Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024

Summers Draws On Good Fortune In Owyhee Fandango 100

Lady Luck plays the leading role at the finish of this Idaho ride.

Even though it was just a mile to the finish of the Owyhee Fandango AERC/FEI 100 (CEI***), Dennis Summers, who was among the leaders, pulled up his horse, SHA Ebony Rose, and dismounted.

Although unusual, his actions laid to rest a rumor among the small crowd gathered at the finish on May 25 in Oreana, Idaho, that the riders vying for the victory would cross the line four abreast. Instead, the riders decided to draw straws—or sagebrush?—for placings.
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Lady Luck plays the leading role at the finish of this Idaho ride.

Even though it was just a mile to the finish of the Owyhee Fandango AERC/FEI 100 (CEI***), Dennis Summers, who was among the leaders, pulled up his horse, SHA Ebony Rose, and dismounted.

Although unusual, his actions laid to rest a rumor among the small crowd gathered at the finish on May 25 in Oreana, Idaho, that the riders vying for the victory would cross the line four abreast. Instead, the riders decided to draw straws—or sagebrush?—for placings.

Summers dismounted to collect the sticks; they drew, he remounted, and they approached the finish line at a strong steady trot in the order that they drew: Dennis Summers riding SHA Ebony Rose, Sue Summers on Mags Motivator, Cheryl Dell on TR Reason To Believe, and Joyce Sousa riding LV Integrity.

All riders passed their final vet exam with solid-looking horses, averaging 10.94 mph for the ride and obtaining their certificates of completion. Dennis’ SHA Ebony Rose ultimately received the best condition award.

Twenty-five riders attempted the distance, 16 of them in the Fédération Equestre Internationale division. Additionally, on the same day an AERC/FEI 75 (CEI**) was held with four starters (one FEI rider); a 55-mile ride had 20 starters, and a 25-mile ride had 16 starters.

Becky Hart, three-time World Endurance Champion and the U.S. Equestrian Team’s endurance chef d’equipe, attended the ride to observe and assist riders and crews with strategies for the ride.

Hold Back

The 100- and 75-mile rides began at 6 a.m., just before sunrise. The first four riders arrived in basecamp for their first vet check within 2 minutes of each other after averaging 12.4 mph on the first 15.5 mile loop—Sousa, Dell, and the Summers—a hint of things to come later.

After a 40-minute hold, during which the 50-mile ride started, the 100-and 75-milers followed a cross-desert, soft two-track road and trails for their next loop of 18.5 miles. The next two holds would be out vet checks; ride management and crews set up at the Sierra Del Rio ranch, once a stop on the historic Oregon Trail, now a thriving irrigated farm and cattle ranch. Horses were allowed one of the large grassy paddocks to rest—a great incentive to encourage the horses to eat during their holds.

Averaging 12.4 mph again for loop 2, the same top four arrived within 5 minutes of each other, pulsing down in zero to 5 minutes, seeing them out on loop 3 with only a minute’s difference between them.

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Loop 3 took riders on a 16.5-mile loop on an especially dusty trail around the base of Wild Horse Butte, down to the Snake River, and back to the Ranch. Dennis and Sue Summers maintained the lead at an 11.4 mph pace, while Elroy Karius slipped into third place, arriving 1 minute ahead of Dell and Sousa for their third vet check and 50-minute hold.

Two-time World Champion Valerie Kanavy, Fort Valley, Va., who arrived in Oreana a week before the ride to pre-ride the trails and settle her two horses, was in seventh place and riding consistently, averaging just over 9.9 mph on each loop.

Her mare Flash Flame already had one certificate of completion for the World Endurance Championships in Malaysia  in November (completing a 100-mile ride in under 13:20 minutes) when she won the New Years in New Mexico 100 on Dec. 31, and Kanavy’s goal—the goal, in fact, of most of the FEI 100-mile riders—was strictly to get her second COC (the Malaysian WEC ride requires riders to have two COCs on the same horse within 24 months), not to race and try to win the ride, though she was in the top 10 from the third vet gate on.

“I did have to hold myself back, though,” Kanavy recalled later, “when Christoph passed me!”

International Flavor

If putting on two other rides simultaneously with two Fédération Equestre Internationale rides in one day, with their special rules and additional officials and logistics, wasn’t enough effort, May 25 was actually the second day of a three-day endurance ride, the Owyhee Fandango. Why would a ride manager want to take on such an enormous challenge?

