Sunday, May. 26, 2024

McGunigal Cleans Up In The Mud At Kentucky Cup

The win with Gold Raven comes in one of the toughest contests of her career.  

Danielle McGunigal admitted that after 30 years of endurance competition the Kentucky Cup endurance test event for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games was the most difficult ride she had ever completed.

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The win with Gold Raven comes in one of the toughest contests of her career.  

Danielle McGunigal admitted that after 30 years of endurance competition the Kentucky Cup endurance test event for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games was the most difficult ride she had ever completed.

Competitors from 23 countries flocked to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington for the Cup, Oct. 14, where McGunigal, world champion in 1996, rode through near-freezing rain and thick mud to win the CEI*** 100-mile event aboard her rising star Gold Raven. The inclement fall weather led officials to shorten the race to 75 miles, but McGunigal, the 38-year-old daughter of two-time world champion Valerie Kanavy, showed little discouragement as she won in a time of 6:30:41.

“I was glad [the race was shortened], because I’m not sure how many horses could have really accomplished this,” said the Fort Valley, Va., native. “The terrain itself, if it had been nice, would have been fantastic, and it would have been fast. But with the mud and the rain and the cold it was almost like swimming uphill with a hole in your paddle.”

Thirty of 51 entrants completed the CEI***, which departed from the Kentucky Horse Park and looped around dozens of private, picturesque bluegrass horse farms. Under the conditions, however, few riders were able to fully enjoy the rarely seen properties. One competitor retired at the first check point after displaying symptoms of hypothermia. Kanavy was eliminated after her horse fell at one of numerous slick road crossings.

Conditions on course deteriorated as the morning wore on, and officials made the call to shorten the race from six loops to four with plenty of time for riders to adjust their strategies. Although the decision was a wise one, there was disappointment from many of the riders who were there to receive their 100-mile certificates of completion to qualify for the WEG.

“The horses were slipping, and there was a lot of low-level lameness being reported, which means the horses weren’t making their proper strides,” said competition manager Emmett Ross. “And at the end of the day, in everything we do, our motto is, ‘It’s for the welfare of the horse.’ To run two more loops just wasn’t proper to have a horse do.”

She Knows What She Wants

The tough nature of McGunigal’s 8-year-old Arabian “Raven” may have sealed the deal for their hard-fought victory.

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“She’s very tough; she really puts her teeth into what she’s doing and gets it done,” McGunigal said. “Sometimes she can be such a bully. She pushes you around at the check and knows what she wants, but at the same time that’s what is really great about her—she’s difficult.”

Ellyn Rapp sloshed across the finish line 20 minutes after McGunigal to pick up the silver medal aboard Jeremy Olson’s Berjo Smokey in a ride time of 6:52:16. The 27-year-old Dubuque, Iowa, native had nothing but praise for her 12-year-old Arabian partner.

“There isn’t a horse I’ve ever had or ever seen that can hold a candle to Smokey,” she said. “He’s amazing, and he’s getting better every time I take him out. He’ll never quit on you.”

Rapp called Smokey a “freak of nature” but admitted his talent and stamina come with a price. Olson discovered the feisty gelding as an unbroken 7-year-old with a strong distaste for humans.

“He was basically wild and still is,” said Rapp. “He’s very hard to handle, and he tolerates me riding him at the rides only.”

Ten minutes after Rapp’s finish, Janice Ann Worthington, Scales Mound, Ill., and Golden Lightning rounded out the U.S. sweep of the CEI*** to pick up the bronze medal with a final time of 7:01:33.

“That was one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve done a lot of rides,” said Worthington, who, at 69, was one of the oldest competitors. “I am glad they shortened the distance because I’m not too sure any horse was going to finish that ride. They all were starting to get sour in the mud. I think my horse did so well in the mud because he has tiny mule feet. He didn’t have to pull as hard as some of the other horses.”

The 9-year-old Arabian, a former racehorse, handled the challenges thrown at him with ease and clinched the best condition award.

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A Middle Eastern Affair

One of the most high-profile participants in the CEI** 75-mile event was Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, son of the ruler of Dubai. The 22-year-old dignitary and his United Arab Emirates teammates dominated the competition in preparation for the WEG.

Sheikh Majid and second-placed Ahmed Salem Ali Sultan Al Sabousi galloped home across the Horse Park polo fields toward the finish line and an enthusiast crowd of UAE flag bearers and cheering countrymen. The Sheikh, with the 11-year-old Arabian gelding Kangoo D’Aura-belle, won with a time of 6:05:30, a mere second faster than his teammate aboard Bess Ess-Ob. Fellow UAE rider Yahya Sughayer Kanoon Al Aljtabi rolled in 15 minutes later with his mount Medjerda for the bronze.

Only 14 horse-and-rider combinations in the 30-horse field finished the ride, which had a dismal 48 percent completion rate from the two races. But all five UAE contenders made it from start to finish placing no lower than sixth.

“Endurance riders are used to riding in all kinds of weather, so this is normal,” noted fifth-placed Mubarak Khalifa, also of the UAE.

“The course was amazing, but the weather made it very difficult. Other than the ground being a bit slippery it was excellent,” said Sheikh Majid before adding, “This is the sport that we most love, and we get to travel all over the world to ride. It’s our history. Horses are our history.”

Competition manager Ross, who worked in the Middle East for 10 years and has watched the sport of endurance grow and change, was pleased with how the test event turned out, despite the many hurdles.

“I took about a half a dozen places off the trail at the last minute because of the rain, and I’m saving a few surprises for next year [at the WEG],” he said. “There were some complexities of crossing the trails two or three times, but we’re going to flatten out and change that so there is no confusion next year, although there is some technicality to it.”

But more than anything, Ross said, they have learned from the event to pray for no rain.

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