When I was in college, I worked for a septuagenarian horseman who could impeccably train and turn out horses for hunting, steeplechasing, driving, showing and more. But today it`s unusual for people to participate in two or more horse sports, so this Commentary came to mind last month after I rode in a 50-mile endurance ride called Moonlight In Vermont with Denny Emerson. Why? Because the winner of the 100-mile race has done three horse sports at the highest levels. It was Lana Wright`s first 100-mile victory, and I`m sure it won`t be the last for the woman who secured the U.S. team gold medal at the 1991 World Pairs Driving Championships and was the first woman to ride in the Olympic three-day event, earning the team silver medal in 1964.
Usually, one or more of four or five motives induce people to experiment with or pursue a different horse sport, sometimes sports whose only relation is that they involve a horse. One reason could be to find a sport your horse likes to do, if you don`t want to find a new horse. Then there`s the human desire to conquer boredom by seeking a new challenge. Sometimes it`s a need for education. Riding in timber races helped eventers Kevin Freeman, Mike Plumb and Bruce Davidson learn to jump at speed, and dressage riders Carol Lavell and James Koford would tell you that riding cross-country taught them how to go forward.
Sometimes it`s intellectual curiosity. Alexander Mackay-Smith, the Chronicle`s editor from 1952 to 1976, was primarily a foxhunter, but he rode in many horse trials and dressage shows, and he finished the Tevis Cup 100-mile ride. And sometimes we`re just looking for a sport that`s better suited to our inevitably advancing age. I suspect several of these motivations apply to Lana, who told me after her 100-mile victory, “I learned so much about my horse yesterday!”
For me`who`s primarily pursued eventing, foxhunting and steeplechasing`it`s all of those things. For the last year, thanks to Denny (who hopes to make an international team in his second sport once his broken leg is healed [see p. 58]), I`ve ridden in five 50-mile endurance rides. I`ve long admired endurance horses, and up close, those spooky, skinny Arabians are truly amazing. They go forever, and you can barely tell what they`ve done the next day. And, I have to admit, my riding priorities have changed as I flip the calendar. My body is telling me that I`m not 30 anymore, and inevitability that happens to everyone except Bruce Davidson.
Oh, I`m not ready to stop eventing or hunting yet, but as much of the open countryside as you get to see in those two sports, it pales compared to endurance riding. Very often, the trail takes you to views that few people see.
The Vermont ride didn`t start until 2 p.m., so we could experience riding under the nearly full moon, and about 1 a.m. we climbed to the top of a ridge, revealing the most serene, picture-perfect vista, with rows of mountains throwing shadows over the valleys and even a glistening pond or two. And all we could hear, besides our horses` footfalls, was insects, some frogs and a bird or two.
As far as I could tell, the only way to get there was on foot or horseback. I wished I could sit there for awhile, admiring the sights and sounds, but there were horses behind us and we had to keep moving. Besides, we`d been riding for 11 hours and I was ready for another challenge`in the horizontal position.