Saturday, June 10, 2006

Horses are stars in Humboldt



Casey Allen

Did you know that Humboldt County is home to some of the biggest sports stars in the world? It's true and those stars are horses. The sport in this case is called endurance riding. It is a timed, long distance event where horse and rider travel anywhere from 25 to 100 miles in one day. It is not really called a race although riders do sometimes race each other the last few miles to the finish. There is also no 'winner'. The first place rider got just that, first place. This is because the sports motto is ?to finish is to win.? The most coveted prize in endurance riding is the ?best condition? award. This is decided by the ride veterinarians who evaluate the horses before, during and after the ride. The combination of the vet score, finish position, and weight of the rider and tack contribute to who will be awarded ?best condition.? Only the top 10 finishers can qualify for best condition judging. Most riders are only concerned with finishing the ride without mishap or injury to horse or rider. Awards for accumulated distance over a ride season are given and recognition for outstanding careers are rewarded.

Humboldt County's local endurance riding club, Redwood Empire Endurance Riders (REER) is sanctioned by the national American Endurance Riders Conference (AERC). AERC records ride statistics and make the rules. REER hosts 4 local rides each year. One on the Chalk Rock Ranch in Bridgeville. Two in Redwood National Park staging at Orick and one at Cuneo Creek in the Redwoods State Park, west of Weott. There are also scores of rides through out the western region and across the nation. You can see the whole ride schedule and more at http://www.aerc.org/.

The stars of this sport are the Arabian horses who dominate over all other breeds. Although all equine breeds and mules compete in endurance, the Arabians ability to work hard and recover quickly keys their dominance. All endurance horses are well cared for and well conditioned where training miles easily exceed competition miles.

A typical ride begins with participants camping with their horses the night before the ride. Horses take their pre ride vet check, receive their vet score card, and get a number painted on their butt. Riders attend the ride meeting and receive their course map and instructions. Then everyone tries to get some sleep amid all the ride camp sounds of horses snorting, stomping, and whinnying. The rhythmic munching of grass hay can be hypnotic and put you to sleep.

Before light the next morning, as the first riders stir, you can hear the whole camp awaken. The horses are talking, usually in response to a fresh flake of hay. Riders greet each other in nervous whispers as they prepare their gear. They try to eat but not too much drink. They don't want to stop on the trail.

The start of the ride is a pre-determined time and those who are competitive start on time but take it slow, it will be a long day. Most of the riders start at their leisure and it may take 20 minutes for everyone to leave.

In a typical 50 mile ride the first vet check could be around the 12 mile mark with the lunch stop and vet check at 25 miles. Another vet check after lunch and on to the finish back at camp. After a final vet evaluation is passed, horse and rider win a completion certificate. The top ten riders show their horses for ?best condition? and awards are given out after a hearty dinner.

Horse and rider are required to start their timed break after the horse meets pulse criteria of, usually, 60 beats per minute at each vet check. Horses that go too fast can actually lose time trying to calm down. Good riders guide their mounts at a pace that eats trail at a relaxed rate, arriving at the vet check meeting the pulse criteria.

Vets evaluate each horse and their ability to continue. They look for injuries, lameness, and metabolic problems like dehydration and colic. If the veterinarian deems a horse unfit to continue, for the safety and well being of the horse, it is pulled from the ride and gets a trailer ride back to camp.

Riders must be able to take care of themselves and their horses out on the trail. Some loops can be 25 miles long and a long way from help. Riders always help each other on the trail but lot can go wrong besides throwing a shoe or taking a stumble or fall. There are snakes, bears, and even mountain lions. Bees are good for spicing up a ride.

When everything is right, horse and rider become one, both wanting the same goal. It is a wonderful, almost powerful feeling and the bond developed between horse and rider during all those training miles is full of emotion.

Humboldt County is home to some big stars in endurance riding, like Joyce and Dennis Sousa. Joyce has over 16,500 career miles and seventy 100 mile starts completing 60. Her horse, Jim Bob, was recently inducted into the AERC Hall of Fame. Dennis has over 11,000 miles and thirty 100 mile starts completing 25. Both were invited to compete in the United Arab Emirates and the ancestral home of the Arab horse.

Karen Fredrickson and her world class crew, husband Duane, like multi-day rides ( five 50 mile rides in five days). She completed two XP rides. One follows the pony express path, cross country, from Kansas City, Missouri to Sacramento.

Ted and Joan Ruprecht have over 27,000 endurance miles between them. Joan at 75 years old riding a 25 year old Arabian mare placed 5th at last years Redwood Ride II 50 mile ride. I was working the finish line when Joan and her horse crossed. She dismounted, handed me the reins, and said she was dizzy. ?Weeeeee? she cried as if enjoying a roller coaster. She was just fine and I can only wish to be that tough.

Many local riders have completed the toughest endurance ride in the world called the Tevis Cup, a one day, 100 mile ride across the Sierra Range from Truckee to Auburn, Calif. Wow!

Look for more in the coming months on endurance riding, the riders and of course, the horses.

For more information and how to join REER go to the web site www.redwoodendurance.org or contact Elaine Kerrigan at 707-443-0215 orfahim@humboldt1.com. See you down the trail.

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