The United States endurance team was focused. They had worked hard and spent enormous energy training and traveling to selection trials while spending many weeks away from home and family. As the competition drew near, they were confident and ready. However, this is an athletes life; the hoping, training, and perhaps, realization of the dream. The disappointment for the team on not reaching their goal of a medal was large, as the commitment to the cause was total. However, the riders are already looking down the trail towards the next event.
Deborah Reich finished the endurance course in 18th position with a ride time of 8:42:55 competing at an average speed of 18.36 kph. She was the only United States rider to finish the course. Her eight hour plus finish is considered a good time in US rides, but was still an hour behind the winning time of Maria Alvarez Ponton. Reich comments on her last loop. “Since we were out of the team medal and I was too far behind the front runners to catch up and medal on an 11-mile loop, we decided to run my last loop conservatively to get at least one American horse completed,” she said.
“Juniper was strong but attentive and cooperative. She had a great showing at our team trials this summer at an 80 mile distance with more levation, heat and humidity, so I had high hopes for her at WEG. But 80 miles isn't 100 miles and a lot can wrong or right in the last part of a race. I have to say that June even exceeded my optimism in her performance on Sunday. She left on the last loop very strong and full of energy. We did the last loop alone which can be stressful for a horse particularly near the end, and in the last two miles quite a few horses were heading out on the loop as we came in. Juniper stayed focused and confident.”
“Riding as a team is very different than an individual race. I think it was a good idea to practice together, and it helped the horses stay confident and calm at the start, and for us to run as a group the first three loops and hold our position on the course. I think we were all pleased about the quality of the US horses.”
What did she think of the course? “It was a beautiful course, with good footing to allow speed,and enough creek crossings and turns to be a bit technical and give the horses a breather. Our road crew came from all over the country to volunteer and made a big difference. They were eager and well-trained, and it's always a relief to see friendly faces on the trail. I really enjoyed being with the riders from other countries, everyone was professional, friendly and a good sport. I was a little concerned about mayhem at the start of a championship race, and June did a little HIHO Silver rear just before the start, but even thought it was fast out of the gate it was very orderly and courteous and we passed through narrow gates and around turns without a problem.”
Heather Reynolds left the last loop in second place and raced in with France’s, Jean - Philippe Frances. “We ran with the big dogs today and it almost worked,” said Reynolds. “I was fourth over all but then failed my last trot-out for a mild but consistent hind end lameness. I am proud of what Sam did today. He finished in 7:40 and was five minutes behind the reigning world champion.”
“At the finish I was with a French rider and I decided to take the risk and race in just in case one of the first 3 riders got pulled,” she continued. “Sam ran like the wind and was so cheerful about it. I really feel that the hind end lameness is due to his lack of 100 mile experience and that he has one hell of a bright future as a world class endurance horse.”
Deborah Reich is coached and trained by Heather and Jeremy Reynolds. “We’ve made huge advances to the team and we’re starting to bring good results to the table,” said Jeremy Reynolds. “We gave them a run for their money.”
There is a good incentive to win but no animosity with other teams. “Sheikh Mohammed has driven this sport and opened the door for people like us to train and make a career. We wouldn’t have a market for our horses without his support,” continued Reynolds.
Meg Sleeper was eliminated at the fourth Gate. “I am sure it is no surprise that it was very disappointing to be eliminated at 76 miles,” said Sleeper. “However, I was thrilled with my horse and really the entire US effort. All of the US horses were competitive. As you know, a 10 hour 160 km riding time is simply not competitive at the world level and we all planned on trying to achieve eight hour finishing times. It was exciting to see that we were all on track for that and I think the quality of our horses is excellent. My horse maintained the speeds I asked of him on course, but at the exit examination before leaving on the fifth loop, his CRI spiked, which was the cause for his elimination. It was an appropriate decision. He was tired; he has done those speeds before, but he is only eight years old and perhaps he didn't have the bottom that an older horse would have, or perhaps it just wasn't his day. In any case, he has bounced back really well and is fine now.”
Jan Worthington at age 70, the oldest equestrian at the games, was feeling the let-down the day after the ride. Worthington has been competing for the US at International competitions for twenty-five years. Her mount, Golden Lightning, was eliminated at Gate three for lameness. “I’ve spent four years of my life on this,” she said. “I left my farm for two winters and trained in Florida. Before this Lightning has never had a lame day.”
Emmett Ross, Endurance Discipline Manager commented on the trail. “The course was more difficult than many riders had imagined, but the finish rate was still excellent,” he said. “It was a technical course with a 55% completion rate, the largest number for a Championship ride. There was a 40% completion rate in Malaysia.”
Photos: US Team-Loop One, Deborah Reich, Heather Reynolds and Jan Worthington Photos by Pamela Burton