Monday, May 28, 2007

Owyhee Rangelands 25/50 Day Two

Monday May 28 2007

Yesterday’s wind blew in cooler temperatures that felt like autumn, and that made sleeping great (with windows wide open!). It made things a bit easier on the horses too, with daytime temperatures just around 70 and a cool stiff breeze blowing all day.

I got to ride Steph and John’s mare Quicksilver on the 50… only I had to have John throw the saddle on her because I still couldn’t lift my right arm. Of course that wouldn’t interfere with riding! I was sure that riding would be good physical therapy for it.

While looking forward to doing another endurance ride, it was, however, a sad day. This was my first endurance ride without the Raven Λ . I could have carried the new kookaburra along, but it just didn’t seem right putting it into the Raven’s red saddlebag. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

It’s hard to choose the best trail of the Owyhee multi-day rides - there’s not one I don’t enjoy. Today’s took us north across the highway to the Snake River again and around Wild Horse Butte. Quickie is a horse with a serious trot, like near a 20 mph trot if she really gets going, says Steph, but now she was rather pleasantly plump, and she had metabolic trouble once before when she went too fast. So we were out to complete an easy 50, something Quickie had some definite opinions about, most of which were that we were traveling too slowly. We joined up with Nance on Jazzbo, and Kara and Chris Yost leaving camp, several minutes after the front runners had left, as it looked like we’d be going about the same pace.

We climbed up out of Pickett Creek canyon into the sunrise and up onto the flats, into the stiff breeze, hooves churning up fine dust that whipped off to the side. 18 miles away to the north, staying up on the flats, was our first vet check. The wind was still pretty cool, so the hold time was cut from 50 minutes to 40. Frank and Tom Noll came in a few minutes behind our group, and since his riding partner Lynne White wasn’t riding today, he said he’d catch up with us on the next loop.

From the vet check we headed out east and north, over rolling sand hills of scrubby sagebrush and lizards and rabbits, and down into a sandy wash. The wash got deeper and narrower as you followed it, much of it higher than the rider’s head, and some places so narrow you could touch both sides. Sometimes the horses slowed around corners because they weren’t sure what might be lurking ahead! It was one place you wouldn’t want to be taking a nap in the shade during a flash flood, though it sure looks like that may not be anything to worry about this year, as it’s already awfully dry. Frank caught up with us here, and was pulling Tom Noll along as if it was his first day on the trail. Tom had his gloved hands full, and Frank thought (and looked like) he was the wild horse named after the Butte we were headed for.

The further we went, the harder Quickie pulled; I thought it was because we were pointed in the direction of home. When we’d left the vet check, home was to the right, while our trail went off to the left. Quickie was pretty sure we should be turning right. Our trail eventually turned towards home, and I thought when we turned west away from home, she’d quit pulling. Oh no, she just got stronger. All day!

Our group carried on to the Snake River, where the wind was whipping white caps up. Some of the horses were a little spooked by them, but Quickie plunged right in the river, and I had to stop her before she went right up to her belly, because I could see where it dropped off deeply right in front of us. She didn’t want a drink anyway, she wanted to chow down on the thick green grass growing on the bank.

We left the Snake River before it became a deep canyon and wound around Wild Horse Butte, headed back to the vet check, much of it on the old Oregon Trail. I never forget to think about the pioneers back in the 1800’s, when I’m riding along this trail or the Fish Canyon trail in Death Valley. We have nice jeep roads to follow on fast horses, drinking Gatorade and bottled water and snacking on Power Bars (and great real roast beef sandwiches for lunch at the vet check!), while they were struggling along with big wagons and Snake River water to drink and scrawny jackrabbits (if they were lucky) for dinner.

Two years ago right in this area, I saw what were possibly wolf tracks, (a day after which I probably saw a black wolf), and three years ago this was the area where Tom Noll and Sue Hedgecock saw cougar tracks. I kept my eyes peeled today (or closed, if the dust was blowing in them), but I didn’t see any wild cats or canines. We did, however, see a couple of antelope, which bounded away from us as we surprised them coming over a little hill.

Back into the vet check for a 50 minute hold, where Quickie ate everything in sight, including half of Jazzbo’s food. It was an easy 12 miles back home, and back into camp where we raced across the finish line… at a walk. John was snapping pictures but our finish was quite boring compared to the race for first a couple of hours earlier between Mell Hare and Joyce Sousa. That’s one thing I really like about multi-day rides, everybody going their own pace, fast, medium, slow, us slower ones just trotting along, telling stories. On the trail our group said, “I just want to finish all 3 days.” “I just want his heart rate to come down at the vet check!” “I just want to finish today!”. Tom Noll said, “It doesn’t matter if you ride slow or fast or anyway; it doesn’t matter what you’re competing for. There’s winners of the rides, winners of weight divisions, teams winners. If you just ride your own pace the competitive ones sort themselves out. I think it’s just great when you accomplish whatever your goal is.”

Owyhee County is one of the best places on the planet to ride, although since I haven’t yet met a place I didn’t like to ride, my high estimation might not hold a great deal of weight. I don’t know what exactly it is, but you just feel good after a ride. Around here we are very lucky to have local landowners who support the endurance rides, including the Joyce Ranch, where we ride along their canals and through Sinker Creek right at their ranch base, and the Sierra del Rio Ranch, where we have a vet check on one or more of the days. They certainly don’t have to let us ride through there, much less host a vet check there, but they’ve done it for years.

24 of 25 horses finished the 50, and all 8 starters finished the Limited Distance. The horses that were treated at the clinic yesterday were doing well. Quickie looked like she’d slimmed down a bit from the ride, (although surely she ate double her weight loss back!) and my arm was feeling much better. Although maybe that was only because the rest of me was pretty stiff and getting sore (hadn’t ridden that far in a while!).

If you don’t make it here to ride in this gorgeous the 5-day Owyhee Canyonlands in September, don’t come crying to me. Of course, I’ll be the one crying if I’m not here for it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Owyhee Rangelands 25/50 Day One

Sunday May 27 2007

Owyhee Rangelands I: in the 25 miler, 15 starters and 12 finishers; in the 50 miler, 32 starters and 27 finishers.

The day started out cool and began warming up, until a big Idaho breeze kicked in after noon, which in Owyhee county usually means big dusty whirlwinds whipping through the canyon. And they did, kicking dust in waves through base camp.

Today’s 50 mile loop took horses and riders up on the desert flats and into the canyons south of base camp, on 3 loops. The finish line was moved a bit, to accommodate a killdeer who’d built a nest right by the road the horses were finishing on yesterday – several rider’s horses were spooked at the end of the 100 miler, in the daylight and the dark, when the killdeer flew up at them. Killdeer lay their eggs right on the ground. If you approach the nest fast, like on a horse, the bird will fly at your horse and get the appropriate response from him. If you walk up slowly, the killdeer will walk away from the nest, fluttering its wings as if it were injured, to get your attention on her, away from her eggs. I bet that killdeer will choose a different spot for her nest next year!

On loops two and three, just outside of base camp, the trail led up a narrow wash and up over the crest of the hill – 10 yards of it quite steep, and I hiked out to catch the horses going up with my camera. I was lurking on the opposite steep hill, clinging to my perch by a narrow seat scratched out of the dirt above a sagebrush. Some riders saw me, some didn’t. I was careful not to slip or roll any rocks down, because I would have slid quite a ways to the bottom and scared some horses off to Nevada!

Back in camp, head veterinarian Robert Washington had a hard day. After vetting a hundred mile ride the day before, he had two more 50-mile days of vetting to get through. And in the afternoon, just about the same time someone called for help for a horse going down with a bizarre respiratory distress, Robert got kicked in the knee by a horse he was vetting, one that he’d looked at several times before and that had never indicated he’d kick. People didn’t know who to run to first, the vet laying on the ground or the horse laying on the ground. Robert was able to get up and hobble around the rest of the day. The mare was more of a puzzle, especially because her son did the same thing. They’d both done an easy limited distance ride, finishing fine several hours earlier, and would seem fine, then would go down in distress, then return to appearing normal. Robert said he’d never seen anything like it. They were both hauled to a clinic for diagnosis and treatment.

Christoph Schork won the ride again in just over 5 hours, on another horse, Double Zell. Mell Hare finished second right with him on another of Christoph’s horses, DWA Sabku. Christoph brought a trailer-load for the ride. They were just 4 minutes ahead of Anthony Davis on Sweet Dependence.

Now, having been in New Zealand and Australia where strapping is taken very seriously, here we pretty much just call it cooling down your horse. There’s no line-up of 10 buckets and sponges and scrapers per horse, with 4 or 5 people waiting to douse the horse and scrape it and throw ice-cold towels on and check its heart-rate with a hand-held monitor. No, there was just a water trough and a few barrels to drink from (or jump in yourself, if you got too hot), and the riders carried their own sponges. There was a garden hose if you really wanted it, too. Of course this wasn’t a championship ride, but 5 hours for this ride wasn’t a plodding pace. When Christoph and Mell came in to the vet checks, they just got off their horses, took them to water, and while they drank, they sponged their horses’ necks. The horses cooled off without all the fuss, and vetted through.

Today’s finishers included Nance Worman on her other horse Jazzbo, (who was a maniac the first loop), and the ever popular Frank with Tom Noll. One lady at the awards said, “Nobody refers to Tom anymore, they just say Frank!” Tony and Diane Dann, who managed the ride for Steph yesterday, finished the 50 on two of their horses, Eternel Tax Man and Lou’s Lucky Strike. I had the pleasure of riding Strike with them on Thursday. He’s a big, lovely, calm National Show Horse, smooth as silk to ride.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Owyhee 100 Elevator 60/80/100

Saturday May 26 2007

Attention Frank Fan Club members! Attending the 3-day ride here in Oreana Idaho is Frank, the horse once owned by Wayne Newton (maybe) and his rider buddy Tom Noll. Their goal is not Tevis this year (“Frank’s about 17, and Tevis was a hard ride last year,” says Tom), but instead the AERC 100 mile Championship here in Oreana in August. Tom had gotten it in his head a few years ago that he wanted to do endurance, but he didn’t know how to ride. He bought Frank in 2002, and Frank taught Tom how to ride. Tom’s done most of his 2400+ miles on this horse that he obviously adores. He’s just a plain little brown bay, and he just keeps going and going down the trail, and he appears to love it. Frank has his own photo album from the ride under

A few trailers and horses started pulling in and squatting in Ridecamp at the ol’ Teeter Rancho on Thursday. Attendance for the holiday weekend ride was down, though that has been the case all over the Pacific Northwest lately. I expect gas prices have something to do with that.