Steph Teeter, who with her husband John, owns and runs endurance.net and enduranceeurope.net, has become, over the past 10 years, an ambassador for endurance riding around the world. She’s participated in rides in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France (finishing 32nd in the 2000 World Endurance Championship), Namibia, Spain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Malaysia, in addition to helping Japan, Columbia, Chile and Uruguay put on endurance rides. In the past two years she’s become intimately involved with the Malaysian effort to hold the 2008 World Endurance Championship in Terengganu, Malaysia, in November.

From the wonderful experiences she’s had, and the great hospitality she’s been shown by endurance people around the world, Teeter has been a strong supporter of the U.S. endurance team’s quest to once again become leading competitors in world competition, as they were in the 1990s.

Hence she decided to add a 100-mile and a 75-mile FEI ride in the middle of her annual Owyhee spring ride in Oreana, Idaho.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity for U.S. riders to qualify their horses over a challenging, but not-so-difficult course for this year’s WEC in Malaysia, and to provide a scenic ride for international competitors to come ride and participate in a World Endurance Exchange program,” said Teeter.

Foreign guest riders over the three days included two riders from Belgium, one from Argentina, one from Scotland, and more than a dozen from Canada. U.S. riders hauled from as far away as Florida, Virginia, Utah and Colorado to participate.
Officials for the FEI ride traveled from Guatemala, Dubai and Scotland, and various regions of the United States.

Loop 4, 17.5 miles cross-desert back to basecamp, had Karius dropping back to fifth place behind the Summers, Dell and Sousa. These first four riders would remain in the top four positions throughout the rest of the ride, trading off positions during the loops.

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Karius backed off the pace while comfortably holding his position to the finish. The field was spread out at this point, with more than 4 hours separating the leader from the last two riders, Jim and Vicci Archer.
The top four arrived for their fifth vet check within 1 minute of each other, and though Dell had a 21-second lead going out on the last 15.5-mile loop, all four chose to leave and ride together the entire loop.

Ride Smart

Hart’s instructions to them were to figure out the finish however they wanted, but in any case, “ride smart.” At this pace these riders would easily receive their COCs for Malaysia (the second one for each of them) upon passing the final vet check; there would be no reason to race in.

All of the remaining FEI riders finished within the COC cutoff time, and Hart was thrilled with their performances and the restraint they showed. Of the non-FEI riders, local rider Lynne Fredrickson was pulled at the finish line, a heart-rending outcome for the horse’s gallant first 100-mile attempt. The final finishers, the Archers, completed their first 100-mile ride at 2:37 a.m.

Sousa, a veteran endurance rider from Hydesville, Calif., with 18,860 American Endurance Ride Conference miles under her girth, and one endurance horse already in the Hall of Fame (Jim Bob), joked about her fourth-placed finish: “I got the short end of the stick!”

She couldn’t have been prouder of her horse, however. One of the most accomplished endurance horses going down the trails today, LV Integrity has amassed 4,900 miles in 10 seasons of competition, completing 78 of 79 rides, including 20 of 21 100-milers, with 11 wins and seven best condition awards. His one elimination was at the finish of a 100-mile ride, after he’d gotten into cholla cactus early in the day, and had 24 spines pulled out of a front leg. And all of this after he was such a rogue horse as a 5-year-old, that nobody could stay on him, and his previous owner had to go after him with a pitchfork when he went after the children with teeth bared.

Sousa reflected on the possibility of making the team for Malaysia this November.

“I would love to go with ‘Ritzy’ to Malaysia,” she said. “We’ll work on preparing him, and if he goes or not, whatever happens will happen. I have all the faith in the selectors, and whatever is decided is great by me. I hope the U.S. will get a team medal, or at least make a strong showing. Ritzy may or may not be one of the chosen ones, but as long as he’s around, I’ll be a happy camper. He’s family now.”

The high finish percentage of the 100-mile Fandango ride—84 percent compared to international averages of 30 to 50 percent—was probably due to smart and careful riding, focused goals, and a trail that, while it presented challenges for horses and riders, was neither too difficult, nor too easy.

“It presented variety,” Ride Manager Steph Teeter said. “It wasn’t a flat course that allowed flat out galloping, but it had some sand, some hills, a few rocky sections, and some altitude [3,600 feet at base camp]. It provided enough different terrain to keep horses and riders interested and paying attention.”

Merri Melde

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