Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Scales Mound woman wins national endurance title

By Jane Lethlean

Michelle Mattingley of Scales Mound poses with her Arabian horse DSAristoi at her home. Mattingley recently won the national title for endurance horse racing in Ashland, Mont. )

The Journal-Standard

Michelle Mattingley of Scales Mound loves horses. She always has. And that love has led her towards another love, endurance racing.

After 12 years of competing, she recently won the national championship at the American Endurance Ride Conference held in Ashland, Mont.

This event was at the Circle Bar Ranch, a working cattle ranch that dates back to 1883.

Mattingley's event followed a course through the ranch and into the Custer National Forest. Much of the course passed through various rock formations and followed Native American Trails.

Having conquered the American race, she hopes to be invited to the world games in Aiken, Germany in 2006.

Winning the race was a big accomplishment for Mattingley, but she has already earned other titles with the horses that she owns. For example, in 2001, she took a championship with a horse that she sold, which now lives in the United Arab Emirates.

"Endurance racing is a family sport," Mattingley said. "Both my husband Joe and I compete in events, mostly in the Midwest, but winning the recent national award was pretty exciting."

While she was happy to have the title from her most recent ride, she said one of the most coveted prizes to also receive is the Best Conditioned Award, given to the fittest hose in the competition. Her Arabian gelding, DSAristoi, earned that award.

Endurance racing is a test of horse's condition and stamina and the rider's intelligence. The grueling test takes horse and rider long distances - 50 to 100 miles - over varied terrain.

Because of the rigor of the race, it is done under veterinary supervision.

It also takes a "pit crew" to compete in endurance racing. Sometimes crew members accompany Mattingley to the race and other times she is able to assemble a team at the race site. Endurance horse racing, like car racing, has pit stops to water and cool the horse before getting back on the track.

A veterinarian examines each horse for any soreness or change in attitude, pulse, respiration and other physical factors. Failure to meet any of these criteria for racing can stop a horse from completing the course.

The American Endurance Ride is a 100-mile course, Mattingley said, that must be completed within 24 hours. A 50 mile course must be completed in half that time. The first racer to complete the course with the best time wins.

"As a horse lover, endurance racing allows me to not only ride one of my horses, but it also allows me to do this in some beautiful areas of the country," Mattingley said. "This type of racing is a team effort. You really have to know your horse. It is about trust.

"My husband and I have competed in the deep sand dunes of Manitoba, Canada and hard-packed the mountains of Vermont," Mattingley said. "We have also ridden the terrain of the Smokey Mountains and the flat sandy trails in Florida."

Long training needed

Mattingley said that it takes years of training to build up the trust that is needed to take a horse to an endurance competition.

"Endurance racing is an extremely challenging sport," Mattingley said. "I spend many hours working with my Arabians, making them an athlete. The training is rigorous."

Tucked away in the hills of Jo Daviess County, Mattingley trains her horses. She and Joe live in a picturesque part of the county that offers up just the right training ground. Horses graze along the hillsides visible from their long, twice-gated lane.

"Our property offers up just the right hills ... for training," Mattingley explains. "We have over five miles of trails that we use for training."

Mattingley grew up in a city and once she fell in love with horses, she says she couldn't wait to move to the country.

After she graduated from college, her first big purchase was a horse. She bought a thoroughbred from the Arlington track.

At her first competition in 1993, her horse did well during the 25-mile test, but she learned a thoroughbred is not the type of horse she needed to go further. She bought herself an Arabian and has been "hooked ever since."

Both Mattingley and her husband hold down full-time jobs, but it is at the end of the day that they start the work they really love: their "full-time passion" for raising and training the 30 Arabian horses they own.

Sporthorse Concepts is what they call their business, which includes brood mares and a stallion.

With each competition that Mattingley enters, she keeps a different goal in mind.

"All courses are different and we have had our share of bad luck, too, " she says, adding, "DSAristoi, the horse I won the championship with is undefeated. I have a good feeling about being able to compete at the world level with him. That is my goal, to win the world games. That would be the ultimate challenge."

Mattingley says raising, training and racing horses is a big job for her and her husband.

"The horses are our life, it is our focus," Mattingley said.

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