13 riders started the 100 miler, and 6 riders started the 80 miler at 5:30 AM. The sky gets light about that time, and it’s still nice and cool. 42 started the 60 miler at 7 AM, including ride manager Steph, who just couldn’t stand it and had to ride her cool horse Rhett. She turned over day management of the ride to Diane and Tony Dan. John was kept busy early, racing out on the ATV to check the ribbons for the first 20 mile loop.

Riding in the 100 were, among others, Clydea Hastie, who with her husband Jim, drove up from Scottsdale. She brought two horses, one for Kevin Myers, who flew in from Scottsdale late Thursday night. Kevin brought his computer and set it up at the table with all the rest of our computers, so it was like old times in Arizona with everybody clacking away on the internet. Clydea was doing her first 100 in 11 years, and it had been 3 years since Kevin had done one. Neighbor Carol Brand was going to ride with them; she hadn’t done a hundred in 7 years.

Nance Worman started the 100 on her horse Big Sky Quinn, and planned to also do the 50 milers on Sunday and Monday on Jazzbo. She’s either a real endurance rider or a nutter!

Ham radio guys John and crew (and gals) set up at vet checks and number checks along the way. Their radio clubs do community service and help out often at the Teeter rides. They have a good time volunteering and camping out, and helped keep everything running smoothly.

The 100’s and 80’s first did a 20 mile loop back to camp for a 50 minute hold, then they took off on a 60 mile loop (that the 60’s did) headed north to the Snake River canyon and Petroglyphs.

I agreed on the bright idea to go out on the 4-wheeler and take pictures. The morning sun was just right and the Owyhee Front Range mountains and Hayden Peak to the west framed the riders as they climbed up on to the bluff flats above Bates Creek Canyon. Then I headed on to the Snake River, stopping and talking to Steve Bradley on the way, who’d gone out on his motorbike to catch the riders with his camera. He warned me about a sketchy place heading down into the canyon, which I was thankful for, because 4-wheelers scare me, or should I say, I scare myself on 4-wheelers. So I decided I wasn’t going to go that far. And turns out I didn’t even get that far before I rolled it. It was kind of like the Losing-The-Raven thing – I don’t know how it happened. Luckily I got ejected and luckily the ATV stopped rolling before it flipped once more on top of me.

Ever try to turn one of those things right side up? They’re damn heavy. I think I could only do it because I had so much adrenaline going through me I was still shaking. When I got it righted and started, I turned it right back around, drove up to the top of the little hill (still shaking), and walked down on foot, thank you very much, to take pictures. I was a little bruised and scraped and feeling a little sorry for myself until I realized it really was a Great Day, because I was sitting in this beautiful river canyon with ravens and kestrels and prairie falcons soaring above me, and I was not still laying on the trail underneath the ATV!

It got hot as the riders descended to the river and the breeze dissipated. And it turns out Carol Brand got so hot she had a heat stroke, and ended up pulling. She said “I took good care of my horse – she looked great – but I forgot to take care of me!” Hundred mile rides were easier when we were all younger!

By the time I finished my nerve-wracking ATV ride home (only nerve-wracking now because they REALLY scare me), I’d felt like I’d done a hundred miles on a horse. I’m supposed to ride a 50 on Quicksilver on Monday… I couldn’t lift my arm by the end of the day, but I’m sure I’ll be fine to ride!

5 of 6 riders finished the 80 miler, with Mell Hare finishing first, and 2nd place Ron Sproat getting BC.

First to finish the 100 in just over 10 hours was Christoph Schork on his mare Hanna CW, and he also got BC. As he would, since he was the only one who showed. 9 of the 13 starters finished, including Nance on Quinn, and Clydea and Kevin, who brought up the rear at about 2:30 AM. Of the 5 pulls in the 80 and 100, two were rider options and 3 were lamenesses.

32 of 42 finished the 60 miles, with Carrie Johnson coming in first, and 3rd place Carol Giles getting BC. Tom Noll and Frank finished very well in mid-pack, riding with Lynn White on Agnes. Three of the pulls were rider options.

A superb dinner was cooked up and served by Debra and Alan, who used to own the Blue Moon restaurant. Baked ham, potatoes, great salad, and rich cheesecake with whip cream for dessert – just what one needs after a hard day’s ride, on a horse or a flippin’ ATV!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Oreana Stories

Friday May 25 2007

I’m Hoooooooooooooome: in the southwest corner of Idaho, Owyhee County, Oreana to be precise, “population 8, maybe 9,” with the Teeters (of Actually, I’m homeless and truck-less; now every time I stay in a place more than 2 days the word ‘home’ slips out, be it a hostel or tent, and any time I unpack my suitcase, I start to throw a few shallow roots into the ground.

However, I’ve been to Oreana twice before, and it is like home. I first met Steph and John in Ridgecrest California 3 winters ago, where I was riding for Jackie Bumgardner and they were escaping the cold winter in Idaho. (That was also the year I invited myself along with Steph and Jackie to Egypt, but that’s another long story.) I then visited the Teeters in Oreana for a few days on my way somewhere, and just fell in love with the place.

Then in the fall Gretchen and I went to their 5-day Owyhee Canyonlands ride, and I stayed on to housesit for 10 days, then I stayed on another month. (They couldn’t get rid of me.) The Teeters live 5 miles up a creek that is settled entirely on the upper end by endurance riders. They’re surrounded on 3 sides by BLM land where you can ride forever. Sometimes we do!

Steph and John put on about 3 endurance rides a year here, a 3-day ride in May, a 5-day ride in the fall, and another 100 miler thrown in there, which this year is the AERC National Championships, 50 and 100 miles. This weekend is the Owyhee 100 Elevator Ride 60/80/100 (Saturday), and the Owyhee Rangelands I and II 25/50 (Sunday and Monday).

If you haven’t done a Teeter ride, you’re missing out. It’s great high desert country (basecamp is at about 3200 feet) to ride in where you get to see a variety of terrain – you ride across the desert, on hill ridges, in canyons sheltering great cottonwoods, by the Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation area (home to the largest concentration of raptors in North America), on the original Oregon Trail. One day’s trail takes you to the Snake River and down into the canyon among the petroglyphs – my RAVEN (may the Great Bird Spirit Rest His Feathers, er, black cloth) did this ride and posed on the petroglyph rocks. Then of course there’s good completion awards and great catered dinners, wireless internet access for the people who can’t travel without their computers (ahem), and the weather is usually cooperative. Currently it’s not so hot!

So, I’m back home for the Owyhee Rangelands ride. The suitcase is unpacked for 3 weeks (then I’m off to Europe!). The day after I got to Oreana from my three months in Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia, I hopped right back into riding, two horses a day… Steph has plenty of horses to ride, and no time to ride them!

Stay tuned for ride coverage…

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Oz Quick Tour

May 19 2007

First: a word about kookaburras. Every place I went in Australia for endurance, the noisy birds were there, parrots, plovers, ibis, magpies, whip birds (whip-CRACK! is their call), and kookaburras, colorful, loud, impressive. For being such mild-looking birds, the kookaburras are LOUD. You know those jungle movies where you’re led to believe that the loud OOH OOOH OOOH OOOH! AAAH AAAH AAAH AAAH! cries are monkeys? Those are kookaburras. If you want to know what it’s like to be wakened by kookaburras, go to HYPERLINK "" click on What the kookaburra sounds like in the middle of the page, turn up the volume on your speakers at full, put them right by your ears, then hit the Play button. Better yet, have somebody else do this while you are sleeping, and you’ll know the full meaning of a kookaburra alarm clock.

I didn’t really have much time to be a tourist in Australia, but if I had, maybe I could have done this. I could have flown to Townsville (wherever that is) for a $50 cup of coffee at Hervey’s Range Heritage Tea Rooms. It’s a delicacy: a Kopi Luwak from Indonesia, a cat-like Palm Civet, eats ripe coffee beans, poos them out, the do is collected, the beans are collected from the poo, and washed, roasted and quarantined. The coffee is purported to be a “divine full-bodied blend with a hint of chocolate flavor.” But regrettably (?), I didn’t have time for this.

I had a day to wander Sydney, staying in the character-full Kings Cross district. Sydney’s a lovely city on Sydney Harbour, and the well-known symbols of the city, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge are indeed quite striking. I didn’t want to climb the Harbour Bridge (and certainly not for $170), but I did walk across it. I’ve mentioned the amazing birds and parrots all over the country several times, and in Sydney, in the lovely Botanical Gardens, (a highlight), there was no shortage of parrots, especially cockatoos, which you could get quite close to. In fact, if you are daring enough to hand seeds to them (I was not), some will come right up to you. Or, if you happen to be kneeling on the grass, bending over to look through your camera’s viewfinder as you are shooting a cockatoo 2 feet away, another one might fly up and land on your back, and start pulling at your ponytail band, at which point you slightly shrug and cringe, hoping the bird will not find your earrings and rip them out of your ears.

Now, I was feeling a little bereft (still) without the Raven, so, I picked up a little kookaburra (what else), one that makes the call when you squeeze it. I took a couple of pictures with it in Sydney… it’s just not the same. While I haven’t yet found the Raven, this isn’t quite the end of the story… (stay tuned).

Australian Endurance Conclusion

May 19 2007

First of all, same as New Zealand, I met some wonderful people who took time out of their busy lives to host me and give me a glimpse into their worlds. In New Zealand I met some of the smaller trainers and endurance riders; in Australia I met some of the icons of international endurance and the Arabian horse. Many thanks to Meg Wade and Chris Gates of Castlebar, (and all their workers), the Tofts of Toft Endurance, (and all their workers), and Ron and Val Males of Ralvon Arabian Stud, and I hope to meet many more people on my next visit!

