Thursday, September 30, 2010

World Endurance Championship Vet In Day

Thursday September 30 2010

One of the great things about a World Endurance Championship is that there are so many people you will get to see and visit with once again from around the world.

One of the bad things about a World Endurance Championship is that there are so many people you want to see and visit with once again from around the world that you simply don't have the time to see them all.

A good little crowd had gathered around the vetting ring in an outdoor arena Saturday morning, as, one by one, the countries arrived in alphabetical order to vet in their horses. A good time to look at some handsome horseflesh, and greet long lost friends. Even Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum - the Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and endurance racing competitor - was waiting around the vetting ring before and after his two horses passed inspection, chatting with people, watching horses, and without his usual retinue. He looked like just another endurance rider with a stable pass around his neck, hanging out with other endurance riders and grooms with stable passes around their necks

All the horses I saw were well behaved and calm, and plenty of people were enjoying themselves with smiles on their faces. The German girls looked spiffy in their black tights with yellow stars on them; the Great Britain men looked dapper in suits and ties as did the ladies in their waistcoats.

The lone rider representing India was Mustafa Tehrani, who would be riding Pam Weidel's horse AF Big Bucks. When the horse passed the vet inspection, that made Mustafa the first Indian rider to get to the World Endurance Championship. AF Big Bucks was a former racehorse who was unhappy at his job, and one that Pam had her eye on for two years before she could get him. The 11-year-old gelding has over 1000 AERC miles to his name, but only one 100-miler, the FITS Pioneer in March of this year. He and Mustafa finished 5th in 8:12.01, and here they were, qualified for the World Endurance Championship.

Alisija Zabavska-Granger, representing Lithuania, would be riding Ed Kidd's horse Merlin. Merlin's got over 3000 AERC miles in 10 seasons of competition, and has completed 7 100-milers. Alisija finished 9th on him in March in the 100-mile FITS Pioneer, and second on him in the 50-mile Endure for the Cure in July. Ed was quite enjoying himself, and Merlin sauntered around unconcerned by anything. "He's done all this before," Ed said, clearly smitten by his horse.

The American team's horses all looked good, and when they all passed the vet in, a cheer went up around the ring. Deborah Reich and her horse DJB Juniper had bumped up to the team when Ellyn Rapp's SA Belshazzar came up lame. Ellyn and her extra horse Berjo Smokey were now the US Team's alternates. It had to be a disappointment after making it this far - but Ellyn and her twin sister Eryn looked like they were enjoying the experience.

Kiwi Madonna Harris is the chef d'equipe of the New Zealand team of three who came to ride. Madonna was fresh off participating in the 1000-km Mongol Derby, where she finished 3rd (and which I never had time to ask her about).

Kiwi Trevor Copland came with American Charisse Glenn to crew for the Japan team of 5 riders - the first Japanese team to participate in the World Endurance Championship. Ayame Sasaki was possibly the youngest rider in this year's WEC. At 18 years of age, she would be riding Fausto BL - a half brother (through the sire LV Cartell) to Joyce Sousa's iron horse LV Integrity, the 6400+ mile horse with 26 of 29 100-mile finishes, and 2 Tevis buckles. Four of the five Japan horses are owned by Mr Seiichi Hasumi, the man who has finished Tevis 7 times (in a row!!), and the man who is responsible for starting endurance riding in Japan. Mr Hasumi had bad luck and didn't qualify himself for riding in the WEC, but he is playing the roll of chef d'equipe for the team. It should be mentioned that the Japan Equestrian Federation contributed nothing to the endurance team; Mr Hasumi and the team members and a printing company Toppan worked to get the Japan team to Kentucky.

