|Thursday July 31 2008|
It was very dark and quiet at 4:45 AM at the barns full of dressage, jumping, cross-country and reining horses at the Colorado Horse Park; nothing but the sound of hoofbeats as 10 Junior and Young Endurance Riders warmed up their endurance horses around their barn. At 5 AM they headed across the grounds, led by flashlight by Dr Carter Hounsel, to the starting line. Someone asked last night if we shouldn't share the excitement of the sport and honk a car horn to wake everybody up - an endurance tradition at ridecamps - but we decided to let the other disciplines sleep.
It was in the mid-50's and quite breezy, and a few girls were shivering in their short sleeves, though the day would quickly warm as soon as the sun came up. Better to be a bit cold now, than have to stop and tie a jacket onto your saddle out on trail.
There would be 5 loops, of 12, 19, 12, 19, and 12 miles. In addition to the heat, another big challenge of the ride would be the altitude: Parker, Colorado is at 5800 feet.
Though the start was scheduled for 5:30 AM, Ground Jury President Robin Oscar decided to delay that by 15 minutes because he felt there wasn't quite enough light on the ground. Though this was the first time any of the girls had ridden exclusively with other young riders, with no adults along on the trail, none of them outwardly showed any nerves. From the adult point of view anyway, it looked to be a tall responsibility; Bill Stevens said, "I wish my daughters (Heather and Jennifer) were a bit more nervous, but they said, 'Oh, it's only a 75!'"
At 5:45 AM, the 10 young riders were released out onto the trail for the first 12 mile loop.
There was no water at this start/Vet Check/finish as had been promised (it was supposed to be brought out yesterday evening), "the first crisis of the day!" said Carolyn Hock, mother of rider Frances Chase-Dunn. "Cowboy" Mark Dial left to take care of it. Cowboy was here as a Steward, "but I'm also here to make sure all these girls get through the ride." He was in the middle of a vacation from his work in the UAE and obviously enjoying the heat wave here: "It was 120* when I left there!" The water truck and troughs arrived promptly in half an hour.
It was expected that the girls would complete the first loop in 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Ellyn Rapp and Jeremy Olson, who hauled two horses from Illinois for Iowa riders Caitlin Massman and Jordan Fleege, coached their girls to start off easy (take about an hour for the first loop), pick up the pace toward the end, and finish near the top. "That's the plan, anyway," Ellyn said. Jeremy and Ellen had owned these horses, but "they belong to the girls now; they've been working hard for us." Jeremy and Ellyn have 14 horses in training in Illinois, but are looking to move to Florida.
Effie Conner of Arizona coached her daughter Morgan, 16, on pacing: "You're a small group; you're already in the top ten; don't rush it!" Morgan and her mom were at the final episode of a 10-day camping vacation with their horses in Utah. Morgan was riding her mom's horse Whistleddin for the first time on an endurance ride. It was the first ride where Morgan was riding beyond 55 miles; so far she had a perfect 23 starts and 23 finishes.
While we waited, Anne Pfeiffer - some of you may remember her as the "Animal Tacker" lady from Texas - began handing out some of her famous snacks, that are known to fuel tired and hungry and grouchy (or energetic and happy and hungry) crews and officials and photographers. The morning started off with her specially made chocolate covered strawberries shaped into little animals. White chocolate for breakfast? You bet! I had several!
Right at 6:45 AM, the first group of 7 girls crossed the busy road (traffic stopped by Cowboy) and came into the vet check, followed two minutes later by Jessica DiCamillo, then 8 minutes later by Kirsten Kimbler and Frances Chase-Dunn.
All horses passed their vet check, though Frances' horse, Dixie Love, was asked for a second trot-out. This probably caused a few heart palpitations, not least to 17-year-old Frances.
Frances flew in with her parents from California to ride this mare, owned and hauled here from Illinois by Jan Worthington. It wasn't just another ride on just another horse: Dixie Love had a perfect 61 for 61 record. Frances was feeling "a little pressure!" especially since this was her first ride on Dixie Love. Dixie Love trotted out well the second time and passed the vet check and would continue on down the trail.
By the end of the 30 minute hold, all unnecessary layers of clothing were peeled off by riders and crews, as it was already in the mid-70's. The next loop would be 19 miles, to an out vet check (the next two vet checks would be there) at a picnic area in the Douglas County Park Open Space. In 1944, Douglas County began buying private land and setting it aside for outdoor recreation, and to protect wildlife habitat, natural resources, historic sites, scenic views and Douglas County's rural heritage. With riding areas and open spaces slowly shrinking around the country, this is one area that will be safe from development.
Everybody loaded things up and drove the 3 miles down the main road to the Park. The crew spots were set up around the picnic area, and everybody waited under the shade. We could see the girls, little dots in the distance, as they climbed up onto a mesa, and as they came back down later, then as they passed within a mile of the park. They had to ride down a creek a few miles where they picked up a token (hair bands) before they could turn around and come back into the vet check. There was enough water in the creek for a good drink and horse-sponging break going both directions.
