September 25, 2009 -- The premier event of the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC), the annual National Championship ride, proved to be a weekend of celebration in Northern California on September 11 and 13. At the site of the annual Patriot's Day ride in Greenville, Calif., competitors arrived from all over the western U.S. and Canada to compete for AERC's top prizes.
The 100-mile championship ride, held September 11, was won handily by Lindsay Graham, a fourth-year veterinary student at the University of California at Davis. Riding Chris Martin's 7-year-old chestnut Arabian gelding, Monk, Graham finished the technical course in nine hours and 58 minutes, 35 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Brad Green of Auburn, California, riding Pawnee, his 10-year old Arabian cross gelding.
"I was planning on just finishing in the required FEI COC time," said Graham, referring to the F?d?ration Equestre Internationale's certificate of capability time of twelve hours and twenty minutes. "We passed people in the vet checks as Monk pulsed down immediately at every check.
"I kept a very steady pace all day. People always passed me downhill, but I passed them uphill, and let him canter on the flats," said Graham. "He has a very easy big canter, and his heart rate drops significantly."
The win came as a surprise to the 27-year-old with 2,275 AERC miles to her credit. "The day just came together the way people dream of," she said. "The 'Monk man' never slowed down. He gave me an incredible ride."
A total of 61 horse-and-rider teams started the 100-mile competition at 5:30 a.m. on September 11. The 2009 ride site was in Greenville, California, midway between Redding and Reno in Northern California. The championship trail, which varied from 3800 to 6100 feet elevation, included spectacular views of Walker Lake and Lake Almanor. When the 24-hour time limit was up early the next morning, 42 teams had crossed the finish line.
"A 69 percent completion rate for such a high-level competition means that riders were really taking care of their horses," said AERC Executive Director Kathleen Henkel. "It was a hot day but the horses did great."
At the best condition judging on Saturday morning, Monk was awarded top honors by the team of veterinarians who examined the top 10-placing horses. "Monk looked great," said Graham, "bright-eyed, eating and drinking well, and just looked like a happy horse. I am on Cloud 9."
Graham was the first featherweight rider (under 160 pounds, with tack) to finish. Other teams topping their weight division were Brad Green of Auburn, California, and Pawnee (first lightweight, second overall), Elroy Karius of Kelowna, British Columbia, and Apache Eclypse (first middleweight, third overall), and Crockett Dumas of Escalante, Utah, and OT Gunplay RSI (first heavyweight, seventh overall).
Aboard Rushcreek Lance, Colton Medeiros was the first junior and 11th overall. The National Championship ride was the fifth 100-mile ride for the 10-year-old from Rescue, California, who rode with his father Matt as his sponsor.
On September 13, 89 riders set out on the 50-mile competition, with 73 completing in times ranging from four hours and three minutes to nine hours and 27 minutes. First to finish were Kenneth Keele of Greenwood, California, a middleweight rider, and Ravenwood Shahbar. They actually were second over the finish line but the first team to cross was eliminated when the horse's pulse didn't meet the 64 beats per minute criteria within the required one-hour time period.
"Shahbar is a very fast horse. He's been fast all his life," said 50-mile winner Keele. Speed and toughness come naturally to the 11-year-old chestnut Arabian gelding, whose mother was a straight Egyptian imported out of Egypt in the 1970s. "He's structurally sound, with good feet and good angles, and he has a naturally good heart rate that always comes down right away."
After a short break, Keele and Shahbar plan to head to Oklahoma for the Arabian Horse Association National Championship 50-mile ride in late October.
Other top weight division finishers in the 50 were Becky Spencer of Greenwood, California, and Alchemy LR (first lightweight, second overall), Cheryl Dell of Springville, California, and TR Reason to Believe (first featherweight, seventh overall), Dian Woodward of Moab, Utah (first heavyweight, 11th overall), and Kadee Felton of Pilot Hill, California (first junior and 28th overall).
TR Olena, a 7-year-old Arabian mare owned by Terryl Reed of Colfax, California, who placed fourth overall, was awarded best condition.
A plethora of prizes awaited the winners. Saddles were awarded to both best condition winners by Athletic Equine. Native Spirit Saddlery donated a saddle for the 100-mile winner, and Purina donated coupons for a ton of horse feed. The 50-mile winner will receive a custom-made cedar chest. Embroidered blankets, Hought Tack gift certificates and a variety of other gifts went to the top weight division and top 10 finishers. Fleeceworks donated saddle pads to both first place juniors.
The championships were managed by Kassandra DiMaggio and Centella Tucker. The ride camp was located in Coppercreek Camp, which boasted amenities almost unheard of at endurance rides: catered meals, hot showers and flush toilets. "It was a wonderful site for the championships, and easily accommodated all the riders, horses, crew members, veterinarians and spectators," said Henkel. "Kassandra and Centella had an amazing team of local volunteers who helped make the ride a success."
The ride's success even helped a worthwhile local charity, in keeping with the patriotic theme of the ride. A red, white and blue quilt made by Centella Tucker was the highlight of a raffle, with all proceeds going to the Veterans Guest House in Reno, Nevada, a "home away from home" for U.S. military service veterans receiving outpatient treatment and for families of veterans who are hospitalized at Reno-area medical facilities.
AERC's National Championships move to various locations around the country each year. Minimum mileage requirements mean the competition will be fierce among top distance equestrians. Each rider knows, however, that their horse must pass muster with veterinarians acting as control judges at holds during the competition and the post-finish check before a completion is awarded.
Both the 50-mile and 100-mile distances at this year's championships served as qualifying rides for FEI competition, as endurance riders gear up for the endurance event in next September's World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.
The American Endurance Ride Conference's 2010 ride season begins on December 1. To join, or for more information about endurance riding, visit www.aerc.org.