Carmen Romer was the lone entry from the Netherlands, riding Tuff Enuff FA owned by JD Fountain. He got to know Carmen through Valerie Kanavy - Carmen rode Valerie's King Ali Gold (anybody heard of him?) to a third place and BC in the 50-mile Gallop on the Greenway in January, and she won the 100-mile Canadian Championships and got BC on Valerie's Destiny Gold in July. Carmen's just 25, but, "She's the best rider!" JD said of her. Carmen has competed in endurance all around the world, and was the Dutch Champion in 1996 and 1997. She and Tuff Enuff FA finished second in the 100-mile Goethe Challenge in December of 2009 to qualify for the World Endurance Championship. Carmen's enthusiastic father Lei – crew extraordinaire and biggest fan of his daughter - would be crewing for her.

Spanish Maria Alvarez Ponton and her horse Nobby - reigning World Endurance Champions - vetted in, and then Maria was there for the UAE as they vetted in - she and her husband Jaume Punti train horses for the Shaikh Mohammed in Spain, England and Dubai. Afterwards she got on one of Shaikh Mohammed's horses and took him for a warm up ride on the course, and later got on Nobby with the Spanish team, and took him for a spin. It's all in a hard day's work for a World and European Champion, who, it is worth noting, gave birth to a daughter 7 weeks previously!

A number of horses were out on the training course in the afternoon, getting their last works in before tomorrow's race. Some teams went out as a group: Bahrain, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Brazil, Japan, France; others went out individually.

Penny Toft was one of the three riders representing Australia. She'd be riding Don, a 14-year-old "station-bred" - half Arabian, half...something, could be Cob, draft, standardbred. One might say he has a coarse head, but he had a nice shine to his fit endurance body.

This is what Penny said of Don, when I visited the Tofts and rode with them in Australia in 2007: "He sets his head, and he goes, crazy fast; he’s got one pace, flat out. When you come to an intersection, he’ll throw on the brakes and buck and kick up. You get on him and he pisses off, no standing around and waiting. He whizzes around corners on 2 legs; he puts his head down like a vacuum cleaner to go under trees and he doesn’t slow down. You have to duck fast! You can’t make him drink if he doesn’t want to, but when he does want to, he drinks like a camel."

He's gotten a bit more controllable over the years with more experience, but he can still be a challenge to ride. Before Penny took Don out for his final warm up ride on the course, Peter Toft took him to the arena to lunge him first. We watched Don leap and bolt and gallop and play around Peter in circles. "When he's on the track, he's totally focused," Penny said, "but out here is where he shows off his personality. I hope I stay on him today... " Penny's always had a soft spot for this horse, and I could see that Peter Toft does too, the way he let Don do what he wanted, and didn't get after him.

Don isn't really a people horse - he likes to do his job, but don't be doing any hugging on him or petting his head. "Don't touch his face, and don't touch this spot on his withers when you're crewing him," said American Ann Hall, who would help crew along with the Tofts' daughter Alexandra, "or you'll end up in one of those water buckets!"

Alexandra and Penny came to ride the WEC pre-ride last year, and both withdrew their horses after the first loop because of the dangerous footing on the course, and because Alexandra was suffering from hypothermia.

The weather was good - in the high low 80's, with tomorrow looking to be even cooler. A front moved through the night before and dropped some rain on the course, which could only help with the footing on course.

Opening ceremonies in the evening were an extravaganza of music: Wynonna Judd, orchestra, choirs, opera singers; horses: champion Saddlebreds under saddle and pulling carriages (including one driven by William Shatner), Standardbreds racing, Thoroughbreds racing (including one carrying former jockey Chris McCarron); trick riders, Stacy Westfall, ballet dancers, ballet dancers and a dancing horse and rider, and of course the parade of participating nations. Jan Worthington deservedly got to walk in the front row of the Americans (all disciplines walked together), waving little American flags.

Unfortunately, the incredible opera singers were probably lost on most of this crowd, and the 3-hour Opening Ceremonies were about an hour too long, as by the end, half the stadium was empty. Competitors and grooms and crews were already tucked in bed for their short sleep before tomorrow's 7:30 AM start of the World Endurance Championship.