There are quite a few similarities in endurance riding in Australia and the US.

Most notably, though a majority of endurance riders don’t participate in FEI, most people don’t mind it, and many support it.

We’re both losing trails we used to have easy access to, to housing developments and people closing their land because of insurance.

There’s rumors in both countries (and others) about people cheating: drugging horses, taking shortcuts on course. Only those who might do it know if the rumors are true, and only they have to live with themselves. Did you really win if you did any of this?

The differences:
Australia and New Zealand have logs books for every horse, which seem to be a good idea. In the book, every ride is recorded, every vet check and the results of the vet’s evaluation, and where the horse finished or when he vetted out (pulled) and why. The US doesn’t - we only have vet cards for each ride, which we present to the vets at the vet checks, and carry with us during the ride, and turn it over to the vets (ride manager) after the ride. If you want these after the ride, you can have them. However, we in the US have the great resource of online records, for horses and riders, with our AERC organization online, which is very handy and convenient, which is not available in Australia (or New Zealand), though I’ve heard that it might be available in the future. It takes a great deal of work, and our AERC people do a great job of keeping it up to date as soon as possible.

While Australian 40 km rides (25 milers) are strictly Training Rides, have a time limit of not finishing faster than 6 hours (and not slower than 8 hours), US training rides, or Limited Distances (LDs), have become quite competitive and many LD riders want placings, awards, and Best Conditioned judging just like the 50 mile and over rides.

As for the 160 km FEI rides, especially the FEI rides, where the ride is supposed to be 6 loops, it seems that strategy and speed are the focus of the ride, and the strappers and veterinarians carry more responsibility for the welfare of the horse. In 100 mile US rides where there are, say, 3 long loops, with 3 hour-long vet checks and maybe another 15-minute hold on one of the loops, the rider has more time where he or she must be responsible for the horse out on the trail and adjust his or her riding accordingly. In the US now, at many rides, 30 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles or multi-days, at least in the West and Pacific Southwest where I ride, the trend is becoming so that every head veterinarian of every ride will give a pre-ride speech deferring the responsibility of the horse’s wellbeing on the RIDER. The vet sees the horse for maybe 2 minutes at each vet check - and likely not the same vets see the same horses - and he or she is there to HELP the rider assess the condition of the horse during those two minutes. The rider has been on the horse the last few hours and should know how the horse is feeling, and the rider should know if the horse needs slowing down or stopping. The veterinarian can’t possibly be expected to know how the horse feels underneath the rider, nor predict what might happen another 20 miles down the trail, even if the horse does look good in those two minutes. If you don’t know your horse, you really shouldn’t be riding it, their opinion. Of course, anything can happen at any time out on the course, but it’s certainly not the vet who should blamed for anything that goes wrong. Fairly recently in the US one vet was sued by a rider who, after his horse passed a vet check, went back out on trail, over-rode his horse, and the horse died. Whose fault was it? If actions like this become common it will threaten rides, because what vet would possibly consent to vetting a ride if he’s held responsible for a rider killing his horse?

Australia has commentators broadcasting at vet checks throughout the rides (as does New Zealand). Of course that’s for the strappers, so they know when their riders are approaching, since time in the vet check gates into holds is crucial, especially for those out to compete, not just complete. The US has some radio check people, which do number checks out on course for some rides, but it’s just to guard against emergencies, and to turn the list into ride management later to make sure people have stayed on course.

In the US, we don’t put a lot of work into strapping, especially at the non-FEI rides. Personally I hadn’t even heard of ‘strapping’ and had to look up what the heck it meant. Sure, we put water on our horses if their heart rates need bringing down, but normally we don’t have a crew of people and a slew of buckets doing it. We might have a ‘crew,’ who will maybe be carrying a bucket of water and a sponge in one hand for the horse, and a beer or Dr Pepper J in the other hand for the rider.

Most people I visited in Australia heavily use electrolytes, and by ‘heavily,’ I mean feeding in feed before and during rides, and electrolyting by mouth syringe going out on every loop. Plenty of people in the US do that also, but some of the ‘old school’ endurance riders, whom I learned from, might add electrolytes to feed before and during rides (if then), but don’t syringe additional electrolytes during the rides. I know that with a couple of horses I rode a couple hundred miles on each, we tried it both ways, and there was no difference, although of course I was not doing hundreds in 12 hours, nor 50 milers in 4 hours. There is a corroborating study I just read about, in one of the Australian States’ endurance newsletters. The French endurance team had always, prior to the year - I think it was around 2002 - given their horses oral electrolytes going out on every loop in 160 km endurance rides. For the 2-year study, they completely stopped supplementing the horses during the rides, and it was found that every single horse had better completion rates and less metabolic problems once they stopped administering the electrolytes. From my observations, my conclusion is, both people - those who use a lot of electroytes, and those who don’t - swear by their methods.

Again, I didn’t spend nearly enough time in Australia either, to come to enough concrete conclusions about the endurance world there. I will just have to return one day and continue my studies!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Quick Horse Farm Tour

Sunday May 13 - Monday May 14

This region here, the Hawkesbury district of New South Wales, an hour or so from Sydney, is for horses and horse farms like the Santa Ynez Valley in California, or Lexington in Kentucky. Lots of horse people, lots of horse farms. While staying with the Males, I had a few quick visits to 3 farms near Ron and Val’s place.

Ningadoo Arabian Stud is owned by Justine Blunt and her daughter Claudia Reid. Justine and her husband Gaire, (who passed away 2 yrs ago), bought a place a few kilometres down the Colo River from Ron and Val’s. Justine thought it would be a great getaway, a place to have nice picnics in the summer. They had no intention of having horses, until they met Ron and Val (not so surprising!). Gaire, always game for a go at something new, decided they’d all do a 40 km training ride. They rode down the road to Ralvon, where the ride was taking place, and they couldn’t figure out why there were so many buckets out everywhere. They hadn’t even brought halters along. After the first 20 km loop, Justine’s and Gaire’s horses vetted out - all of them, horses and humans exhausted, and Claudia didn’t think she could possibly do another 20 km by herself, so she talked a neighbor into floating her back home (just down the road!).

That was their first introduction to endurance riding - and that might well have ended their foray into endurance. But they kept at it, got hooked, and eventually decided to start their own stud in 1989. At one time they had 50 horses on the place - stallions, broodmares, horses in training; but now since Gaire died, they’ve scaled back to 22 or so horses, with two stallions, an Aethon son Koda, now 25 yrs old, and Nangadoo Taban, now 12, who’s still competing in endurance. He was 3rd in the 2004 Quilty, and Best Conditioned. They consistently sell good horses to the UAE, and Claudia herself has competed successfully all over Australia, and in Tasmania and Abu Dhabi. They have a lovely little stretch of valley right along the Colo River, lush green pastures and leaves turning golden on some of the trees.

They are used to foreign buyers coming to look at the horses, so one day when someone rang and said they were coming to look at horses, it was routine as usual on a horse farm; Claudia had been out taking care of a horse who’d cut himself up. She had just returned to the house covered in blood, when this man came to the door, “Hi, I’m the Sultan (now King) of Malaysia,” he said more or less. Claudia said, “Nobody told me the Sultan of Malaysia was coming! I couldn’t have been any filthier if I tried!”

Next was Ray and Kerry Smith’s River Oak Arabian Stud a few kilometres down the road in the other direction. Ray worked for Ralvon Arabians for 10 years, and Kerry also worked there as a secretary. Ron said that during the time Ray worked there, they’d had some 200 horses on the farm, 4 employees, “everything full on,” with work, breeding and broodmares and horses in training or showing, and they’d still find time to sit and talk and laugh about old times. Ray had some broodmares and would breed a few on the side for free and sell them for $15,000, $20,000 dollars, so “that was a good bonus for him,” says Ron. “We couldn’t have gotten where we did without him, and he couldn’t have gotten to where he did without us. It’s been great for both of us.”

Ray remembers his first endurance ride many years ago. It was 75 miles, and he was whooped, and he thought, “Why am I doing this!?” But as we die-hard endurance riders tend to do, he continued on to finish the ride, and naturally got hooked. He’s finished a couple of Quilties, and also had numerous champion show horses of his own breeding. They’ve got some 65 or so horses on the place now, 7 or 8 stallions, including the beautiful black River Oak Tabu, who’s by Arabian Park Egyptian Magnetic, sire of Trevor Copland’s black stallion Egyptian Harmony, and Ningadoo Arabian’s Ningadoo Taban, who I’d just seen. Tabu consistently produces successful halter and performance show horses, and his get are also doing well as endurance horses in the Middle East.

A few years ago Ray was diagnosed with cancer, so he’s been out of riding for 20 months, but he’s now healthy and in remission, and ready to start riding again. They’re quite busy now, as they’re having an ‘Open Barn’ on the weekend where many horses are for sale,

Next was Mark and Lesley and son Brody Freeman’s Cedar Ridge Arabians. They got started breeding Arabians just for fun, to have a nice horse or two for their kids to ride in the pony club - and if they were going to breed Arabians, might as well be some nice ones. One day neighbor Peter Cole, owner of Chip Chase Sadaqa, invited Mark to ride with him. Mark wasn’t sure which of his horses to ride, maybe Cedar Ridge Rob Roy. Peter asked the breeding of the horse, and when he heard his breeding (Flash Design out of one of their first broodmares, Stoodleigh Nikia), Peter said, “That’s a nice horse, you should do endurance on him.” Mark said, “What’s endurance?”

Mark started riding with Peter Cole, and eventually did his first ride on Rob Roy. Mark and Rob Roy’s 3rd ride (and completion) was the Quilty. Mark was addicted! Over Rob Roy’s endurance career, he accumulated over 9000 endurance kilometres. After finishing the Quilty, he started winning rides; he finished his first 20 rides in a row in the top 5 without a pull. He was the first horse to win at all distances: 80, 100, 120, 160, and 400 km. He holds the Shahzada record of 26 hrs and 42 minutes, and he won it twice.

