Getting down to the Nitty-Gritty in Dubai

Take 175 of the best endurance horses and riders in action today. Add sand, wind, relentless desert heat and a daunting 100-mile course, and you have all the ingredients for world-class ...Take 175 of the best endurance horses and riders in action today. Add sand, wind, relentless desert heat and a daunting 100-mile course, and you have all the ingredients for world-class ...

Story originally posted by: Cynthia McFarland - HorseCity.com Free-Lance Writer

Take 175 of the best endurance horses and riders in action today. Add sand, wind, relentless desert heat and a daunting 100-mile course, and you have all the ingredients for world-class competition. That's exactly what seven U. S. women riders discovered as they traveled thousands of miles and joined riders from 35 other countries for the 1998 World Endurance Championships held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).


Expenses of all participating riders and their horses were paid courtesy of the UAE, in an effort led by His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, and Dubai Crown Prince and Minister of Defense, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, an avid endurance rider himself.


When the first horse crossed the finish line, the winning time of 9 hours and seven seconds belonged to American Valerie Kanavy, aboard High Winds Jedi, who took home the Individual Gold. The U.S. team of Wendy Meredini on Fire Mountain Flikka, Darla Westlake on MC Rams Z, and Shirley Delsart on KJ Destination captured the Team Silver. Ona Lawrence on RAA Crusader was also part of the U.S. team, but was unable to finish after her horse was pulled from competition due to lameness at the 75-mile check.


The other competing U.S. riders included Patti Pizzo on Savaq ("Sam"), and defending Gold Medal champion Danielle Kanavy-McGunigal on two-time title holder Pieraz. She and Pieraz were excused after the 25-mile veterinary gate when Pieraz was found to be lame.


It all came down to 100 miles in the Arabian desert, but being prepared for that one day in December meant months of training. In addition to working towards absolute peak condition, riders often trained with the particular rigors of desert riding in mind.


"The trail I had picked out to train on all year was very similar to Dubai," said Patti Pizzo, Jamison, PA. "It had semi-deep sand and also hard surfaces. Each week we rode one 15-mile ride and two 33-mile rides. About two months before the race we trained just for speed. We rode the same training course, we just did it quicker and quicker. Over one month, we got our time for the same 33-mile course down from 3 hours to 2-1/2 hours just before we left (for Dubai)."


Pizzo has found that when doing nine to 10-hour 100-mile rides, roughly 70 percent is at a canter and 30 percent at a trot. When conditioning at home, she evens it out and rides about half the training course at a trot, half at a canter.


For Darla Westlake of Dexter, OR, her usual training routine is to ride every other day.


"There was a lot of deep sand - up to 12 inches deep - in a lot of places on the Dubai ride. We're only two hours from the coast where we live in Oregon, so we've conditioned on that kind of sand."


Many endurance riders compete on geldings, but Wendy Meredini of Ridgecrest, CA, prefers mares. "I like that independent edge; they take care of themselves." Of Fire Mountain Flikka she adds, "This mare is very sweet, there's not a bitchy bone in her body."


For Merendini and Flikka, living on the Mojave Desert at 2,500 to 2,700-feet elevation meant no shortage of sand to train in. Her typical training week would be to ride four days with one 15- to 20-mile ride, one 12-mile ride, one 8-mile ride at a fast gallop, and one day of hill riding with trotting uphill and walking downhill. Meredini also includes a good deal of long catering work. "We have trails that climb 1000 feet in four miles so the horses get a good cardio-vascular workout. I think flat rides (like Dubai) are even harder than mountainous rides because the horses keep using the same muscles pretty much the whole 100 miles."


"We've always scoped out the courses we're going to compete on in World Championships, and then train accordingly," notes Valerie Kanavy of Fort Valley, VA. "I think this makes a big difference in actual competition. We live in a rocky, mountainous area, so the only place to work on sand was the race track at Middleburg Training Center."


Look for Part 2 of 3 on Monday, October 16!



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