After a potentially career-ending injury, John Crandell’s mount is back at the top of his game.
“He’s a freak of nature,” John Crandell III said of Heraldic after winning his sixth and Heraldic’s second Old Dominion 100 on June 12 in Orkney Springs, Va. “He’s not the easiest personality in the world to get along with, but physically, athletically, he’s a freak of nature. That’s the best way to describe him. He’s just athletic in every way you can imagine.”
Crandell, 48, was the first to finish in the 100-mile race, crossing the line in 13:32:58, and claimed the AERC best condition award and Old Dominion Trophy. About 13 minutes later, Sandra Conner and Elegant Pride finished second in 13:45:23. Crandell’s wife, Ann, finished third aboard HH Saba Shams in 14:30:26.
“This is his forté because he just has endless adrenaline,” said John, 48. “You’re still rating him back even as you come to the finish line. It’s amazing to ride him.”
The Heat Was On
With temperatures climbing into the low 90s and humidity peaking at 100 percent when the ride began in the early morning hours, horses and riders had to deal with more than just tough terrain.
“Heraldic is an extremely hot-headed horse, so the challenge is always to get him through the first vet checks without letting him burn himself out,” said John. “Because it was so humid early in the morning it cost us a lot of fluid loss just from his anxiety in combination with the heavy work that was in the first half of the ride. I had a bit of a low point at about the 50-mile mark because of that.”
John and his crew had to double the amount of electrolytes they typically administer. At each vet check they also try to encourage the horses to eat, which, for Heraldic, means fruit and carrots.
“It took a lot more management and a little bit of slowing down. A lot of the other horses caught me early because I had to back off and kind of just let him recharge and recover,” said John. “But he was really resilient, and as soon as the storm came and kind of washed the heat out of him he was back on his game, and that was all she wrote.”
Training The Endurance Horse
The Crandell family, John, Ann and son John Yancey, 18, live on a 68-acre farm in Star Tannery, Va., that they’ve built over the past several years. Their home adjoins the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, which provide them with all the training ground they want since their backyard is one of the largest blocks of public land in the Eastern United States.
“In this country, five to six hours and covering 30 to 40 miles is a tough workout,” said John. “You don’t have to have workouts any longer than that even to prepare for the 100s. If your horse gets really comfortable going out and doing 30 miles in this country at speed he’ll do OK.”
In addition to the intense workouts, John incorporates other training methods into his horses’ routines.
“Our training program is not as much work as most people imagine,” said John. “They do the intense endurance training only every five to 10 days. They do schooling and other skills, basic dressage education and behavioral work in between the fitness workouts. The fitness works have to be long and arduous and tough, so you wouldn’t want to do that to your horse every single day or you’d break him down. There has to be a significant break between the major workouts. We fill the rest of the days with training, good training.”
Making A Comeback
John has proved his system repeatedly. Heraldic had already achieved a historic first by winning endurance racing’s triple crown, The Old Dominion 100, The Tevis Cup and the AERC Championship, in 2006, and the 12-year-old Arabian gelding has a string of other 100-mile victories, best condition awards and top-10 finishes on his résumé.
But Heraldic fell in his paddock in the fall of 2008, skinning his stifle to the bone, and John wasn’t certain the horse would ever return to his winning form. This was Heraldic’s first return to racing.
“You really don’t know if you’ve got your whole horse back until you come out here and do it. This kind of proved that the injury had no lasting effects,” said John.
John’s father, John Crandell Jr., owns Heraldic. They purchased the horse as a 2-year-old from Asgard Arabians, Sinks Grove, W.Va., but after Crandell Jr. broke his hip and was unable to ride for several years, he passed him on to his son.
John may aim Heraldic for the Tevis Cup again this year but doesn’t have any plans of putting himself in contention for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this fall.
In the meantime, in addition to his work as a farrier, which he’s been scaling back, he’s picked up contracts to design endurance trails. This new professional endeavor is something he’s been passionate about for 30 years, although he will continue training their string of horses.
“[Endurance is about] riding and learning about horses themselves. You can always improve on what you did before,” said John. “That’s what’s so great about coming here. It’s not about beating other people; it’s about coming here and taking a really challenging test and improving on whatever you’ve done before. I’ll go home tonight and think about what I could have done a little better. That’s what motivates me to come back.”