The Freeman’s son Brody was the one who had the idea to turn their endurance hobby into a business. Now Mark and Lesley don’t ride so much (they have about a dozen Quilties and a dozen Shahzadas between them) but they enjoy strapping, and the breeding end of the business. They currently have over 100 horses, and sell all their horses to clients in the Middle East, because there’s no profit in selling them locally.

They lost their house in the 2001 bush fires; they brush it off as if it was nothing, but it had to have been terribly traumatic. It happened so fast they didn’t have time to think what to get out of the house - they lost all their horse papers, photos, everything. They had 5 minutes to jump in their car and leave; a friend who was also fleeing the area stopped by and asked what she could grab. Mark and Lesley told her to grab what she thought they’d want, and she thought to take their Quilty buckles and endurance trophies on the way out the door. Luckily there were only 2 horses on the place - the rest were on their other farm 2 hours away - and someone picked those two horses up in a float on their way out.

For a while, their street was lightheartedly - but with some truth - referred to by Mark as “the endurance center of the universe” because between him and Lesley and Peter Cole, and other endurance neighbors on the road, they’d had a lot of wins and miles, Quilties and Shahzadas, between them.

They have a beautiful place with a view on the back porch to the forest below and beyond, some of it National Park. You can’t see any trace of the fires anymore; the eucalyptus have quickly returned. When they first moved to their place many years ago, there were only 2 houses. Now they’re surrounded by houses, and they no longer have direct access to the forest land trails - they have to haul a short distance away to get to the good and long training trails.

I’m certainly not doing any of these farms justice with just a quick visit; they’re just a sample of the tip of the iceberg in Australian endurance.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ralvon Arabians Part III

Sunday May 13 2007

Ron and Val Males aren’t just known for their contribution to the Arabian horse world. They’ve also been recognized for the work they’ve done with and for disabled people.

One day about 30 years ago they got a handwritten letter from a little kid asking if he could board his horse at their place. They agreed, and he wrote that his parents would bring him out. When he arrived, the Males were quite surprised to see a 30 year old man. John had been stricken at a few months of age with cerebral palsy. He’d done some handicapped riding, but at Ralvon he was just another person. He’d fall down, they’d let him lay there until he could get himself up (he wanted it that way). He’d wobble up to his horse shoving a shaking bridle at him, and his horse would stand there and be bridled. He got to where he could saddle and bridle his own horse and go out riding by himself; he’s done a few endurance training rides; and he’s even done a cross country trip in a sulky by himself. If you can imagine the enormous amount of effort and determination that took, you’d never complain about how hard something is ever again. With Ron’s help he broke in the horse he has now - the horse is now 18 yrs old. He was told he’d be in a wheelchair the rest of his life; that was a long time ago. The horses keep him going and stimulated. John’s been like a member of the Males’ family for 30 years, and he still comes out every weekend to ride his horse - I had the pleasure of meeting him while I was there.

The Males used to run holiday camps for girls, 5 days long, taking in 18 girls at a time, to earn money. They also started, about 10 years ago, holiday work camps for people to come stay and live with them for a week at a time and work on the farm.

The holiday girls camp is where they met Neville, father of two of the girls. He’d been a taxi driver with a normal life, until the day a passenger shot him in the back and made him a paraplegic. Taking his girls to the camp gave Neville the idea that he’d like to ride a horse, but how on earth could that happen? He enlisted the help of Ron and Val, and kept it a secret. On his lunch hours he’d sneak out to their farm. Ron put a riding pony into stocks for confinement, and built a special ramp Neville could roll his wheelchair up onto, and maneuver his body down onto the pony. Ron gave him riding lessons; Neville would post by using one arm on the saddle horn to lift himself out of the saddle. Neville worked indoors at a typewriter business, and his wife was wondering why he was getting so tanned. He told her he was eating his lunches outside.

One day when his kids went to the Males’ camp to ride, here came their dad, not in a wheelchair, but riding on a horse by himself. Thanks to the Males, Neville was able to leave his wheelchair and ride hoses with his family. Neville wrote a moving poem about it, the first line of which reads, “Gee Dad, how did you get up there?”

In 2004 , Ron and Val were awarded the Order of Australia Medal - an award from Australians recognizing achievements and service of fellow citizens - for services to the horse breeding industry, to equestrian sports, and to people with disabilities. (Val’s a bit embarrassed by it). Very appropriate for two wonderful people, who’ve given so much of themselves and their lives to other people.

Ralvon Arabians Part II

Sunday May 13 2007

Though Ron Males is what you might call partly retired from owning an Arabian Stud farm, he still has plenty of things to keep him busy. He feeds his horses twice a day with help from his 2 dogs (some horses are boarded horses), he still shoes his horses, he gives riding lessons, and in between he goes “to have a scratch in me’ garden.” He still breaks in one horse a year, just because he likes doing it.

He told me what he and Val have always liked in Arabians, which is, in one word, Quality. He said the horse shows, especially in the U.S around the 1980’s or so, started getting away from what the Arabian breed was originally about. Nobody stops to think why horses have (or had) what they did. What was the Arabian horse? A desert war horse. Broad heads, deep jowls for chewing, nostrils that flare widely to let in air, strong necks. Small ears on stallions - the stallions didn’t have to do any listening for protection; the mares did that. They had bigger ears because they had to spend all their time eating, to nourish the foals at their side while probably being in foal again, and still protect their foals and the herd by listening all around them, while the stallions ate 6 hours a day and looked pretty the rest of the time. The Bedouins kept the foals in their tents, so if they weren’t gentle they were gotten rid of; they rode mares into battle because they were quiet - the stallions would have trumpeted their arrival. Why is the tail of the Arabian carried high? It’s to let the air flow underneath them to naturally help cool down a horse that travels miles and miles over the desert sand carrying heavy weight - the same place you first go, along with the head, to cool down a horse with water, underneath the hind legs. Well-muscled thighs and gaskins contribute to producing brilliant action. Ron and Val didn’t train their horses to have such good action, they bred for it. In the showing, Ron never clipped his horses, and he never put eye makeup on, (the horses, that is), and he never put grease on their faces. “If they don’t look good without the makeup, they just don’t look good.” And every single photo I saw of their horses were absolutely beautiful - a natural beauty, and all horses with substance.

Ron and Val believe in heart scores - measurement of the size of the heart. Of course it’s only one part of the whole picture, but they believe that if your horse has a small heart, he may be good, but he won’t ever reach that great potential because he’s limited by the capacity of his heart to work. This criteria has worked well for them over the years. The heart score on Milex, one of their stallions, was 140, the highest measurement, and the highest that had been recorded up to that time.

Ron and I talked about electrolytes - he never feeds them except a handful of table salt a few days before an endurance ride. They need to be hydrated before they go to the ride, he says; you don’t work on hydrating your horse during a ride. You teach your horse to drink on the trail when you’re out training: come to water, put him in the middle of it, don’t let him eat grass, wait till he drinks - and he won’t need electrolytes, especially if you’ve brought him to the ride hydrated. Teach him to stay there and drink while everybody else is galloping by. Trying to get him to learn to drink during the ride is too late. “Two minutes lost in a ride watering my horse saves me 5 minutes down the trail because my horse won’t be as stressed.”

He talked about today’s Natural Horsemanship trainers - those guys don’t always tell you all that they’re doing because they want it to look like magic. He watched Monty Roberts work with an unbroken horse once, and watched him instructing the horse subtly with little jerks and tugs on his halter (getting him used to pressure) while he was lecturing the audience with his voice and his other hand. He never told the audience what he was actually doing with the horse, so it looked like magic when Monty walked off with this previous problem horse following him like a dog. Ron rivals any of these showy trainers, only he doesn’t do it for show - it’s just his way of life around horses. He also doesn’t always cotton to the approach of complete gentleness to breaking. When ‘green horse people’ (my words - those who haven’t been around horses enough to really know what they’re about yet) try to copy these Natural horsemanship methods, it may work for a while, but what happens the horse deviates from the plan? Last week Ron was shoeing a horse somebody brought in for him to work on, and the horse jerked away and ripped open his hand with a nail. So next day, after he got his hand sewed up, he tied the horse’s back foot up, and let him fight himself (instead of Ron). That went on till the horse got tired of it, and he was good as gold after that. You can still be gentle, but you can also be firm and let the horse teach himself things. “Let the horse fight himself if he’s going to fight, not you.” He said “I’m always amazed by horses, even after all these years. I like to watch horses interact, watch how they respond to each other. If the dominant mare in a herd wants to walk through the herd, she flares her nostrils and slightly wrinkles her nose, and slightly pins her ears, and the horses part like the ocean for her. She’s not forceful about it. If we can communicate like horses, they understand us better. I like to work with the very young ones, especially. If you handle them with firmness, so you’re the dominant one, but with gentleness, they respond so amazingly easily.” Ron believes that in general, females are better with Arabians than males who like to dominate. With an Arabian, if a man wants to fight him or force him to do something, “he’ll have a fight and a half on his hands.”

Ron hand pasture breeds his stallions, if that’s what you’d call it. He takes them on a long lead rope into a pasture with a group of mares. The one or ones that are interested come up, the stallion picks his mare, and breeds her. He’s allowed to act like a stallion - prance and kick and leap around on the end of the lead rope - but once he’s done, he’s instantly brought back to human reality and is expected to behave properly with Ron. (And they do, because that’s the kind of horses Ron had/has.) His horses are all also taught to stand still when their lead ropes are dropped on the ground. He says “WHOA,” drops the rope (he showed me with Ralvon Mark ), and walks off, and the horse stands there until he’s asked to move or his lead rope is taken up again.

We also talked about his endurance training methods: “It’s the time you spend on the horse’s back that gets them fit, not the miles you put on them. Them carrying your weight is what wears them out.” He has a treadmill that he’s used for 20 years. During the show seasons, the stables horses were always turned out every day, and walked on the treadmill, by walking two minutes and trotting for 6-8 minutes.

