Riders in Sisters test endurance
Last updated 8/17/2022 at Noon
Saturday saw 61 equestrians from four states gather at Sisters Cow Camp for a day of endurance riding competition. There was a 50-mile course run by 18, a 30-mile limited-distance route that had 36 riders, and seven riders who came out for a 12-mile introductory course.
Known as the Historic Santiam Cascade Endurance Ride, the Sisters-based group has been around for 58 years, with over 300 members on social media. The ride was AERC sanctioned (American Endurance Ride Conference).
The event took place in spectacular weather, cooler than forecast, with bright, sunny skies and temps just touching 80 by the time most riders finished. Joshua Handler won the 30-mile distance in 4 hours and 31 minutes with a 45-minute hold. Darlene Merlich was first-place finisher in the 50-mile course with a time of 7 hours and 35 minutes and a one-hour hold.
Endurance rides have mandatory “holds” during the ride, where horses must pulse down to meet a specific heart-rate parameter — anywhere from 60 to 68 beats per minute — before they are then checked by qualified veterinarians to ensure the horses are fit to continue.
An endurance ride is a timed test of an individual horse/rider team’s ability to traverse a marked, measured cross-country “trail” over natural terrain for a distance of 50 to 100 miles in one day.
Endurance riding was first developed in the early 1900s as a military test for cavalry mounts. Horses were required to go on a five-day, 300-mile ride carrying at least 200 pounds. The cavalry test became a civilian sport in the early 1950s. Over time, the reduction of distance and time increased the number of riders and rides, and in 1978 the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body for World and Olympic equestrian events, recognized endurance riding as an international sport.
The modern endurance ride is unique in the horse sport world, as one of the only group/individual sports that entire families can participate in by riding together, yet competing as individuals. There is no rider minimum or maximum age limitation, and the AERC awards program also offers special awards to families who have compiled the most miles in riding together.
Indeed, Saturday saw a number of duo or trio riders. Being August, the trail was seasonably dusty. The second or third rider was often a blur by the dust thrown up from the forward rider. That did not limit the fun as riders appeared all smiles throughout the day. Like most equestrian events, much of it has to do with the fellowship and camaraderie of like-minded enthusiasts.
There was no intense, last-second rivalry. The opponent was the clock, not the horse in front of the rider.
The majority of horses this day were Arabians. The Arab horse breed originated on the Arabian Peninsula. With its distinctive head shape and high tail carriage, the Arabian is one of the most easily recognizable horse breeds in the world. It is also one of the oldest, with archaeological evidence of horses in the Middle East that resemble modern Arabians dating back 4,500 years.
The Arabian is a versatile breed, dominating the discipline of endurance riding and competing in many other fields of equestrian sport. They are one of the top-10 most popular horse breeds in the world.
Some notables Saturday included the running of two mules. Mules are renowned worldwide for their outstanding muscular endurance.
The event was embellished with two riders of distinction. The Western States Trail Ride, commonly called the Tevis Cup, is the longest-running modern-day endurance ride. The 66th running of the 100-mile event took place on July 16.
Gabriela Blakeley of nearby Terrebonne and her 13-year-old Arabian gelding, LLC Pyros Choice, crossed the Tevis Cup finish line in Auburn, California, at 10:24 p.m., completing the race in 17 hours and 9 minutes for the win. Blakely was on the 50-mile course Saturday.
Also present at the Historic Santiam Cascade Endurance Ride was Alexandra Fetterman of Bend, who just days before returned from Mongolia, where she competed in the Mongol Derby, the longest and toughest horse race in the world.
In 1224, man of the millennium Chinggis (Genghis) Khan set up the world’s first long-distance postal transmission system. Using a massive network of horse stations — morin urtuus in Mongolian — his hardy messengers could gallop from Kharkhorin to the Caspian Sea in a number of days.
For 10 days each August, the Mongol Derby recreates this legendary system, building a network of urtuus at 22-mile intervals along the entire 620-mile course.