Get Thee Hence

Thursday September 30 2010

Before I get to writing about the WEC, this deserves a great plug: the International Equestrian Festival, occurring simultaneously with the World Equestrian Games, in downtown Lexington, running through October 10th.

The IEF is a terrific equestrian extravaganza of exhibitors, horse trainers, educational seminars, equestrian and horse celebrities, horse products for human and horse consumption, both nutritional and material. Things you need, and things you don't need - just lots of great things.

We stopped by on Monday afternoon and were somewhat blown away by the first clinician/trainer we saw, Guy McLean, one of those 'thinking' horsemen who has horsemanship oozing out of his pores. In the little round pen for his demonstration, he rode his Australian stock horse and had 3 at liberty and showed us what he does with them:

Next was Rex Peterson, Hollywood horse trainer (Black Beauty, The Horse Whisperer, Flicka, Dreamer and Appaloosa, and more) and RJ Masterbug (one of the stars of Hidalgo) and Harbor Mist (one of the stars of the new Secretariat movie). A master of horse training, he and his equine partners showed off some of their tricks, and Rex's way of working with horses.

Other scheduled clinicians are (among others) Julie Goodnight, Monty Roberts, Mark Peterson and Dusty - America's Smartest Horse. To top it off, on Sunday, Thoroughbred jockeys Ron Turcotte, Jean Cruguet, Steve Cauthen, Pat Day and Calvin Borel, and author Kate Tweedy of the new "Secretariat's Meadow" will be there to sign autographs.

Forget the World Equestrian Games - check out the International Equestrian Festival. This is where it's at.

(OK - go to both, but don't miss the IEF.)

See for schedule.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

All Hell Breaks Loose

Wednesday September 29 2010

I'm gone to Europe and Kentucky, and all hell breaks loose.

The Owyhee Canyonlands starts without me in Idaho (where all hell breaks loose). Meanwhile I have some horse trauma of my own in Illinois (almost break a friend's horse's leg); covering the World Endurance Championship in Kentucky is a whirlwind that doesn't stop; it takes me a car-plane-plane-plane-car journey to get back to Idaho at 2 AM - during all of which time I don't have enough battery in my computer, nor enough time in airports to plug in to work on photos and stories - and here I am at home now!

Day 2 of the ride has started without me. I woke up at 9 AM, just as the LD riders were leaving out on trail. Before I even had a cup of badly needed coffee, I heard some of the stories of the trauma that happened here (and a funny Stormy story) while I was gone, that Connie will have a guest blog entry on, and I'll relate my own traumatic ride, and a recap of Kentucky.

Meanwhile, I'm working on getting photos up from the World Endurance Championship this morning before I have to go help with the ride.

Much more to come - many more photos will be going up the next few days here:

Monday, September 27, 2010

World Endurance Championship Winners

Monday September 27 2010

No time to go through any photos yet - Best Condition judging was this morning (in the rain - we lucked out with great weather for the endurance ride this year!). All the 5 horses that showed for Best Condition looked good, including Nobby (up top winning with Maria Alvarez Ponton), but it was 4th place Jean-Philippe Frances from France and the gray Hanaba du Bois (pictured below) who won BC.

More to come.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

World Champions - Again!

September 26 2010

We all saw a pretty amazing horse and rider win the 2010 World Endurance Championship at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.

Spanish rider Maria Alvarez Ponton and Nobby duplicated their 2008 World Endurance Championship win in Malaysia, and their European Championship win in Italy in 2009.

Nobby looked great throughout the day, always near or at the front dozen of the pack, and hounded most all of the way by other horses. Maria said this ride was much harder than Malaysia because of that.

The US Team went into the ride with high hopes, but one by one they fell, Jan Worthington and Leon (my favorites), and Lindsay Graham and Monk at vet gate 3 (also my favorites), Meg Sleeper after vet gate 4, and Heather Reynolds and Ssamiam, crushingly, at the finish after outracing France's Jean Philiippe Frances for 4th place. Deb Reich was the only US finisher, in 18th place.