Ron (and Val too) is one of those older and wiser horsemen whose methods have proven successful over the years, one that you can learn a great deal from by just watching. He still gives seminars on endurance (in fact he and Val were at a seminar at the Toft’s in December, where he was reunited with Chip Chase Sadaqa, who he rode to be 2nd in the 1987 Quilty) to get young people interested in the sport. He doesn’t do so much endurance riding himself, just a few training rides now and then with his grandchildren. I’d say, if you see him out there on the trail and you don’t know him, introduce yourself, because he’s one person that you can learn a great deal from.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ralvon Arabians Part I

Saturday May 12 2007

Ralvon Arabian Stud is one of the icons of the Arabian horse breeding industry in Australia over the past 50 years, and is likely well-known all over the world. They’ve been highly successful in the showring and endurance. Far above that acclaim, however, are the opinions of everyone I spoke to about Ron and Val Males, owners of the stud. “Wonderful people,” “I have great respect for them,” “Good, honest people,” “We don’t mind getting beaten by such upfront, honest competitors,” etc, and the unanimous sentiment expressed about them was “respect.”

Now located about an hour out of Sydney in New South Wales, Ralvon Stud started out quite modestly in 1953 when Ron and Val became engaged. Their first horses were two ¼-Arabian mares and an Arabian stallion. In 1962 they obtained Rickham, who was versatile and docile enough for Ron to ride bareback with no bridle working cattle, and who went on to sire the famous Ralvon Pilgrim in 1970. Of Rickham, Val has said, “he was a horseman’s horse of substance, soundness, and nobility.” Rickham had a favorite cat that he liked to carry around his paddock in his mouth. (The cat loved it.)

Before that, however, Ron and Val helped establish the first Tom Quilty ride in 1966, patterned after America’s Tevis Cup, and the beginnings of Australian endurance riding. Ron rode in that first Quilty on another of their stallions, Shareym; (the winner, Shalawi, ridden BAREBACK by Gabriel Stecher, was a ¾ brother to Shareym), Shareym went on to complete 6 Quilties, still a record for a stallion, and Ron himself became a Quilty legend, earning 21 buckles over his endurance career, including 20 completions out of his first 20 starts, a record that will be hard to break. He rode Chip Chase Sadaqa (the stallion now owned by the Tofts) in 1987 to a second place finish. Val herself has 2 or 3 of her own Quilty buckles. “I loved the Quilty,” she says.

In 1970, a star was born. A homebred by Rickham out of Trix Silver, when the foal’s head was emerging from the mare in birth, Val said, “We’re going to call this one Pilgrim, because he’s going to go far.” That really proved to be an understatement. They began showing him as a yearling, and 8 times in 8 weeks he was never beaten. They kept showing him through 5 years of age, and he was South Australian Supreme Champion, Victorian Supreme Champion, Brisbane Supreme Champion, New South Wales Supreme Champion. They finally retired him at 5, because he’d won everything and there was nothing else to win.

Then they heard of this World Championship in England at Ascot in 77; they and their horse were invited by Michael Pitt-Rivers of Tollard Stud to come stay with him and compete. “We couldn’t believe it,” says Val, “here we were, two country nobodies, wandering around England like Crocodile Dundee in civilization. (I think that’s why they enjoy watching this movie again and again.) We’d never seen a butler before!” She laughs gaily when she recalls them sitting down to an elaborate served lunch at a fancy table. “I had a big spoon at my plate, and I thought, ‘Oh dear, they are going to have me serve the soup,’ until I saw everybody had a big spoon. Then, when we tried our soup…” (at this point, she’s laughing so hard she can’t get the story out), “Ron and I looked at each other (doubled over laughing) with great big eyes, thinking (gasping for air, laughing so hard), ‘Oh dear, they forgot to heat the soup!’ but it was supposed to be served cold.” Great memories!

To the Males it was mind-boggling that they were even present at this world championship with a little homebred Australian horse of theirs, going up against horses from 14 other countries, and when Ralvon Pilgrim won Supreme Stallion, then went on to win Supreme International Champion, it was beyond a dream come true. Val’s written account of it is riveting and moving - and completely humble.

Ralvon Pilgrim sired countless champions, passing on his greatness in the showring and endurance. Thirteen years after his death, he’s still #3 on Australia’s Leading Lifetime Sires of Pure Arabians List. His progeny excelled at everything. He stopped in New Zealand on his way back from England, and Trevor Copland’s uncle Brian bred about 8 mares to him.

Milex was another great stallion they owned - picked out by Val, because she’d always wanted a son of Exelsjor. Milex was successful when they showed him lightly, but it was as a sire where he became a great legacy. When he died in 1996 at age 28, Milex had become Australia’s leading endurance sire as well as a successful sire of numerous Champions in Hand and Under Saddle.

The Puritan was another successful stallion story, also chosen by Val as a foal in 1970. He was Champion Stallion several times and produced many successful showring and endurance horses.

Ron and Val were the first to sell a purebred Arabian to America - to Wayne Newton in 1969. And they were the first to sell Arabians to the Arabs in 1992, so you might say they had a hand in helping to get endurance going in the Middle East, also. In the first races held over there, the horses were racing against camels - and they did quite well, when someone didn’t cut the course ropes and let a ringer camel run in front of the field near the finish.

The Males’ success in the Arabian world isn’t due to one specific type or bloodline of horse, or because of breeding just for show, or just for endurance - their breeding program has been a mixed lot of Crabbet, Egyptian, Polish blood: the main theme is all about being a good horse. As Ron put it, back in the old days, the Arabian horse in this part of the world was bred to be a work horse, not an ornament. In the 70’s, the Australian Arabian breeders started following the American way of showing and breeding, and that’s when some Australian breeders started getting away from the all-around accomplished Arabian horse. The Males always stuck to their beliefs: they always expected their horses to be good at everything - showing in hand, under saddle, in harness, and in endurance; and they have done just that.

Every single one of the pictures they showed me, I was looking at knock-out horses - horses with depth and substance, good strong bodies, not those pencil-thin necks and flat toplines. There wasn’t a one that didn’t look like it could carry a heavyweight rider 100 miles, but that was still so strong and beautiful enough for a showring.

At one time they had 300 horses on their place and 4 full-time employees; now they’ve cut back drastically in semi-retirement; they have about 12 horses, none really going in endurance, and they’re selling the last of their broodmares. They still have, and will keep the two stallions, Orlando and Ralvon Mark, a Ralvon Pilgrim son, and a couple of riding horses, including Ralvon Grace, who finished 4 Quilties.

Their 3 children did some riding, a bit of showing and endurance, though now they’ve grown out of it. A couple of grandkids still do a bit of riding; Ron rode with 2 of them recently in a training ride, but they’re not obsessed with it.

It’s been a whirlwind 50 years of good and bad, great disappointment and extraordinary success for the Males. They earned their deserved respect through hard work and skill, and through it all, they’ve maintained their integrity, congeniality, and gratefulness for their success.

Endurance: Riding or Racing?

Saturday May 12 2007

I had some interesting conversations with many people in my New Zealand-Australia travels about the sport of endurance riding. Or, maybe it should be, the leisurely hobby of endurance riding, and the sport of endurance racing.

One breeder I spoke to was amazed that America is not a leader in international endurance breeding and winning, and contributing to raising the level of the sport. She was adamant (in a cheerful sort of way) that unless you race and win, endurance riding is pointless. "What's the purpose of endurance riding, if you're not out to win?" she asked.

I said (also merrily) it wasn't pointless at all - my idea of endurance riding is going to a multi-day ride, and having a fun social time riding over beautiful country and visiting with good friends and camping out (and maybe trying to stay on your horse in a windstorm without losing your temper, or dodging lightning bolts). Sure, riding a fast horse once in a while is fun (especially if you can actually control the horse), but it’s not my absolute yen.

She’d used the term endurance riding, but I said “No, you're talking about endurance RACING; I am talking about endurance RIDING.” She said it's the same thing, but I disagreed. I guessed that at least 80 percent of endurance riders in America are out to endurance ride, not race, and I heard that same rough figure quoted several times in New Zealand and Australia. There are those endurance riders, that will go to 50-mile (or 80 km) rides to race and win them, but many of them aren't aiming for 120 km or 160 km (100 mile) FEI international competition - they just have a horse who can go out and win, and they enjoy it.

She was frustrated that America doesn't have breeding programs to improve the sport (faster times, lower heart rates, faster recoveries), and by doing so, make these great horses available to everybody. My response was, why should I pay (or how could I pay) $50,000 for a well bred horse to do endurance when I can get a decent horse for $3000 (or free), one that will last me 10 years and do 10,000 miles? I'd much rather have that horse than a fast one for one season that I could sell. Her contention: Why would you want that when there are all these good horses out there to ride, especially your homebreds? I agreed that would be nice, raising your own foals, breaking them in, and having champions that win international rides. But, who can afford that? Think of not just the cost of starting a breeding operation, but, the time. When your first crop hits the ground, you may not find till they are 9 or 10 years old if they are really any good.

Her reasoning: But if you say that you can't afford it, you will never improve the sport. But, said I, a majority of us don't want, or have a need, to improve the sport of endurance riding, or racing. I also didn’t think many people could afford to endurance race their horses and go through them like this - always have another good one in the stable. I'd guess a majority of our riders have houses and mortgages and kids and board their horses away from home, and have to pay trainers to train them while they themselves work to afford them. And I'd say that the majority of endurance riders (not racers) wouldn't want to sell their horses anyway. We get too attached.

Her case: Wouldn't you want to be the best of America and represent America in the endurance sport? You could be the best you'll ever be, representing your country in international competition, with a stadium full of cheering people!

Me - um, well, no. Maybe I wasn’t the one to ask that question, as I really don’t have a competitive bone in my body. (This perhaps comes from my high school basketball years: my Junior year 2 wins, 21 losses. My senior year we greatly improved - doubled our wins! 4 wins, 19 losses. I learned that winning wasn't everything. We still had a great time playing while getting our butts kicked.)

Her conclusion: That's the problem! Though to me it wasn’t a problem, because the racing scene really doesn’t apply to me. Although, I would not turn out the chance to ride a good fast horse in a 160 km ride, just to experience it, and report on it, of course. Though I’d probably be just hanging on, with my eyes closed half the time, and going too fast to take pictures. J

I’d asked Meg Wade about the 2 aspects, and she agreed there is a difference between endurance riding and endurance racing, and she doesn’t see a conflict - to each his own, there’s a place for everybody.

