While I've competed at "Federation Equestrien Internationale" sanctioned events for more than a decade, and managed several AERC sanctioned rides, the Sand Hills Stampede CEI events on October 19 marked my first foray into FEI ride management. I don't recommend it for the faint of heart, but knowing I helped a total of 38 senior and young riders try to qualify themselves and their horses for future FEI events provided ample satisfaction.
It all began a year ago, shortly after the AERC National Championships at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. AERC-International Zone Rep Lynn Kenelly and I were discussing the new FEI speed requirement to obtain a "Certificate of Capability," a 14 kilometer per hour average. We agreed this would be difficult, if not dangerous for horses to earn on the twists and turns of the Biltmore course in Asheville, NC, one of the few FEI rides in the Southeast, and agreed that the trails at Sand Hills State Forest near Cheraw, SC could provide a safer option.
With help from Vonita Bowers at USEF, I paid a $600 filing fee and they generously covered the late fee, for not filing a full year before the event date. Over the winter I began developing entry forms and drafting the definite schedule, which lists all the required FEI ride staff, as well as details such as loop length and inspection schedule. Again, Vonita was a big help and the definite schedule was approved by May. In July, just after posting entry forms as a link on the AERC ride calendar page, I learned that endurance was the next sport to convert to online registration using entry.fei.org. Because Sand Hills was the very first U.S. FEI ride to be held after the October 1, 2013 effective date, USEF allowed me to have riders submit paper entries as usual, which I then submitted to USEF via Excel spreadsheet. Most riders were great about submitting entries by the Oct. 5 deadline, but I ended up being grateful even for the late entries since they helped me come somewhat close to breaking event. Although much of the up-front fees were covered by a $1,000 grant from AERC-International (which I've joined/supported since 2000), after event fees are @ $70 per horse, nearly $3,000 for the 38 entries we ended up receiving in the 4 events (senior and young rider 88km and 120 km divisions). I'm very grateful to my FEI veterinarians - Duane Barnett, Ken Marcella, Art King, Heather Caplan and Liv Rudolphi, as well as my FEI officials who basically worked for free except for a little to cover travel: Jack Weber, John Proudman, Susan Kasemeyer and Adri McCaskill. I'm most grateful to my old pal Patsy Gowen, the AERC ride manager who helped establish this venue more than a decade ago - she and her local friends handled all the trail markings, meals, and other logistics.
Ride day started with a steady rain that followed the 55 and 75-mile riders out of camp. It soon ended, and full sun never broke out, so temperatures stayed decently cool. By the second hold we could tell that the completion rate was going to be really high! Only one of the 20 in the CEI** and three of the 10 in the CEIJY** did not complete, and all of these were for minor lameness - no metabolic pulls! We did have a couple freak accidents in which two riders - one of them Hunter Green's girlfriend Emilynn DeBassie at right - were hurt enough to need to be rushed to the hospital. I spoke with both ladies Sunday and they'll be back in the saddle again soon.
One surprise was that only about 5 horses in the 75 completed early enough to earn a COC - I thought the trail would be faster, but many must have chose to take it easy and build in breaks during the long 26-mile second loop. Afterwards, Patsy, Duane and I agreed to work on rerouting future FEI events so that no loop is longer than 21-22 miles.
I'd really enjoyed working with Patsy when we co-managed the 2010 AERC National Championships at this same basecamp, with generous vendors and sponsors providing lots of creativity for awards. Trying to keep costs down, I only offered one special award other than Best Condition blankets, a chestnut horse ornament in honor of Kathy Brunjes, who represented the U.S. in many FEI events and actively contributed to our sport in so many ways before her untimely passing just a year ago due to cancer. Barbara Hershberger, who also received BC in the CEI**, received my Brunjes award for having the first chestnut to finish in that distance.
For me, the scariest part of managing an FEI event was the results reporting. Results must be provided to USEF within 10 days or ride management faces a big fine. I had a busy week ahead at work and a full day of driving my friend's rig back to Virginia as a favor to her, and needed to get this task taken care of BEFORE leaving South Carolina. Stubborn as I am, I broke down crying late Saturday night while trying to enter number after number, into the results spreadsheet, which is supposed to show the amount of time each rider took to do each loop, as well as their average speed in kilometers for each loop. The finish times have to be to the second and all the speeds reported to 2 decimal places. I've always had tons of respect for timers like Laurie Underwood, who stay calm, cool and collected keeping track of riders' in-times and out-times coming in fast succession. Patsy, seeing how stressed I was, ran to find Laurie, who was still awake. She patiently read me numbers (so much easier that having to keep switching one's focus from computer screen to handwritten paper notes) and by 1:30 am we had the essential information on my computer, ready for me to polish when I got back to the office.