Six of the girls arrived at the vet check together, though Caitlin Massman's horse CHF Adios pulsed down first, followed a minute later by Heather and Jennifer Stevens' horses RSA Count LaQuen and Phil. Sixteen minutes was the spread between first and last. A couple of horses were asked to represent near the end of the 40 minute hold before they could continue on the next 12 mile loop.
Morgan Conner's horse was one of these, and he vetted out lame. Morgan was, in one word, one BIG word, Devastated. The first elimination of the day, and her first elimination ever in four seasons of riding. She was assured by everybody, "It's happened to me, lots of times," "It happens to everybody," but she was inconsolable. She couldn't muster up the energy to clean the sweat off her horse's face, which her little crewing sister willingly did. Turns out Whistleddin's right front pad had gotten a slit in it, and the space between the pad and sole filled with rocks and sand, and made his foot sore. John Crandall offered his advice on shoeing and padding, and veterinarians Dr Ann Christopherson and Dr Carter Hounsel came back to check on the horse a few times. It was lameness that eliminated him, but "I wasn't thrilled with his metabolics, either." said Hounsel. Whistleddin appeared to be fine; it would be a young girl's heart that might take a little more doctoring over the next few days.
It was now in the 90's, the 19th straight day over 95* on the Front Range, a record. Tomorrow was supposed to be 100*, so we were lucky the ride was today. "But," said Steward Holly Ulyate, "as they say here, 'At least we don't have to shovel it!'"
A saving breeze helped keep the officials and crews comfortable under the shade. Dr Jim Baldwin appeared to have the enviable knack of quickly falling into a doze at will anywhere he sat down. Anne Pfeiffer, after having set out fruit and nut snacks for the second vet check, then deviled eggs and chicken salad and green salad (all homemade of course), then brought out her equipment and made frozen smoothies for everyone - what a treat on such a hot day!
The horses and riders had it harder on this third loop (these trails a repeat of what they'd done) because of the heat, and they slowed down and spread out more. Caitlin Massman, 17, was first to come cantering in, with her crew yelling to slow down coming into the vet check, a strategy to take note of. It was only Caitlin's 9th endurance ride, and both her and her horse CHF Adios' first ride beyond 50 miles. She knew Adios well, however, having been his only endurance rider in his two short seasons of endurance rides.
Five minutes behind Caitlin was Jessica DiCamillo on Crestwind Premiere. From New Mexico, Jessica, 15 - the youngest rider of the group - has already passed her 3000 mile mark in endurance (3715 miles to be precise, including the completion of 5 of 7 100's). "Woody" just turned 7; Jessica trains him by herself, and has ridden him in all of his 22 rides, including two 100-mile finishes. Jessica and her mom Karen were the recipients in 2004 of the Bill Thornburgh Family Award Winners - top mileage parent(s)-child(ren) team - with 2410 miles.
Three minutes behind Jessica were sisters Heather and Jennifer Stevens; they were followed a minute later by Kirsten Kimbler, with Jordan Fleege and Frances Chase-Dunn a minute behind her. Ahslee Van Raalte rounded out the field 8 minutes later - a spread of 27 minutes between first and last. Ashlee, 21, was impressed with her mount Sirloki: "he's such a cool horse!" Sirloki is owned by Ashlee's neighbor Jan Worthington. Ashlee didn't have so much pressure on her as Frances did, riding a horse with a perfect record, although it was Sirloki's first ride beyond 55 miles.
This third hold was an hour, with all the horses squeezing under the disappearing shade - the sun was now directly overhead. It gave the horses plenty of time to rest up and eat, and it gave the riders time to rest - and treat wounds. 17-year-old Elizabeth Russell's horse DJB Double Trouble rammed her knee into a metal post, and Elizabeth followed that up by stepping in a hole. She would have toughed it out, but was brought an ice pack and made to sit icing her leg. DJB Double Trouble came from Texas endurance rider Darolyn J Butler; Elizabeth, also from Texas, first rode him in October 2003, and has ridden him exclusively since then, winning the 2005 Junior title at the AERC National Championship at Fort Howes on him. Elizabeth's parents, Kate and Jim, don't ride, so "it's all her," said Kate. "She trains the horse by herself."
After the last rider, Ashlee, left the vet check at 12:48 on the 4th 19-mile loop, we all packed up and headed back to the Colorado Horse Park for the 4th vet check, and, after the final 12 mile loop, the finish. For once I wasn't thinking about myself in the heat, but the horses: there wasn't a single tree within a half mile of the vet check - no place for the hard working horses to get out of the sun. There was a small tent set up for the vets and officials; a few crews brought human umbrellas; and Jeremy and Ellyn had thoughtfully brought a tent for their two horses, but the others would just bake.
The crews wanted (and the riders wanted it) to go meet the girls out on the trail somewhere, anywhere, just once, maybe even just one person with one car full of water for horses and riders, but it wasn't allowed. The girls carried water bottles with them, but, as Elizabeth said, "Sometimes I felt guilty drinking it - I wanted to pour it over my horse!" They all agreed later that there wasn't enough water on course for such a hot day.
