It was a cross-continental joint victory that materialized early in the morning of June 10 at the Old Dominion 100-mile endurance ride in Fort Valley, Va. After more than 16 hours of negotiating this year’s new rocky, mountainous trail, two men crossed the finish line in a dead heat in the dead of night.
Endurance veterans Bob Spoor, San Rafael, Calif., and Stagg Newman, Candler, N.C., had never met before this year’s Old Dominion, but their experiences together throughout the trail ended with an agreement to tie at the finish. They finished on a time of 16:12:58, besting the mark of third-placed Nicki Meuten aboard Fury by nearly an hour.
“Bob turned to me and proposed that we finish tied and then compete over best conditioned,” said Newman. “That sounded like a good idea to me.” The pair rode through the finish holding hands to assure that the timers would award a true tie.
Both riders had been eyeing the competition early in the day and had spied each others’ horses at the first vet check, where they each decided that the other would be a strong partner to ride with for the next few miles. “It’s very good to find a horse that’s well matched,” said Newman of Spoor’s mount. “At that point it was clear that that was the horse to ride with.”
The men paired up around the 24-mile marker and stayed together for the remainder of the trail, which was treacherous enough at times.
“We had the same philosophy about pace and proper riding,” continued Newman. “And we walked a lot of the tough downhills together on foot.”
The Old Dominion ride traditionally began in Front Royal, Va., but moved to a new location this year because of its growing popularity and the shrinking availability of land in its former location. Organizers expect to change venues again next year to a more permanent home.
Having never attempted the ride before, Spoor was happy to have some input from an experienced East Coast rider. “Stagg is one of the real veterans of the sport, and he’s the kind of man I enjoy riding with,” said Spoor. “He really takes care of his horse.”
Spoor has completed the Tevis Cup (Calif.) nine of the 10 times he’s entered it, but said his first time at Old Dominion was definitely a challenge. “It kicked my butt!” he remarked at the awards ceremony. “These are the two toughest rides in the world, or at least in the United States.”
Spoor Wins More
But in the end it was Spoor who claimed the overall best conditioned award and the Old Dominion Trophy for high vet score with HH Saba Shams, a horse bred by Linda Crandell, West River, Md., and owned and trained by Ann and John Crandell of Star Tannery, Va. The Crandells also loaned Spoor the 8-year-old, gray Arabian for last year’s Tevis, where he placed 10th, behind owner John, who won the race with Heraldic.
“I got to know the Crandells in California,” said Spoor. “A month before last year’s Tevis, my horse went lame, and John brought this backup horse [for me]. He’s a magnificent horse and a natural, elite athlete. He didn’t need a bunch of rides to figure out the sport.
“This is a ride I’ve always wanted to do,” Spoor continued, alluding to Old Dominion. “Basically I called Ann and John, and they invited me up to ride ‘Sunny’ again. The Crandells have been amazing. They are truly the class of this sport.”
Newman’s horse, Jayel Super, has been a long-time partner, logging thousands of miles since Newman bought the bay gelding 12 years ago. The pair also won the Old Dominion ride in 1999, 2001 and 2004, took the Biltmore (N.C.) title three times and earned a team gold medal at the 2001 Pan American Endurance Championships (Vt.). The horse has also carried riders Cheryl Newman, Beverly Brock and Dominique Freeman to completions in several competitions.
“He was originally trained by [Grand Prix dressage rider] Gail Carmona,” said Newman. “The tough terrain like this really requires that proper balance and rhythm.”
Head veterinarian Lani Newcomb said she was extremely happy with the 100-mile ride’s 77.4 percent completion rate, especially given the relative heat and the difficulty of the trail. She said none of the 100-mile horses required metabolic treatments after the ride.
“For the 50-mile riders, the trail was really hard, with the gravel roads and the mountains,” Newcomb said. “They rode really smart because they didn’t push, but that meant that the completion rate [43%] was very low. In the 100, we had an amazing completion rate. You had to ride every step of the trail. It was unrelenting.”