Peter Toft agreed also. His passion is 160 km rides - he doesn’t particularly care to go out and win 80 km rides because his goals are the 160’s. But he thinks it’s great that other people want to do other things, stick to 80 km or 40 km rides, occasionally try the 160’s. The people that are out there to camp and socialize and have fun, great, good on ’em, they support the endurance industry too. He sees the need for both endurance riding and endurance racing, not one or the other. He respects the riders and horses that do the endurance rides, and those horses that reach 3000 miles and over, and he is quite interested and active in getting young people interested and participating in endurance.

In the endurance racing world, there’s no doubt that the Arabs have had a big influence in getting the sport going in the direction it is now: they drive the market. They are big clients of both the big breeders, and some of the backyard breeders, who come up with a really good horse once in a while, and maybe sell it to the Arabs for enough money to pay for their endurance activities for a year or two. In the casual endurance riding world, we really aren’t affected much at all - when someone wins an international 160 km ride in 8 ½ hours, we’ll still be happily poking along looking at the scenery in our backyard forests or deserts, socializing with fellow pokeys.

I met plenty of New Zealanders who wish they had a choice of not having to be part of FEI because of the plentiful rules (which aren’t always strictly followed everywhere for every ride) and especially the increased fees. One person said that while you may not like the increased fees, they’re necessary for insurance purposes, though I’m not sure why that is so. The foreign veterinarians add to the cost, though in Australia the ‘foreign’ vet can be from another state, and in New Zealand, he or she can be from the other Island. More rides are going with sponsors anyway to help defray the costs. One Australian rider thought that going by FEI rules for all rides in the country was a good idea - better for the horses when you’re talking about the vet gate into holds, but also didn’t think the higher fees were necessary. I think Aussies and Americans are quite happy to have the choice, some of us in both worlds never intending to cross over into the other.

Either way, I say pick your sport and enjoy it. That’s what it’s really all about, right? If you don’t like it, there’s always the Mounted Games to try!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Toft Endurance Finale

Thursday May 10 2007

Sadly, it is coming down to my last week in Australia. Same thing as in New Zealand: HOW DID THIS HAPPEN SO FAST?

I was torn between two choices: staying another weekend with the Tofts, and riding in a 40 km training ride with them, or heading off to Sydney before the weekend to visit with Ron and Val Males of Ralvon Arab Stud. Obviously, either one I chose would have been an excellent choice, but either one I missed would be an experience sorely missed. But like I always say when I’m disappointed that I miss a ride, there’s always another ride, so, I booked a ticket to Sydney for Friday to visit with the Males.

Thursday morning, my last full day at the Tofts’, I went to the barn and hung around a while, watching another load of horses being loaded on another van, and watching Peter watch horses trot out. He was studying them at the walk, at the trot, on a hard dirt road, up a hill and down. He probed for sore spots, he looked at feet. “There are 3 things we look at,” he told me, “soundness obviously, heart rate recovery, and supple muscles. See this here?” He was standing behind Murdoch, and ‘fluffing up’ his butt, and it jiggled like jello. Of course Murdoch is a little fat right now because he’s had a little rest, but he said when they’re fit, you still want to see loose, supple muscles, not muscles hard as a rock. (I think my horse Stormy’s are pretty loose but that’s because it’s all fat and no muscle! And his heart rate stays pretty low, because he doesn’t do much!)

Today I saw Murdoch’s 5-year-old appaloosa half-brother; he’s not done any rides yet. Penny said he has the look and feel and attitude of Murdoch, but, Peter said it’s just too early to tell how he’ll perform. Later I also saw a full sister to Murdoch, who they’re keeping as a broodmare. She’s with another hundred or so Toft horses at Peter’s sister’s place about 20 minutes away. Everything there is also brown, brown, brown. Peter’s having to haul all his water onto his farm, (and you can’t use city water for your garden, only for household use and livestock.), but his sister’s farm has its own spring water, though the paddocks here are pretty bare also. Out here are horses vacationing from breaking, and some just growing up - yearlings, two-year-olds, mares, oh, and a mob of wild kangaroos. In one paddock, a 17-year-old gelding, a former 2nd place finisher in the President’s Cup, Kadish, has the enviable job of babysitting the mob of yearling fillies. “He’s pretty special to us,” said Peter. “He’s the strongest horse I ever rode. In one ride we were going sideways, and he was so strong, I thought we were going to crash into this telephone pole and knock it right over.” Maybe Kadish will be giving the fillies some pointers.

Friday Peter had a meeting in Brisbane, and he took me along to drop me off at the airport afterwards. We passed RIGHT BY the street where I lost the Raven. I kept my eyes peeled, and told Peter he’d have to stop in the middle of the road should I happen to scream because I saw it, which he readily agreed to, but sadly, I did not see it.

I boarded the plane and headed off to the Sydney area. Now I’ve really left Brisbane and the Raven behind. (Unless it finds its way back to me…)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Chip Chase Sadaqa

Wednesday May 9 2007

If he’s not The top breeding endurance stallion in the world, Chip Chase Sadaqa (AKA “Wings”) is right up there. He’s 30, and looking quite good for such an old man, and he’s still serving mares. A vet had come to the farm last year or so, and one of the girls asked the vet to watch this horse trot out. “How old do you think he is?” “Oh, I don’t know,” said the vet, “5?” The Tofts have gotten 3 crops out of him since they bought him three years ago, and they really like everything he’s produced for them so far. They’re breeding mostly Anglo mares to him - it’s not a market decision, but just that they prefer to ride horses with a little more scope than Sadaqa, who’s 15 hands. They’ve also been buying Sadaqas around the world that they can find, because they like him and believe in him so much.

Sadaqa won the Quilty once, was first over the line maybe 3 other times but vetted out - he usually carried a 115 kg rider. Ron Males rode him once to be 2nd. Meg Wade likes Sadaqa too - she has a bunch of them - and he has produced and still is producing winners all over the world - Europe, Ireland, Malaysia, Australia, the Middle East. Pretty much every year he’s gotten top finishers in the Quilty. Brook Sample’s horse Brookleigh Casper that won last weekend’s ride in Imbil is by Sadaqa.

His original owner Pete Cole bred all kinds of mares to him, not select ones, and early on they appeared to be pretty good offspring. Often an endurance stallion becomes great after he’s dead, because after a riding career, he’ll start breeding, and it may not be till his first crop is 10 or 11 before you see if there’s a really great horse or two in there. Then you wait for the next crop or two to see if that was just a fluke. With Sadaqa, it appeared early on that he was throwing good horses. Before Australia had the FEI rides, they did the hour holds with a vet check an pulse check at a half hour (still the same in some rides; you don‘t have to pulse down when you come in, you just have to vet and pulse down at a half-hour after arrival), so, the horses always had plenty of time for their heart rates to come down. Once the vet gate into holds started, where your time didn’t stop till the pulse was down, that really moved the Sadaqas up a notch because they really did have great heart rates and recoveries. Peter likes them because they’re intelligent, very tractable and easy to handle, on the ground and in the vet ring, and, they’ve just proved to be good.

Jaimee cleaned Sadaqa up one day so I could take photos of him. Sadaqa likes Jaimee, and he likes getting her as wet as possible when he gets a bath. You can tell he does it on purpose. After he dried off, she led him out onto the grass, and said, “You want to get on him and have your picture taken?” I laughed, “Yea right!” Jaimee said “No, really! We do that for our Christmas pictures. Peter doesn’t mind.”

I could just picture it. Merri climbs on this famous valuable 30-year-old stallion thinking the joke was real, and he bucks her off, gets loose, tries to jump a fence for a mare, has a heart attack, or something. Or worse, Peter drives up just as I am sitting on his back and he shoots me off the horse.

But apparently Jaimee was serious. We went in the arena, and Sharon followed with my camera. (That way, if he bucked me off, we were in the arena and he wouldn’t get loose.). Jaimee tried to hold him still by his halter and lead rope as I set the mounting block up beside him; I sort of hopped up and flopped on his back, and he really started squirming. Not wanting to stir him up more by hanging over him, but wondering just how I was going to swing my leg over him without making him more fidgety, I figured I’d better just do it. I did a bit awkwardly, and he tried to jump forward, and I started sliding off his back, because he was so slick from Jaimee’s crème rinse. Whee! But I stayed on, and Jaimee tried to get him still for just one picture, but he wasn’t interested - he felt like he was ready to start an 80 km ride at the front of the pack!

Finally she tied the end of the lead rope back to his halter and handed it to me as reins, and that worked a little better - we finally got a partially still picture with me on the legend Sadaqa’s back. And not wanting to press my luck with him behaving (or have Peter drive up, just in case), I jumped right off him, though boy would it have been fun to canter around the arena on him! (I probably would have fallen off.)

We then turned him loose to run around a bit, and run he did, around and around, and it took 3 of us to corner and catch him, and only because Brooke brought the horse she was holding outside the arena to the gate, to catch his attention. He sure doesn’t act like a 30 year old man - hopefully he’ll be around a good while longer!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Imbil 160 km FEI Ride

Friday May 4 2007

It was oh-so-nice and chilly overnight, and foggy in the morning, though once the fog burned off, it started warming up very rapidly.

Peter had left Imbil for home at 4 AM because he had, as usual, dozens of things going on he needed to take care of. Before the heat got too out of control, Penny and Brooke went for a ride on Don and Bronco, and Melissa and Alexandra went for a ride on Kamahl and Jazzmin, while Jaimee cooked breakfast sandwiches, ham and eggs, for us. Alexandra is a year too young to ride in 160 km FEI rides yet, (14 is the limit) but she’s looking forward to her first one.

After lunch we took the horses out for a walk, which turned into more of a grass-eating outing. This was the first real grass the horses had seen in who-knows-how-long, and we let them rip it up. We didn’t have much of a choice anyway because we couldn’t drag them away! It got so hot in the sun that we retreated to the shade of a big tree and let them eat under that for a while. We had to tug hard on them to get them to go back to their pens. Jaimee and Penny noticed later that Don was not happy because all the horses had to go through his pen to get to theirs; so Don was moved to a back pen where he wouldn’t be bothered all the time.