At the vet area we all squeezed under what shade we could find as we waited for the riders. I kept generously dunking my hat in the water trough and pouring it all over me; Jeremy stuck his feet in a cool bucket of water. While we waited, Jan Worthington got a call from Ashlee on the trail. Sirloki had lost a hind shoe, and Ashlee couldn't get the Easy Boot on him. Jan wasn't allowed to go out on trail, so she could only wait. The shoer fired up her hot forge (!) in preparation for replacing the shoe when Ashlee came in.
Caitlin Massman had done the 19 mile loop 2 in first place in 2 hours and 16 minutes; she maintained almost exactly the same pace, coming in first off the same 19 mile loop (retracing their earlier steps) in 2 hours and 13 minutes. Jessica DiCamillo was a minute behind her, with the Stevens sisters another 13 minutes back. Heather, 20, riding RSA Count LaQuen, had 2470 endurance miles to her name, and had completed 9 of 10 100's. She and her horse had most recently placed 5th in the 100-mile Fort Howes ride put on by the Stevens in their home state of Montana. Jennifer, 17, had 1420 miles including 2 of 2 100's; she was taking Phil on his first ride over 55 miles.
Seventeen minutes later came Kirsten Kimbler. Earlier this year, Kirsten, 18, was the recipient of not only the 2007 Arabian Horse Association Youth of the Year award, but also USEF's 2007 Youth Sportsman's Charter Award, and the 2007 Junior Equestrian Award. While Kirsten has completed 1200 miles in endurance over 6 seasons, she's also won multiple AHA National Top 10 awards and Top 10 Awards in Youth Nationals, in hunter pleasure, showmanship, hunt seat equitation, and Sport Horse Under Saddle, to name only a few disciplines. "She's tried them all," said her mom Kelly. Kirsten is the second oldest of the four endurance riding Kimbler girls.
Following on Kirsten's heels was Jordan Fleege. Jordan, 17, is just getting started in endurance; she had only 150 long-distance miles to her record, (plus 160 LD miles), but one of those included a finish in a 100 mile ride. She was pacing her horse RCF Blade Runner well - it was his first ride over 60 miles.
Next, Frances Chase-Dunn, then Elizabeth Russell arrived at the vet check; it seemed to be a long wait before Ashlee VanRaalte arrived (44 minutes behind the leader) on Serloki. She had gotten the Easy Boot on his hind foot; they came trotting in down the grassy hill looking good. After taking a few minutes to cool down at the water trough they entered the vet check; and within a few strides of trotting out, it was obvious Serloki was quite lame, making the second pull of the day. No need for that shoe anymore.
FINAL LOOP 5
After a 40 minute hold, the riders went out on their last 12 mile loop, Caitlin Massman and CHF Adios leaving a minute before Jessica DiCamillo and Crestwind Premiere.
The trail took the riders on a 4 mile loop to the north, back along the fence past the vet check, and across the busy road for a longer 8 mile loop. While crews were not allowed to "crew" for their riders and horses at this spot close to camp, they were finally given permission to have a "courtesy stop," where they could walk out to the spot, taking only the water they could carry by hand. This was very welcomed by both horses and riders, with the sun still roasting everything not in the shade.
A pile of people walked across the street to the finish line, in the middle of the cross-country course. There were many cross-country riders out walking the course they'd be riding over beginning on Saturday.
The first 12 mile loop of the day had been covered in an hour by the leaders; it took an hour and 8 minutes before we saw the first two riders coming in sight for the final hundred yard flat grassy straightaway: Jessica DiCamillo and Caitlin Massman. Both horses were galloping, and while Caitlin's horse CHF Adios seemed to be digging hard and running harder with his ears pinned, Jessica's horse seemed to effortlessly maintain his length lead, down the stretch and across the finish line.
Both girls had big smiles on their faces after they pulled up, both having obviously enjoyed their ride - competitors, but friends too. "Thanks for riding with me!" Jessica said, and Caitlin answered, "Thanks, that was an awesome ride!" Winning time for the 75 miles was 7:48. While the two girls and horses and their crews walked back to the vetting area to cool down and vet through, the rest of us stayed to wait for the other finishers.
On this loop the riders spread out even more. Twenty-six minutes later the Stevens girls came across the line - not at a sprint but an easy canter, followed 15 minutes later by Kirsten Kimbler and Junior CAHR. Eight minutes later Jordan Fleege and RCF Blade Runner arrived at the finish. Carolyn Hock got a call from her daughter Frances Chase-Dunn out on the trail; she and Elizabeth Russell had slowed down and were taking their time coming in, because their horses were tired. A pleasant cloud cover immediately dropped the temperature 10 degrees as we waited 44 minutes for Elizabeth, (her horse stopped to grab some grass along the finish strip) and Frances to come in, to the whistles and applause of the waiting spectators.
More cheers at the vet ring when all the horses had passed their completion exam - a very fine 80% completion rate for the first ever 75-mile Junior and Young Rider Endurance Ride. It was a race, but most of all a learning experience - shoeing, lameness, metabolics, pacing, trotting out, arriving at vet checks, managing yourself and your horse in the heat with minimal help. Whether they finished or not it provided the girls with a taste of Junior/Young Rider competition, with an eye towards International endurance competition in the near future.