Monday, November 17, 2014

Young horse + young rider = fantastic team!

At the Mustang Memorial 120km FEI ride in New Jersey on November 8, my little mare Siena earned her first Certificate of Capability (14 kilometer per hour minimum speed), with India Orino  keeping a perfect, steady pace, even on the last two loops that they rode alone.

This joyous outcome has its roots in my early   days of endurance, when I met Tom Hutchinson and Kathy Brunjes of Maine. In April 2000, Tom had made the trek south to compete at the No Frills Ride in Virginia. We were galloping on a downward sloping road beside the Shenandoah River when Tom's horse slipped as its hooves hit pavement, falling sideways and throwing Tom to the ground. Unhurt and undaunted, he sprang up, leapt back on the horse, finished the loop and won the ride with barely a pause for breath and no delay for the rest of us riders.

In 2001, I began competing in FEI-sanctioned endurance events with my first endurance horse, Count Shiloh. We made team that represented USA East at the Pan American Championship in Woodstock, Vermont but with newly formed "splints" on both front legs (from too many miles on a concussive surface), Shiloh was pulled for lameness at the 86 mile hold. Sharing the trailer ride back to the treatment barn with us were Kathy Brunjes and  Ali Darkness. When both horses were re-examined, I got to watch Kathy's horse trot perfectly sound for early lesson in the capricious nature of our sport.

Fast forward to 2012, after Kathy eventually got her "days in the sun," participating in several big FEI events and World Endurance Championships on her horse Theatric, with now-husband Tom as crew. Kathy had become a FEI endurance icon more ways than one, helping develop the Young Riders Championship to encourage more youth in our sport. She was teaching her granddaughters India and Calla Orino to ride with the same poise and discipline that made her so successful when she tragically succumbed to cancer. Kathy made an indelible impression on so many of us, with AERC naming its Young Rider Award ( in her honor.

Supported by Tom and their mother Wanda, India and her younger sister Calla continued endurance. At the January 2014 Broxton FEI ride, India earned her first Certificate of Capability on  Frontier Random, a bay gelding my friend Jenny Poling had sold the family the previous year. In May at the Biltmore FEI ride, I had a blast sponsoring Calla in her first 75-mile AERC ride (she was still too young to compete FEI). In early July, I finally had a chance to travel to Fryeburg, Maine for Tom's 5-Day Pine Tree Endurance Ride and got to spend time with the family again.

That fall, I decided to take Siena to one more FEI-sanctioned ride before year's end, the Northeast Region's only FEI ride, Mustang Memorial in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey. I originally offered use of her to other Young Rider hopefuls in the 50-mile distance. But the day before I headed up to Barb's for the trailer ride to NJ, Tom phone looking for a replacement horse for India in the 75-mile distance so she'd have the three FEI 120km events needed to qualify for 2015 Young Riders. (They'd decided Random needed more rest and time to recover from a tendon injury and Siena was  passported and qualified for that distance.)

With help from Holly Corcoran and Meg Sleeper, as well as ride manager Holly McDonald and Kristen Brett at USEF, we revised online FEI entries so that the NJ young rider who had planned to ride Siena in the AERC 50-mile ride switched to Meg's horse, while India switched to Siena.

At Barb's that Friday, we loaded her mare Welcome (now best buddies with Siena) and picked up Welcome's rider Heather Davis in Berryville. After a smooth trip up we unloaded the horses just as a wintry weather front blew through camp, dumping hail pellets on the horses as they nibbled grass at the edge of the big cornfield where we all parked our rigs. Fortunately the nasty weather was short-lived.

India and Tom found us and we registered and vetted in by 3:30 pm, then India took Siena for a test ride. With her long legs and elegant posture, she reminds me so much of Kathy! On the return, we agreed that my treeless Ansur saddle was a bit small for India and I agreed to use her use her own saddle, a junior Bob Marshall that was also treeless and only weighed a few pounds more.

With a glowing near-full moon and quiet peaceful night, Siena and Welcome ate and rested well. Ride day dawned clear and still, and Siena started calmly with 19 other horses in the 75, 11 of them FEI (but only one other junior, Solstice Pecile from Canada). Barb and I had a great spot for crewing our horses and the day passed quickly, with me running inside the clubhouse frequently to check the free mulled cider at the USA Northeast Endurance fundraiser table.

India said she enjoying keeping pace with Wendy Benns of Canada for the first two loops but as Wendy's horse speeded up for some negative splits, India wisely decided to "ride her own ride" - after all, the little mare is only 6!

All my solo rides with Siena in September and October paid off, as they continued only fractionally slower for the last 30 miles of the ride. I was thrilled with how well India presented Siena for inspection and trot-outs by the vets, but India opted to have me do Siena's final completion trot out, since you only get once chance to present. Despite being chagrined for the bad luck of two good friends whose horses were pulled at the finish, what a great day for this young pair and a great experience to share with the Orino/Hutchinson family! I can only hope Kathy was somehow able to look down and be very, very proud...

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