Friday night after dinner, Penny pulled a chair up in front of Don’s pen. “Admiring your horse?” I asked. She said “I’m studying him. Wondering what he’s thinking.” I think she’s besotted.

Not too many more people had pulled into the Fairgrounds yet. Everybody in the Toft corner crawled in bed by about 8:30, and all was quiet on the ridecamp front.

Saturday May 5 (Kentucky Derby day, back home)

In the morning after feeding everybody, Jaimee noticed that Don wouldn’t eat his food, because, back in his front big pen, his feed bucket was too close to the gate where people kept coming and going to get things. So she moved his bucket of food to the back of the pen, and there he stayed, happily eating now, further away from humans.

Peter returned this morning, this time to stay through the ride, and, his phone didn’t even ring off the hook. Well it did ring, but not constantly. He even sat down a little while under the big tent we’d had put up at our spot, though he couldn’t sit still for too long. He had all 5 horses brought out to watch them trot out. From watching and studying them, and giving them all the once-over, he decided Penny would of course still ride Don, Brooke would ride Zalman, and Melissa would ride Kamahl.

Then they saddled them up and took them for a ride; Peter said I could take Penny’s car and drive up the road a ways and take pix. Yikes! I did, driving very carefully, and sweated in the heat waiting for them. It really was very hot today… not Malaysia hot, but unseasonably hot for this time of year here. By now, at the Toft’s farm, horses are normally wearing two rugs during the day. Just the thought of a rug, any rug, even their light ones, made me wilt.

Back at ride camp, friends of Melissa’s, Jackie and Geoff Richards from Cooroora Arabians, stopped by; I got another “Oh you’re the Raven lady!” It seems my stories are going around Australia’s version of ridecamp, and some Aussies are also contemplating possible Raven replacement solutions. : ) (Stay tuned for a comprehensive Raven update). I also met Sue Crockett the photographer whose good photos I’ve seen in a number of endurance magazines in Australia and New Zealand, and her husband Toby.

Later the horses were saddled up again for a ride, and I got to go along with Melissa and Alexandra, on my buddy Bronco. We headed up the road and did a little 10 km training loop through the pine forest (no eucalyptus here), and already with that little bit, I would have been lost! There were big arrows marking the trails here, in different colors, but I just seemed to miss some of them! Good think I wouldn’t be whizzing along in the dark on this ride.

We met quite a few riders coming and going, but there weren’t too many boisterous hellos. Maybe it was my reputation as a New Zealand Dreg, or maybe it was the company I was keeping, or maybe it was just that all the riders were concentrating hard on their challenges for tomorrow. Or, it was too hot and everybody was stunned from the heat. Or maybe it was that everybody else had been there before, and I was overly excited just to be lucky enough to be riding a horse with good company on a new part of the planet. Too bad the Raven wasn’t riding along, because he would have been having a great time too, and people probably would have recognized him!

When we got back to camp, Penny and Brooke and Melissa got their tack ready, and the Toft crew set up buckets and things for the strapping. Vet-in was at 2:00 PM; and while those of us without horses were watching, Mark Tylie, the young man who won the New Zealand Nationals appeared, and said “I have a package for you.” He was kind enough to bring me my credit card that has been chasing me around the world for a while. I think the card has more air miles than I do now. Mark wasn’t riding; he was just here to watch the ride.

Sample and Partners sponsored this first FEI *** 160 km ride in this part of Queensland. There was only this 160 km ride and no other distances; I’d talked to some people who weren’t coming because they weren’t ready for a 160 km this early in the season. So the Imbil ride probably missed out on a bigger number of riders, though putting on an FEI the first time was probably a big enough task that they didn’t want any other distances to deal with.

At the 5 PM ride meeting, Bob Sample talked about the ride, and gave out the official ride time, which we all set our watches to. He said temperatures were 6-7* above average yesterday, so that was going to make it harder on the horses. FEI requires 6 loops, so they would be: loop 1 - 37 km, loop 2 - 30 km, loop 3 - 26 km, loop 4 - 31 km, loop 5 - 21 km, loop 6 - 15 km. Pulse criteria 64. 40 minute holds except for after loop 4 (60 minutes, with a represent 10 minutes before going out) and the final hold of 30 minutes. Because there had to be 6 loops, the course was harder; it took 15 km to get out to where the hills flattened out and 15 km to get back, so there was no chance to even get to the flat ground, so much of the course would be challenging hills to climb. There’s talk of making it a choice of 5 or 6 loops in the FEI rides. I agree with the sentiment that the more loops you have, the more it puts the responsibility of the welfare of the horse on the veterinarians, and that’s not right. It’s the rider’s responsibility to know and take care of their horse, not the vet, who sees the horse for maybe 2 minutes. 39 riders were entered - 25 Open riders and 15 in the Youths.

Since the ride was starting at 2 AM and we were all getting up at 1, we all went to bed around 8 PM. All except for Louis and Sharon who’d help with strapping, who were on their way from Marburg. Their first vehicle broke down on the way so they didn’t arrive till 11 PM in another one.

Sunday May 6

Okay, this time, I managed to be up and present for the start of a ride. This starting rides at midnight, or 1 or 2 AM is just at a time I’d rather be snoozing! 39 riders left the Fairgrounds behind Bob’s vehicle in an orderly and unruffled start. Don and Zalman were in the middle of the pack as they trotted past me out into the night.

While everybody stayed up and waited the 2 hours 15 minutes (Peter’s prediction) for Don and Zalman to come in, I couldn’t help myself, I crawled back into my tent just to lay there for a few minutes. Predictably, it turned into a full-out unapologetic snooze, which lasted till 4 AM, when I crawled out to join the others. Sure enough right around 4:20, in came the first 3 riders, Penny, Brooke, and Brook Sample on Brookleigh Casper. It was quite cool and damp for us sitting around waiting, but Penny and Brooke said it was very hot out there on the trail. While the horses were warm, we didn’t yet need ice water to cool them down. And when I say “we” I mean “they” the strappers, I stayed close to watch, but stayed far out of the way. Adbullah and Mada had also come to watch the ride, and they were helping strap. The Toft team had their precise techniques down, everybody doing their job at the right spot and right time, and I wasn’t going to get in the way! The horses vetted through nicely and ate throughout their vet check.

Going out on the second loop, it was discovered that the official clocks were 5 minutes faster than the time given last night, so some riders went out late, some went out early by the original official time… it took a few loops to work things out, and by then I was so confused on the times that I couldn’t even tell time anymore, so I just stuck to taking pictures.

Melissa came in looking good on Kamahl off the second loop; as they were cooling him down they checked his feet, and Abdullah noticed that the pad on the first foot he looked at had an air pocket in it - it was supposed to be sealed with silicon - and they found the silicon had disintegrated and the pad was ripped. It had happened to all four feet, and it turned out to be bad luck, as Kamahl vetted out lame. Too bad, because Melissa was really pleased with how strong he felt.

I spent some time out on course photographing with Sue Crockett and another regular photographer, Peter Jackson, a jolly Scottish Aussie who just loves the endurance riding. I quite enjoyed their company. We found a spot up on top of a hill, at a water stop and checkpoint, overlooking the forest. It was actually pleasant up on the hill there sitting in the shade. The riders said it was hot in the sun, (but not as hot as yesterday) but fortunately they were in the shade about half the time.

Back at base camp, Penny and Brooke and Brook were still in the lead, coming in about the same times together. It was still hot, and they were now using ice in the spray water to cool the horses down. Penny said Don was just great today, he didn’t run off like a bat out of hell, he let Penny control him and wasn’t pulling on her, just flying along steadily. Of course, she kept her fingers off his Go button behind the saddle. Brooke, riding beside and behind him on Zalman, said Don was just amazing, he just goes and goes, he’s like a machine. When Don was trotting, Zalman had to canter to keep up with him, and when Don cantered, Zalman had to gallop - and they’re about the same size. While being strapped, Don puts up with it, since he knows what they’re doing and likely cool water feels pretty good. When he goes into the vet ring, he stands there with a scowl on his face, not liking being touched, but he just puts up with it because he knows it will be over soon and people will get out of his face for a while. He pins his ears and scowls as he’s trotting out, as if this is all silly and something just to be tolerated. I think that if Don could just do everything himself, vet himself, cool himself down, he would do it just so people would leave him alone.

Brooke and Penny and Brook were still within minutes of each other coming off the 4th and 5th loops; Brook Sample ended up winning on his gelding Brookleigh Casper by 9 minutes. They all finished around 4 PM, under the magic ride time of 10 hours 40 minutes. Bob Sample had predicted the winning ride time would be around 10 hours. Penny couldn’t watch Don be vetted through (though I think she peeked); Jaimee vetted him as she’d done all day, and Louis took Zalman as he had all day. They both vetted through great, as did Brook Sample’s horse, and everybody clapped and breathed a sigh of relief. Peter was holding Don afterwards, and I teased “I bet he looks kinda pretty now, doesn’t he Peter,” and Peter tried not to smile.

Our horses were taken back and hosed again, given the good food, and immediately got all 4 legs wrapped, and left to rest. Louis and Jaimee run fine bandages. Jaimee’s worked for the Tofts for 3 years, and Louis, from South Africa, has been with them for 5. Don was getting cranky that so many people were fussing over him, and later Emma the massage therapist, who’d come with her husband, worked on Don. He was pinning his ears and swinging his head around to her as if to bite her, but he never did.

Riders trickled in throughout the evening into dark. We went into town for food; at the café we ordered food, and cappuchinos, and desert and more cappuchinos. Louis was starving and the others were quite tired. Sharon was about to drop - it was her first time strapping at a ride, and it was off about 1 ½ hrs sleep, following a full (very successful) day at a show with her daughter Shaylee (among others, Shaylee rode Bremervale’s stallion that she rode at the last show, and they got Supreme Champion yesterday). Peter and Penny joined us, arriving in timely fashion just as the food was being served. Peter was already looking ahead and thinking about the next ride and possible horses to go in it, and to next day’s work line-up and work at the farm - always thinking ahead, never a rest.

