Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Illinois Junior travels to Bahrain



Daily Features
Endurance racing
By Jane Lethlean

Photo by jane lethlean / the journal-standard Ashlee Van Raalte of Scales Mound poses with one of the Arabian horses she trains with on a farm near Schapville. Van Raalte will represent the United States at the 2005 FEI World Endurance Championship on Dec. 17 in Bahrain.



The Journal-Standard

Ashlee Van Raalte of Scales Mound isn't exactly sure when she first fell in love with horses, but she thinks she had to have been around 3-years-old.

When she was 10, she wanted a horse of her own so badly that she had her mother sell all of her Beanie Babies collection. It was then that her parents, Stewart and Julie Van Raalte, and her trainers knew she was serious about riding horses.

?I have loved horses for as long I can remember,? Van Raalte said. ?It makes me feel good to ride. I just had to have my own horse when I was young and it was my choice to sell my Beanie Babies.?

The 18-year-old, who attends Highland Community College in Freeport as a full-time student, is getting ready for an international horse race in Bahrain on Dec. 17. Van Raalte will be the only rider from the United States competing for the title at the 2005 Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Endurance Championships for Juniors and Young Riders.

Van Raalte's trainers - Grace Ramsey and Jan Worthington of Scales Mound - will be with her throughout the trip. They know she is ready for this race.

Van Raalte - whom Ramsey calls ?Smash? - will do well, because she has already done well in this race and she knows the horse.

?This is a great opportunity for Smash,? Ramesy said. ?It is a lifetime deal and I know she will do a good job. She will be a good representative for the United States and she has been working towards this for the past 10 years.?

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This championship will be the largest of its kind to date and is expected to host more than 150 entries from a record 33 participating countries.

Van Raalte will compete on the 75-mile course, riding an Arabian named Saif Al Arab, a horse owned by her friend Sheikha Madiya Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates.

Van Raalte had to meet the criteria necessary to compete in the race, which means that she had to have competed and finished well in at least three endurance horse races in the past year. She also had to get permission from the United States Equestrian Federation, which is the governing body for American equestrian races.

?I got the invitation to compete in this race from my friend Madiya,? Van Raalte said. ?I will leave home on Dec. 11 to help Madiya compete in a race two days later. I plan to crew for her race and then she will crew for me on my race.?

?I found out in August that I was going to be able to compete in this race,? Van Raalte said. ?I was very excited, but it is stressful to compete at this level. It is a mental challenge.?

The horse she will be riding is one that she knows. The horse came from the farm near Schapville where Van Raalte trains.

?I know this horse,? Van Raalte said. ?I used to ride him at the farm before Grace sold him to Madiya. He was my favorite horse when he was here at the farm. I will have a few days to work with him before I have to compete in the race.?

Endurance racing is a ?team effort? and is a test of the horse's condition, 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, which is based on speed, it is done under veterinary supervision. It takes a ?pit crew? to compete in this kind of racing and for the race that Van Raalte plans to run, she will be accompanied by her trainers and her friend.

?It's like one big family when I go to endurance races,? Van Raalte said. ?Jan is with me all the time on the trails. She and Grace are my extended family. I wouldn't have what I have if it weren't for them.?

During the race, which will have four checks to examine the horse. The horse will be checked 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.

?I like the challenge of endurance racing,? Van Raalte said. ?It is not easy and out on the course it is just me and my horse. My goal at any race is just to finish, but I will not kid you, I always want to win.?

Van Raalte has a few regional titles under her belt and she has also won reserve championships in other endurance races. She said she likes endurance racing because it allows her not only to be able to ride a horse, which she loves most, but also to see some beautiful country on the courses.

This particular race will take her through the desert and along some beaches. The 75-mile course must be completed within 10 hours and Van Raalte and her trainers know she is up to the challenge.

What does Van Raalte get if she wins the race?

?This is a sport that takes a lot of money,? she said. ?It's not about prizes, it's about personal best between me and the horse.

For the next couple of weeks, it will be her studies at HCC that Van Raalte will concentrate on. She will be able to take her semester exams early.

?After I finish my last exam, I will start thinking about the race,? Van Raalte said. ?I want to do well and am hoping for the top 10, but as long as I finish I'll be happy.?

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