Other highs and lows, and everybody with a story - but none better than that of the little bay super horse Nobby.

(Many photos, and way more coming, at, and more stories coming here!)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

2010 World Endurance Championship - Day Before

Saturday September 25 2010

It's just impossible to cover an event of this size by yourself. Lots of time spent just walking to get somewhere (and lots of lusting after people whizzing by in golf carts - if you can grab a seat in one you're lucky). The logistics of transport, parking, walking, finding out when something is happening, taking photos, taking notes, trying to talk to people, trying to walk somewhere to say hi to someone when someone else stops you (all of whom I am happy, and in some cases, thrilled to see again), and another person whizzes by in a golf cart before you can say - "Mercedes! Wait!!" and you might not see them again... So many people I wanted to talk to and haven't even seen yet...

Hard to keep an eye on all the horses vetting in - they came by countries, somewhat in alphabetical order - and hard to know who everybody is, since the horses get numbers on their butts after they successfully vet in, and though the grooms wear numbers, I don't recognize all the grooms, and we don't get a list of those numbers anyway.

(Try slipping a lunch in there somewhere...)

In the afternoon I parked by the training course where I watched some of the horses and riders go out for their final exercise. Previous World Endurance Champions Maria Alvarez and Nobby were looking excellent.

Penny Toft and Don went for an easy trot - after Peter lunged him in the arena so he could get his leaps and bucks out.

The Japanese, Belgian, French, Qatar, Great Britain, German, and Brazil teams went out together. France looks to have a very tough team this year, and the UAE's strengths goes without saying. Keep an eye on the Netherlands' lone rider Carmen Romer. She's a young but smart and experienced rider, riding American horse Tuff Enuff FA, which she rode to a second place in a 100 mile ride in Florida last year. She's also ridden Val Kanavy's King Ali Gold to a 3rd place and BC on a 50 in Florida this year - enough said.

Closing ceremonies were entertaining, with some excellent horsemanship and music including opera and New Orleans jazz. It was a long ceremony - 3 hours and sadly by the end half the stands were empty - the excellent music was probably lost on some of this crowd, and most of the riders and grooms had to get to bed!

Start time is 7:30 AM tomorrow.

(Many more photos, and more stories to come at

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kentucky Horse Park

Friday September 24 2010

We've arrived in Lexington for the World Endurance Championship part of the World Equestrian Games. We got our basics out of the way this afternoon - stop at a camera shop; pick up our credentials (later to discover that photographers Genie and Shelley got credentials only for journalism, not photography!! - which was soon worked out); figure out the shuttle/car parking/walking thing at the Kentucky Horse Park; get our bearings on the course, media tent, vetting in area, and stables; find our hotel; eat; try to fix my broken computer (and fine timing that was.)

Computer is now fixed (knock on wood)(after a trip to Walmart for tools). It's late, and tomorrow will be an early experiment in catching the 45 minute shuttle to the Kentucky Horse Park for the vetting in, which begins at 9 AM.

The Kentucky Bluegrass is more Brown Grass - it must be very dry here - but a 'cold front' is moving through, dropping a little rain tonight, and dropping the temperatures from 95* to 75*. I optimistically did not bring good rain gear, so I expect it won't rain for the Endurance Race on Sunday. Forecast is for clear skies and 76*.

We've heard rumors that Jean Louis LeClerc, the French chef d'equipe was fired on Monday but nobody knows why. We heard a Dutch horse colicked and died, but it wasn't an endurance horse. Belgian rider Karin Boulanger's endurance horse Poespass did colick in quarantine in Cincinnati and was operated on there - no word on how he is doing. We just heard Ellen Rapp's horse Smokey Berjo came up lame so she is out of the WEC - alternate Deborah Reich and DJB Juniper will be on the US Team. Tough luck for Ellen! (But good luck Deborah!)

Endurance horses have moved from other training grounds (like the US moved from Shaker Village) into the Kentucky Horse Park today.