The nice ladies in the café had already had a long day (some art show in town, lots of people), and I think they were so glad their day was over and we were finally done ordering and eating, they gave us our 3 cappuchinos and my ice cream free - one lady had said, “Oh, you should have tried the macadamia ice cream - I’ll bring you a scoop” which she did, plopping another one on top of the ones I already had. I sure didn’t complain!

Back at ride camp, Peter had decided he wanted Zalman and Don walked every 2 hours through the night, since they’d both be showing for BC tomorrow. The 5 of us were trying to figure out who would take what shifts, when Peter changed his mind and said just do it at midnight and 4. Sharon went straight to bed, and I told Melissa to wake me if Sharon wasn’t up for the 4 AM one. I popped in earplugs, and covered up in the blessedly cooler night, and crashed.

Monday May 7

I don’t think I heard Melissa get up to walk the horses. I did take my earplugs out at some point and slept some more. I did wake up about 6 when I heard rain - rain! Which only lasted about 2 minutes.

Peter and Jaimee were already up walking the horses when I got up at 6:30. We started packing some things away , and then it was time for the parade of finishers and the BC judging. 7 of the 15 juniors finished (2 withdrawals, 1 metabolic), and 10 of the 25 open riders finished (5 withdrawals, 1 metabolic). A low completion rate, but it was probably good to see those withdrawals, thinking on the hard ride and hot day. 3 showed for the junior BC, but one girl’s horse was lame hand-trotting out, so she withdrew. Zalman looked great on the ridden part. Brook Sample’s horse Brookleigh Casper and Don looked by far the soundest, though Don doesn’t care a whit for arena work and hasn’t been trained in it. Penny was saying “Whoa” to him over and over because she felt like he might start bucking. I thought he might just run off back out onto the course for another loop! Brook Sample’s horse did some flying lead changes. Toby Crockett said “Here comes a Mountain Man show,” and I think Brook’s known for his flying lead changes in BC showing - which this horse did.

Back at camp we continued packing things; Penny cooked us all ham and eggs and I made coffee. We loaded up the horses, and Peter left with them and Melissa, who he was dropping off at the airport. We were ready to go just as the meeting started; we went to the clubhouse, where complimentary food was set out, and sat through the awards… BCs went to 2nd place Kaylea Maher and Raaward Kasmin, and BC went to Brook Sample and his horse Brookleigh Casper. Nice completion awards were handed out - handy push carts for camp for the finishers and bronzed horses and horse head statues for the top 5.

So that was my taste of an Australian FEI ride. Good horses, good riders, lower completion rate, people enjoying themselves, some people not enjoying themselves (it seemed). Nice country, challenging trails. Seems to be the same in my travels everywhere so far! Of course, I will get a far better idea if I can visit many many more rides. : )


Tuesday - Thursday May 1-3 2007

The ride at Imbil this weekend (Sunday at 2 AM, to be precise) is a 160 km FEI ride. It's a harder ride - lots of hills and hard roads, and people have tended to get lost here, and the winning time will probably not be fast. Peter's not completely sure yet which horses are going, or who's going to be riding them, but Don is a definite ride for Penny (so far).

Today Don got a good shampoo bath. Opinions are pretty much divided right down the middle as to whether Don is beautiful or ugly. I of course think he's beautiful, as does Penny. I went up to pet Don as he was drying off, but he wasn't even interested in sniffing me. Not a people horse. DOesn't hate them; just not interested. Some of the girls say he's a grumpy old man, and I've found that he sure doesn't pose with his ears forward much.

The usual work around the barn went on: feeding, horses on the walker, horses on the treadmill, horse baths, a few horses ridden, Gary shoeing horses.

Today a massage therapist, Emma, came to work on the possible ride horses, which are at the moment Don, Khamal, and Salman, possibly Bronco. I watched Emma, a licensed human massage and physical therapist (4 years at University), and animal massage therapist (2 more years of schooling) work on Don and a few others. Don was cranky when she found some touchy spots on him, and he'd turn his head and frown, but he still took it, and the rest he seemed to not mind at all.

Meanwhile, Peter was in and out; Abdullah showed up (he won the Quilty last year on Peter's horse Tora Blar-Zay) and went for a short ride with Jaime; Louis ws clipping horses for the ride; more clients showed up; the phones kept ringing; and the usual feeding and shoeing and walking and treadmilling and lunging and bathing was going on.

I went into Ipswitch with Penny for groceries; we stopped at an outdoor produce market where she got a HUGE bag of great fat carrots, and apples, "For Don, said Penny. Then she added, "And friends." I suspect Don may get most of them. He likes the green apples better, and she got more of them.

Even though the ride starts early Sunday morning, and Imbil is only 3 hours away, we are supposed to leave this afternoon.

The barn is quite chaotic with everybody running about doing regular chores, and the normal irregular durites of moving horses to and from paddocks and farms and quarantine, and packing for the ride. Penny is packing equipment for the ride into big trunks; Peter is looking at horses and directing traffic with people; Gary is shoeing; a mechanic is working on one horse float; horses are getting bathed, horses are on the walker, a horse is on the treadmill; a load of shavings is coming and will be dumped in the middle of the barn; someone will have to go to the airport and pick up Melissa (she's going to ride one of the horses at Imbil); Peter needs someone to go to Bremervale Stud and trot out a few horses for Dr Kamal. He picks Shaylee, and I jump in the car with her.

It seems fairly stressful (not unbearable, but the energy is definitely higher) getting ready for a ride (oh boy, I couldn't imagine a World Championship overseas), and while Shaylee says there's definitely more pressure, especially strapping at the rides, Peter's one of the best people to learn from.

Shaylee's 18 and has worked for the Tofts for 2 years (her mother started full time a year ago). The first day I saw her on a horse, just at a walk, I could see she was a very good rider. And she certainly is: in 2001, she was the Champion show rider in Australia in her age group on her pony, who's gone now. She's been in the Top Five 4 times, and last year rode Bremervale Justice - one of the Toft's best endurance horses - to National Top Ten in his first show. Shaylee's done some endurance rides, and one of her goals is ultimately the Quilty. If she had to choose, she might say she liked showing a little better, "I know I get a lot more sore from an endurance ride!" She said the Tofts ask their workers each year what their goals are; "they've been really supportive of me and my showing." Last weekend we went to a local horseshow where Shaylee rode 3 of Penny's horses, an Arabian gelding, a part-Arabian mare, and a Welsh pony mare, and a young stallion and mare from Bremervale Stud (she was quite busy all day); every horse won some ribbon, and the stallion won his hack class, and the mare won Grand Champion Novice Arabian Hack.

On the way to Bremervale, on the outskirts of Marburg, in a field there's a float and 6 horses eating hay (no grass to graze). Shaylee says that it's Jeremy, who used to work for the Tofts. He and an English gal (who also worked there for 6 months) are going to ride across Australia on the Australian National Trail, north to south, I think, starting in a few days. They expect it will take a year. Now, I think it's just great when I do a 4 or 5 day endurance ride, thinking I've accomplished something. If you're like me and you think that, go to HYPERLINK "" and have a look at some of those people. I expect Jeremy's travels will fit right in here.

A kangaroo hops across the road in front of us before we drive into Bremervale Stud. Owned by Peter's mother Jill Toft and run by Peter's brother Warwick, Bremervale is the leading Arabian show horse stable in Australia; and they own the leading Arabian sire in Australia, Desperado (I touched him). Jill had saved the name for a very special horse, and when this foal dropped, she knew this was it. She called her boys and said, "I've got my Desperado." The whole barn is full of show horses. If you are somehow not impressed with the beautiful horses, you'd have to at least like their Lord of the Rings names: Bremervale Gandalf, Bremervale Arwen, Bremervale Theoden.

Bremervale Justice, now he's a story too. He was destined for the show ring, and Warwich was out riding him as a green 5-year-old or so one day, and Peter saw him. He asked if he could try endurance on him, and the rest is endurance history. Justice is now 14 and has been to 4 World Championships, including New Zealand, France, and Germany. He's finished the Quilty "nearly every year," is almost always in the top ten placings in his rides, and has vetted out (pulled) only once. "He's a beautiful horse, good type, and he's got a great personality," says Penny. "AND he's feisty to ride." By 2005 he'd completed 3000 km in the middle/heavyweight division. But that's not the end of the story either. Last year, during a lull in the endurance season, they fattened him up, put him in the arena to work a few weeks, and he went to his first show and placed in the Top Ten National Purebred geldings.

While Shaylee trots horses out, I wander around a bit (but nearly all the close-by horses naturally have rugs on), seeing fields full of Arabians, and admiring a well-mannered white stallion turned out in an arena. We're there about 45 minutes, before we return to the farm. Now the Dream Catcher 8-horse trailer/living quarters (size of a semi-truck) has pulled up, and Penny is starting to pack it. I do what I can to help, then escape to the house, to stay out of the way, until it's time to leave.

I ride in a car to Imbil with Melissa (from up north; she trains a few horses for the Tofts and rides for them occasionally) and Brooke; they talk horses and fondly of the Shahzada marathon, which I'd love to do one day. Melissa asks me what I'm doing here; I say, "I'm here for, the American endurance website. I..." "WAIT! YOU'RE THE RAVEN LADY!" So we have a laugh (OK, a sad laugh from me) about me and the Raven, and meanwhile Brooke's phone rings, and it's some guy Neil, and when he fins out we are all on our way to Imbil, he asks, "How's the Raven Lady?" Brooke asks, "How did YOU know about the Raven Lady!" and we have another laugh. Maybe the Raven will still turn up somewhere somehow!

We get stuck in big traffic going around Brisbane (where the Raven is somewhere), and it took over 3 hours to get to the little town of Imbil. Peter parked the big rig with direction from a ride official, and we unloaded the 5 horses (Don, Bronco, Khamal, Jazzmin, Salman, though so far only Penny, Brooke, and Melissa will ride) into some nice available pens, and feed and fetch water for them. We also unload the 2-horse float that Louis and Jaimee have hauled carrying the ride equipment; and we set up a huge tent for Melissa and me. There's only 2 other floats at base camp, and a few horses, and it's cool and quiet, and everybody's asleep by 10 PM.