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July 10, 2009

Godwin Can Put A Check Mark By The Old Dominion 100

EH Ahmose finds his happy place at the front of the 100-mile ride.

Claire Godwin is two-thirds of the way to achieving a major goal she set for herself this year.

She wants to complete three different 100-mile rides on three different horses, and winning the Old Dominion 100 aboard EH Ahmose on June 13 in Orkney Springs, Va., let her check No. 2 off her list.

Crossing the finish line first came as somewhat of a surprise to Godwin, since the Old Dominion was just the first 100-mile ride for “Moses.”

“With this horse, I really look to find the pocket where he’s happy,” Godwin said. “He frequently likes to be up front, so I was just trying to keep him happy and within his ability. He felt strong all day, and out front was where he felt happy, so that’s where we were.”

Godwin and Moses traversed most of the trail with 2008 Old Dominion 100-mile winner Stagg Newman on Jayel Super and Ruth Ann Everett on Royel-T Razz Matazz. “We rode together all day; we were very civilized. Stagg’s horse had to slow down at the very last loop, so Ruth Ann and I were on our own and we had a friendly race to the finish,” Godwin said.

Godwin bought Moses, a 10-year-old Egyptian Arabian, from fellow endurance rider Cia Reis three years ago.

“He does well, but he just needs a lot of mental attention to keep him happy all day long,” Godwin said. “He gets nervous, but he’s very athletic. He’s the type of horse who will go into a collected canter and go all day long. It’s effortless. His pulse rate is slower at the canter than the trot. He’s a pretty good athlete. Cia does a lot of dressage work with her young horses. I would be lying if I said I spent a lot of time working on flatwork. It comes so naturally for him, so I don’t have to worry about it too much.”

Moses completed six 50-mile rides in 2007, finishing in the top 10 in five of them, and prepped for the Old Dominion with three top-10 finishes at 50-mile rides in the spring of this year. Godwin had completed the Old Dominion 100-mile ride once before, finishing 12th in 2002 on SKF Kadance.

A Way Of Life

Godwin started her quest for three 100-mile completions at the Biltmore Challenge (N.C.) in May, where she rode her daughter’s pony, PL Mercury, to 12th place. For her grand finale, she’s packing up her homebred Sundown Reveille and heading out to California for her first attempt at the legendary Tevis Cup ride on Aug. 1.

“It’s been my 20-year goal to go to the Tevis Cup,” she said. “It’s a grueling ride, and I like hard endurance rides better than flat races. I just hope to get through it—I’m not going out there with any expectations whatsoever.”

Godwin has been riding endurance since 1991 and now averages 1,000 miles a year. “It’s quite an addictive sport. It’s a way of life. It’s a great family sport—my daughter has ridden and done well as well. You get to see a lot of beautiful countryside,” she said.

As a veterinarian, she also serves as ride vet occasionally.

While she’d shown as a child, Godwin first heard of endurance during her senior year of vet school at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

“I’d had some experience with Arabians, working on a breeding farm. So when my career was on solid footing a few years after graduation, I started doing rides,” she said.

Godwin founded the Laytonsville Veterinary Practice in Laytonsville, Md., in 1988 and focuses on small animal work. She has three associate veterinarians to share the workload, which frees her up to ride. The clinic and her own farm, with seven Arabians, share the property.

“There are a lot of veterinarians who do endurance. But there are also a lot of non-veterinarians that I’ve learned a ton of stuff from. It requires an incredible amount of horsemanship. I learn something new every ride I go to,” said Godwin.

The Hillbilly Triple Crown


That community spirit of learning has also fostered Bonni Hannah’s growth in the sport of endurance. Hannah, 46, started riding eight years ago. But she’s come up the ranks quickly and won the 55-mile ride at Old Dominion on Rezus Respite.

“I really wanted to win it, because he’d won two pretty tough Southeast races prior to that—the Biltmore and the Leatherwood [N.C.]–and my kids said it would be like the hillbilly triple crown! I thought it would be neat to win all three,” Hannah said.

“He really excels at mountain rides. He attacks the hills and mountains. That’s his forte,” Hannah said of “Raz.” “I tend to start out at about eight to 10 back. We passed a few in the vet checks, since he pulses down really quickly if I do it right.”

Raz won the 50-mile ride at the Leatherwood Mountain Extreme Challenge in April and took the win and best condition award at the Biltmore Challenge 75-mile ride in May, so Hannah knew he was ready for the Old Dominion.

Raz is Hannah’s first endurance mount.

“My sons had gone off to pre-school, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to just sit around the house; I want to do something.’ So I started taking riding lessons. I liked it, so I leased a horse, then I bought a Quarter Horse,” she said.

One of Hannah’s riding instructors got her volunteering for the Biltmore Challenge ride, which opened Hannah’s eyes to the world of endurance.

“I was so impressed. There were riders of all different ages, and everyone was so welcoming and friendly. It just seemed like everyone was there to have a good time,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I think I could do this!’

“I came from not even knowing how to ride, and the great thing about endurance is the hours you have to put in with your horse; you really develop a partnership and a bond with them.”

Off To A Quick Start

The Quarter Horse she’d bought obviously wouldn’t fit the bill for Hannah’s new sport, so she contacted Suncatcher Arabians in Tryon, N.C., and found Raz.

“He’s a Polish Arab. He’d never been on the trails, but he was a great prospect. I just started slowly. When I first started endurance, my goal was just to finish. Then I realized he was a pretty darn good horse, and I started thinking about the top 10. I change my goals as the race goes on, depending on how he’s feeling and how fast everyone’s going,” she said.

It took a while for Hannah to adjust to Raz’ sensitivity. “He was a little spooky—I got dumped a lot when I first got him,” she admitted.

And they’ve had some memorable moments.

“The first article I was in, was from our first 50-mile ride [the Carolina ride in 2005], where he ran away with me,” Hannah recalled. “In the Arabian World magazine, there’s a picture of me running through a cotton field after my horse. Bless [photographer] Genie Stewart-Spears’ heart—she got that on camera. That was my first claim to fame—me chasing my horse. But I caught him, and we finished that ride. I’m probably one of the only people who’s finished a50 in the dusk and seen the glow sticks on the trail.”

Hannah and Raz quickly found their groove, finishing in the top eight of three 50-mile rides in 2006. In 2007, they won the 55-mile rides at the Sand Hills Stampede (N.C.) and the Old Dominion and placed second in the 50-mile ride at Biltmore.

But Raz took all of 2008 off to recover from a ligament injury he suffered while turned out.

“He came back a lot stronger this year. I feel like I’ve got him in really good shape. Now I just have to figure out how little I can do to maintain that, just to not use him up or hurt him,” Hannah said.

“He teaches me where I need to improve as a rider. If you want your endurance horse to last, you’ve got to become a better rider,” she said. “I do continue to take lessons. A lot of time in the saddle has taught me a lot, and I’ve done a few horsemanship clinics. I’m a member of [A Partnership for Endurance Xcellence] so I’ve been to several of their clinics and I’ve learned a lot. I read all the books and I try to learn from my mistakes.”

Hannah, who lives in Fletcher, N.C., does a lot of training on the Biltmore estate and hopes to complete her first 100-mile ride there next year.

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