New Blood At Old Dominion
While experience won out in the 100-mile ride, Bonni Hannah’s victory in the 50-mile proved that beginners could hold their own on the tough trails as well. Hannah bought Rezus Respite, a 12-year-old, bay Polish Arabian, two years ago when she decided after volunteering at local endurance rides in her hometown of Asheville, N.C., that it was something she wanted to try.
“This is his seventh 50,” Hannah said proudly of the horse she conditioned herself. The pair won the Sand Hills Stampede (S.C.) in March and were second at the Biltmore Challenge in May. “He’s my one and only
boy, and that’s the way I like it. One’s enough. We do five or six races a year and play the rest of the time.”
For her first experience at Old Dominion, Hannah decided to start out conservatively over the rocky, mountainous terrain, but to use her time wisely. “My strategy is always to start kind of up front, but not to lead,” she said. “I don’t usually start moving up until the second or third loop. I walked a lot of places. But when it was clear and not rocky, we booked!
“Stagg had given me some advice about [metabolic rates], and I just conserved him on the rocks and the hills,” she explained. “My horse is great at the vet checks and has good recovery.”
Since she is relatively new to the sport, Hannah said she still doesn’t know a lot of people, but she was grateful to Newman for extending a helping hand at her first Old Dominion. “I don’t know Stagg real well, but I’ve talked to him a couple of times,” she said. “He had invited me to a meeting the night before, which was mostly for the 100-mile people, to go over the trail. I just like to listen to people who know what they’re doing, and I just went to try to learn from him. He was really gracious to do that. Here’s a man who’s going to win, and he’s helping everyone else.”
Hannah wasn’t sure she had the lock on her own win until quite late in the trail. With 4 miles left to go, she felt confident in a victory, but she kept a sharp lookout for last-minute challengers, who have surprised her in the past. But there was no such last-ditch effort by the competition this time, and Hannah and “Raz” sealed the win in a time of 7:15:32, almost half an hour ahead of second-placed finishers and best conditioned winners Amy Chenault and Zeek.
“He’s a very good teacher, this horse is,” Hannah remarked of Raz. “I have a really good horse, and I’ve been blessed. I found a jewel.”
In retrospect, the rider is now able to laugh about the pair’s first few races together, which didn’t necessarily unfold as smoothly as Old Dominion. “On my first 50, he was a runaway, and I dove off in a cottonfield,” she recalled. “We finished last—in 50th place. I don’t think there are many people who have done a 50 who have finished in the dark!”
Hannah took up riding on a whim five years ago, starting out with a horse she said was not the easiest to learn on. But her partnership with Raz has blossomed, and she now considers her competition weekends an opportunity to continue bonding with the horse, as well as with her husband and two sons, ages 10 and 14. Though none of her family members ride, she said everyone pitches in to help at the vet checks and around the campground.
“They were such a help at this last race,” Hannah said, noting that her husband is actually allergic but never fails to come out and support her hobby. “And my older son, after the race, would take my horse out to
walk him around. He loves to help out around the camp. It’s a lot of fun to be there with them.”
What Maggie Would Have Wanted
Sunday’s awards brunch at Old Dominion took on a serious note when Stagg Newman arose to deliver a brief but emotional eulogy for Maggie Price, the American Endurance Ride Conference Hall of Fame rider and former president and who passed away earlier this year after a lengthy battle with cancer.
A friend of Price’s for many years, Newman spoke of her impact on the sport and on his own career as a rider, which had been bolstered by two phenomenal horses that Price had sold him.
“Maggie always said that after she died, she wanted us to release doves,” Newman explained to the crowd in the breakfast tent on Sunday morning, gaining a hearty laugh when he added, “But then she said, ‘Well, in my case, maybe you’d be better off releasing buzzards!’”
Immediately after the memorial, the assembly moved outside and gathered in a circle to observe the release of several white doves, and clapped and cheered as the birds rose into the air and circled the campground. For several minutes the white flock continued their joyful fly-by, before gradually making their way up the mountain.
It wasn’t until the doves was nearly out of sight that the crowd noticed something curious, which incited even more cheering: circling the ridge top precisely where the doves had disappeared was a group of massive, hovering buzzards.