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photo: Ronald Miller of Jerome jogs his horse, Olympia, in a vet check Friday afternoon to qualify for today's Old Dominion endurance race. photo-Rich Cooley/Daily
By Sally Voth -- Daily Staff Writer
ORKNEY SPRINGS — A few dozen riders are expected to set off at dawn this morning for what could be 24 hours in the saddle.
They are part of the annual Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Ride, which will loop from Orkney Springs to Wardensville, W.Va., and back. Scores more will be taking part in 25- and 55-mile rides.
On Friday afternoon, an open space along Happy Valley Road had been turned into a large encampment of trailers, tractors, trucks, horses, riders and veterinarians.
As of Friday afternoon, 32 of the 167 riders were signed up for the 100-mile portion of the Old Dominion Endurance Ride. The remainder will take part in one of the shorter rides.
For the first time in the ride's history, dating back to the mid-1970s, the race starts in Orkney Springs, on land owned by Bryce Resort, ride manager Joe Selden said. Previously, horses and riders set off from Leesburg and, more recently, Front Royal.
"We outgrew the national 4-H Center in Front Royal," Selden said. "There just wasn't room for this many trailers and trucks and people and horses."
One of the members of Old Dominion Endurance Rides Inc. is an Orkney Springs resident, he said.
"He suggested that we look around here because the trails were so nice," Selden said.
The club likes the spot of its base camp so much, it's negotiating a lease with Bryce Resort, he said.
Riders have up to 24 hours to complete the 100-mile route, which has veterinary stops about every 12 miles, Selden said.
"We don't want injured horses," he said. "We don't want horses getting sick because it's a lot of work."
While "it's not like everybody galloping hell-bent for leather down the trail," until the final half-mile, it definitely is a race, Selden said.
"It's a speed contest," he said. "The speed itself is one horse, one rider competing against the trail. The motto of the sport is 'to finish is to win.' You don't have to be the first to feel good. It's a competition against the clock and against the trail."
Those riding 100 miles are setting out this morning at 5:30 a.m., followed by those going 55 miles at 7 a.m. and the 25-milers an hour later.
Competitors have come from every eastern state, Selden said, and two are from Canada. Shrine Mont is providing the participants' food.
Selden said the rides are open to any equine — and he does mean any — age 5 or older.
"We have horses, we have mules, and one year we had a zebra," he said.
Generally, about 40 percent of riders who start the 100 miles finish, Selden said.
His wife, Nancy Smart, is the other ride manager. While she's not riding in this race, she's done the endurance ride in the past.
"It's enormously thrilling, and you get going on such endorphins that you think you're Wonder Woman and can do anything," Smart said. "The horses are very well-conditioned to do this. It's a hard sport, and it takes an enormous amount of dedication and work on the part of the rider and the horse."
Head veterinarian Dennis Seymore, from northeast Texas, has been working endurance races for 22 years. Vets will regularly check the horses for lameness and metabolic problems, Seymore said.
"I think it's a great sport," he said. "You can meet people from all over the United States, lot of camaraderie."
Angelique Miller and her husband, Ronald, of Jerome, are riding the 25-mile course.
"I enjoy the sport," she said. "I enjoy seeing the trails. They take really good care of their horses in this sport."
Mrs. Miller encouraged her husband to sign up for the ride.
"She made me," he laughed.
* Contact Sally Voth at email@example.com
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