You can follow tweets from and others at

Otherwise, I'll be posting endurance stories and pictures as I can get to them - probably in the evenings!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Glide Ride

Tuesday September 21 2010

The Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois might look flat and boring from above (like from a Cessna 402 flying 5000' above the ground) but hiding beneath the canopy are trails through winding canyons over some challenging terrain, with hidden caves

and sinkholes, sandstone bluffs

and cliffs,

mazes of boulders.

Equine journalist and photographer Genie Stewart-Spears from Illinois and her friend Chris took me out for a ride on Chris' gaited horses: Chris and I rode Spotted Saddle horses, and Genie rode a Racking horse. They wanted to show off their riding grounds: the hidden gem that is the Shawnee National Forest.

We rode in the Lusk Creek Wilderness, 6293 road-less acres of the Shawnee National Forest, dominated by oak, beech, hickory and maple trees. Lusk Creek runs year-round and keeps fishermen busy angling for bass and bluegill.

Native Americans activity dates back up to 10,000 years in this area. The 160 mile River to River Trail, completed in 1996, passes through here, connecting the Ohio River to the Mississippi River. The numerous horse camps are privately owned on property bordering the forest, and places to highline your horses for a picnic or to hike to scenic overlooks are maintained by the Forest Service and volunteers.

And what better way to see the rugged trails but from the back of a ground-covering, sure-footed Spotted Saddle Horse. Chris said that during the Second World War, spotted ponies were bred to Tennessee Walkers to get colored horses that were gaited. Once the color was established, breeders started breeding for a bigger sized horse, introducing other gaited breeds - Missouri Fox Trotters, Racking horses, Peruvian Pasos, Paso Finos. There are two breed registries now for the Spotted Saddle horse, established in 1979 and 1985.

My horse Kate hadn't been out on the trails a whole lot yet, but she was very sure footed, sensible, very forward and willing, and a blast to ride. She paced (as opposed to a trot, both legs on the same side move at the same time) which produces a side to side rocking motion. It wasn't uncomfortable until she got going real fast - then neither she nor I were quite sure exactly what her legs were doing down there. But she still glided right along - a "glide ride" as Genie called it.

It was such a treat riding a gaited horse in this richly botanical, geological, and cultural National Forest Wilderness - could I become a Gaiter one of these days...?

Photos of me by Genie Stewart-Spears!

For more information on horse camping and riding in the Shawnee National Forest, see:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How Low Can You Go?

Sunday September 19 2010

Depends on if you're marking trail with ribbons before an endurance ride, or if you're pulling ribbons after an endurance ride.

If you're pulling ribbons after a ride, it's easier. As you lean way down off the side of your horse, you just have to get two fingers on a ribbon to be able to yank it off the branch. You can hang onto your horse with your other hand, so you can lean a long way down.

(Connie actually fell off here : )

If you're marking trail, it becomes a little more challenging. Unless you are gifted with the talent of tying a ribbon with one hand (I am not), you've got to use 2 hands to do it. And if the bush is short, you have to lean way over your horse to one side, with both hands. Nothing to hold onto, all your weight in the one stirrup, and a lot of balance, and a horse who stands still and braces himself against the weight shift.

Here Carol ties a ribbon on a Granny Bush on her Granny Horse (tall bush, short horse.)

They said I was the youngster of the group and I had longer arms so I had to do the shorter bushes. Jose was good about me leaning way over.

Karen Bumgarner photo

Can your horses do this - stand still while you pull or hang ribbons, lean way over in the saddle? It's great training.

(And that's all the trail marking I get to do for the 5-day Owyhee Canyonlands endurance ride on September 28 to October 2. I'm off to Kentucky to cover the World Endurance Championship at the World Equestrian Games.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hot Day Cool Horse

Saturday September 18 2010

Were you one of those kids who played outside in the sprinkler on a hot summer day?

Jose is.

Sometimes once isn't enough.