alisija Zabavska-Granger (she lives in the USA). She was on her 5th vet gate hold when the black storm cloud hit. "I was kind of hoping we wouldn't have to go back out, because the track was already difficult without the rain. But my horse would have gone out there, he was so strong and willing. He was great all day and I know he would have completed the last loop. I'm glad they called the ride because it would have been dangerous for the horses and riders."

Ellen and Jeremy Olson from the USA leased a horse to one of the 3 Japanese riders, Kyoko Fukumori. Kyoko had a smile on her face, all day, even after her horse Noslos Lightning Strikes, aka "Red", was pulled at the recheck at the 4th vet gate for lameness - it took 3 trot-outs for the vets to confirm their decision to pull him. Team Noslo were all proud of Red after he and Kyoko averaged 20.5 km/h over the 4 loops. "He had TONS of gas left for the last 20 miles," Ellen said later. Red and Kyoko were in around 15th place when they were pulled. Kyoko was standing in the crewing area well after the other two Japanese riders finished (Hiromi Kitaike and Dameon PJ in 69th, Seiichi Hasumi on Kareem PJ in 73rd) and after the storm passed, holding a bowl of slop for her horse to eat. She was still smiling hugely, and thanking people for their cheering. "Love ENDURANCE!!" Kyoko posted after the race. She was so thrilled just to be in England and participating in the race, her first World Endurance Championship.

On Saturday the riding styles, skills, experiences, and career mileages of riders varied widely, but nobody else riding in this year's World Endurance Championship could come close to boasting of owning 8 Tevis Cup buckles. Not that Mr Hasumi is the type to boast. The 69-year-old retired businessman cheerfully went about his third attempt at a World Championship (he did not finish in 2005 and 2008) as he does every ride: quietly and determinedly. His shoulder must still have been smarting from the tumble he took off his horse in attempting his 9th straight completion in the Tevis Cup two weeks earlier, but he was the last rider to complete the WEC course, having been caught out on loop 5 in the storm that stopped the race.

Ten years ago in Japan, at age 59, Mr Hasumi watched a documentary of the Tevis Cup, and decided that was something he wanted to do in his retirement. He'd never ridden a horse before. Since diving into the sport (the Tevis Cup was his 5th endurance ride ever), Mr Hasumi has encouraged and supported the sport of endurance in Japan, buying horses, putting on rides in Japan, and assisting other riders. This is a man who now truly knows both sides of endurance: racing in a World Endurance Championship (though some would not call his average of 14.16 km/h 'racing'), and riding in the technically, physically, and mentally challenging Tevis Cup, considered by many the most difficult 100-mile ride in the world.

Every rider had a personal story to tell, but this gives you an idea of the scope of this year's World Endurance Championship. It's a different sport, this racing endurance horses 100 miles, where to be competitive in the Top Ten, one must be prepared to ride their horse at an average speed of over 20 km/h, cantering most of the way. You might be the leader of a country with hundreds of mounts to choose from, or you might be a blue-collar worker, with one homebred horse that you brought here by mortgaging your house, and you might be riding side-by-side for a time. Either way, it's best to remember the huge effort and heart that your horse puts forth; and to see a horse like Nobby come back year after year and prove his excellence makes you proud, no matter what country you're from or what kind of endurance you ride.

We hope to see some of these same horse and rider combinations again. The next one's in Normandy, France, in 2014.