Friday, July 25, 2014

Visiting our Neighbors to the North

After having competed in FEI-sanctioned endurance events since 2000, I've been concerned by the limited number of licensed officials to continue being able to hold these events in the U.S., particularly the role of Technical Delegate (TD). My friend Susan Kasemeyer has "aged out" and can no longer serve as a TD because she's over 70 years old, so after last fall's Sand Hills Stampede, I decided to pursue the convoluted 8-year process of becoming a TD so Southeast ride managers don't have to bear the expense of flying in our nation's few remaining endurance TDs from Vermont, Montana or somewhere else when I'm just $100-$150 bucks in fuel down the road.

USEF doesn't hold the required licensed officials class very often, and this year's single offering was the same weekend as a big conference for my job, so when I heard that Canadian's FEI organization was going to host a class in Ontario in late June in conjunction with the Stormont CEI rides, I immediately followed up. Will spare readers the details of how many emails were involved for USEF to eventually approve my taking this class, and will only briefly mention the work involved to get all our required paperwork to cross the border, but after weeks of preparation, my husband Shan and I, our Collie mix Ginger and my horses Shiloh and Siena all piled into our rig and headed north early on a Wednesday morning, crossing the St. Lawrence River into Canada via Ogdensburg, New York around 7 p.m.

Knowing we would pay high international rates to have cell service or access to GPS navigation, I'd carefully printed maps and detailed directions from that point to basecamp, which was less than 40 miles away. But I keyed in "McMillian Rd" instead of "MacMillan Rd" and we ended up about 8 miles from our proper destination. Fortunately, Shan spied a Canadian smoking a cigarette in his driveway and we were able to figure out my mistake and make it to basecamp at MacMillan Garage with enough light left in the sky to set up camp and cook a quick dinner before bed.

Early the next morning (Thursday June 28), I hitched a ride to the nearby town of Finch with ride manager Colette Hutton and settled in for a full day of licensed official training with four-star FEI veteran Ruth Carlson. There were only 5 of us and I was the only American, but the class was very intense and Ruth minced no words in exhorting us to speak up about any FEI rule violations we saw, taking photos and videos if possible to back up what we saw and being brave enough to file a formal statement even if no other licensed officials were willing to speak up. Instances of horses being trained and ridden too hard and artificial methods being used to lower horses heart rates and make them appear sound was becoming an ever-increasing black eye for FEI-level endurance, and we all deeply considered the difference a new generation of officials had the potential to make. The class resumed Friday morning and wrapped up with a 90 question open-book exam that was surprisingly difficult, as we found out when Ruth reviewed the correct answers. Even if you know the rule that applied, you still had to read some of the questions carefully.

Back at camp, it was time to vet in and set up the crewing area, as horses would not be allowed to return to their trailers in the crewing area. Siena was acting more mareish than usual and the vets ALL watched her trot a second time so that the sashay in her trot would be noted and I'd be less likely to have to represent for gait if they saw that's how she normally moves. Detailed trail maps were handed out at the ride meeting and I slept soundly, waking easily in plenty of time to prepare for the 120 km event's 6:30 a.m. start (since it started getting light around 4:30 each morning). Only three senior rides were entered, and Krista Alderdice and I set off together since Valerie waited 15 minutes for the 6:45 a.m. start time of her junior, Nayar from Veracruz. Despite having a trail map, we got confused near the very end of the first loop and lost about 10 minutes going down various trails to look for the right color ribbon, so all four of us ended up coming in together - probably from the wrong direction but ride management didn't object since the mileage was met. Siena vetted through perfectly at that vet check and the next two. I so enjoyed meeting Roxy Bell, a longtime endurance vet from the West Coast who'd  even worked the Tevis ride. She gave Siena a big thumbs up both times she examined her, which made me very proud and happy.

Leaving out on the fourth (next to last) loop, I was dismayed to learn that Krista's horse had been pulled for a minor lameness, but was able to catch up to Valerie and Nayar, who was hoping to earn a "Certificate of Capability" (COC) for maintaining an overall pace of 14 kilometers per hour. Valerie led, while Nayar and I made sure we stayed on trail - he had eagle eyes for catching missed trail markings, while I checked the trail maps. Despite keeping a near-constant hand gallop on that loop, we all returned to the hold and vetted through with only about 50 minutes before the COC window expired. I decided to take it easy and ride the last loop alone while Valerie and Nayar gave it their best shot. Siena finished about 40 minutes after them, and had great vet scores at the end. We even showed for Best Condition!

The following morning, Ruth and Colette let me serve as a member of the ground jury (part of the required apprenticeship to move up through the FEI official star system). It was hotter than the day I'd ridden, and the ride volunteers and officials stayed out of the sun as much as possible while not helping examine horses. Around 4 p.m., I drove Shan to the Ottawa airport so he could fly home in time for work the next morning. That evening, with all the horses safely through and none needing treatment, a holiday atmosphere prevailed, with two of the tack vendors playing music and everyone staying up late drinking and talking until the wee hours. Shan had done most of the packing, so after catching a few hours sleep, I just had to strap my metal corral panels to the side of the trailer, load the horses after feeding them breakfast, and hit the road with Ginger on the back seat. The border crossing back into the U.S. went smoothly, and I completely enjoyed the 300 mile drive through the northern edge of New York (so close to Quebec that nearly every radio station played French music), then through the green hills of Vermont and New Hampshire to the Fryeburg, Maine Fairgrounds on the Saco River. Arriving by 1 p.m., I discovered that my rig would fit just outside the horses' stalls and enjoyed a leisurely nap and getting to know my other camping neighbors who were there for the Pine Tree Ride (5 days if you had the horses and/or stamina!) before Art King (who had also come from Ontario!) arrived around 7 p.m. to vet everyone in.

Heather Hoyns from Vermont and I started with Garnet Gallant, who was in the LD and split off from us about 5 miles into the ride. We though we were following the correct ribbons, along with three other riders, but as we approached the Humpback Bridge, I recalled hearing during the ride meeting that this trail wasn't going to be used until later in the week. Fortunately, I had cell service and ride manager Tom Hutchinson answered my call, explained how far we needed to backtrack and meeting us there - where a missing pie plate with a key arrow had been installed. Poor Shiloh and me didn't make it back to camp until nearly 10 a.m. after well over 3 hours on trail, but being the old trooper that he is, despite being all alone in last place, we enjoyed ourselves on the two remaining loops, both of which included pulling off his saddle and letting him enjoy the cool waters of the Saco River.

That afternoon, Sarah Buckley's mom Stephanie asked me to sponsor her daughter on their Welsh Cob mare for the following day's 50 mile. Because of the heat and flies, the start time was moved up to 5:30 a.m. and from the very first miles, that little mare led the way like nothing I'd ever seen! At the last hold, Art said that Siena was trotting out sound and Bryna Stevenson, who had just become the youngest rider to ever win the Old Dominion 100, came over and offered to help massage the sore area (which turned out to be more in her neck than her shoulder). I was ready to pull Shiloh back out on trail as an unentered horse if need be, but Art allowed Siena to continue and I stayed on as Sarah's sponsor. She won and Bryna again helped rub Siena to make sure we earned a completion. PHEW!

Time to return...after a rainy, wonderful ride dinner and awards, I loaded the horses around 1:30 am and began the 17 hour drive south, stopping in PA to drop off Shiloh and pick up Gryphon, then meeting John Crandell near Boyce just after a big thunderstorm came through to hand off Gryphon again, and then finally reaching New Kent around 6:30, with enough energy to do much of the unloading of gear before crashing into bed. A wonderful, successful experience! And many new friends and memories!