Thursday, August 24, 2006

CAN: North Wind Canadian Championships

Kristen Howard and her horse Amy are ready to embark on a 160-kilometre trip during the North Wind Canadian Championships

By Cory Smith
Woodstock Centinel-Review

As Kristen Howard rode her horse up a switchback in Indiana, the picturesque surroundings took her breath away.
Beneath her was a valley laced with red bud and dogwood trees, cloaked in fog as the sun peeked out along the horizon. It was the kind of moment Howard and her 12-year-old Arabian mare Amy have shared numerous times as they travel the continent, but one they never get tired of.
For the Woodstock-area native, it?s the best part of being an endurance horse racer.
"It was neat because it was such a rush going up, and as we came down it was like we were descending into the fog," Howard said. ?Anything from the hilltop I like. It?s very scenic.
"You feel like, ?Oh my god, I?m so glad I?m alive.? It really rejuvenates you."
Howard will need to be every bit refreshed as she prepares to take Amy on the longest journey of their lives - the North Wind Canadian Championships, a 100-mile endurance race that, if finished, will take over half a day to complete.
"Amy has her way of doing things and she?s quite sensitive," Howard said of the prize-winning horse she purchased as a filly from a woman in Arthur. "If you don?t know how to ride her, she won?t do it for you, but once you learn, she?ll do anything."
Unlike harness or thoroughbred racing, the sport of endurance racing is more about slow and steady than winning the race, although Howard or any of her fellow riders wouldn?t have a problem with finishing first.
Beautifully wooded trails, vivid valleys and rocky streams replace the track, while the only sure bet is that the riders aren?t in it for the money.
The Competitive Trail Riding Association?s motto of 'to finish is to win' encapsulates perfectly the laid back approach of the sport.
"You spend so much time with your horse and you get a connection like no other," Howard said. "You know if anything is wrong and you just sense it. You get to see parts of the country and the U.S. on the back of a horse. I see a lot of places that I wouldn?t normally see."

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