Completed a 50-miler on OTTB

Completed a 50-miler on OTTB

Postby Starine » Tue Nov 21, 2017 3:33 pm

I'm so chuffed, I just have to share my story:

It started with an earnest Facebook post a few weeks after relocating from Iowa to the Charlotte, North Carolina area.

I’d done the hunter/jumper thing for years but loved trail riding and had always been keen on giving endurance a try. Additionally, I had heard stories about endurance riders collecting horses like Breyer models, and thus sometimes needing the assistance of other riders to exercise them and keep them fit. This seemed like an ideal fit for my broke, horse-less self. And to my surprise, I did find a mentor with extra horses some twelve miles away.

Patsy Gowen, long a fixture on Southeastern endurance riders and former ride manager of the Sand Hills Stampede, agreed to take me on. We rode mostly on weekends at the local greenway and sometimes at Sand Hills; Patsy on her decade horse, PW September Hero +/, and I on Hero’s experienced and older half-brother, Abraham Sonthan +. Abe-y Baby, at Patsy liked to call him, had been pulled from his most recent rides because of lameness but was just 55 miles shy of 2,000 LD miles. She felt strongly he had at least 55 miles left in him and loaned him to me for that fall’s Sand Hills Stampede and JD’s Carolina rides. As luck would have it, Abraham stayed sound through both rides. Though we finished towards the back, he was able to retire with his 2,000 miles and I had my first two completions. I was hooked.

Going into that winter Patsy voiced an idea, something that had started as a spark and clearly had been stewing in her brain for some time. Would I be willing to start riding her off-the-track Thoroughbred, Gamblin’ George? I was hesitant, to say the least. George had a reputation that proceeded him, and it could be described as disquieting at best.

A New York-bred sired by the venerable Say Florida Sandy, a winner of over $2 million in 98 starts, George did not find success on the racetrack and at first only limited success on the trails. Ridden by Patsy’s daughter he finished a promising fourth in his first ride, an LD, but then was pulled in his next two: The first due to lameness and the second for being over time after losing a shoe. That was in 2013, and George had not attempted a ride since. Patsy herself had taken him for a ride years earlier at Sand Hills that has gone down in infamy amongst the local endurance community: George propped and dumped Patsy on the trail, taking off at a gallop and disappearing amongst the pine trees. I’m told it took over three hours to find him.

The 2017 ride season started, and I achieved my goal of completing a 50. Several in fact, all on horses generously loaned out to me. Take No Prisoners on Dani’s Final Magic. Leatherwood on Sovereign Will. Black Sheep Boogie on Lord of Kings. Ride Between the Rivers on 24 Carrot Gold. Even an LD at Biltmore on SAS Rodeo Drive sandwiched in the middle. But nothing on George.

Truth be told, I couldn’t even fathom bringing George to a ride. When I wasn’t away for an actual endurance ride I was still riding him on the weekends on Patsy with mixed results. Some days he was relatively quiet, even docile. On others he was a loose cannon, sometimes bucking and kicking, or just flatly refusing to cross bridges or creeks. During one outing he dumped me after leaping a mere berm and galloped away before eventually being caught by another trail rider. I could only imagine how his misbehaviors would escalate at a ride, what with all of the energy and excitement. Or how poor his vet scores would be given his steadfast refusal to drink from streams and puddles during our training rides.

And then there was the matter of his feet. Despite attentive and regular farrier work as well as hoof supplements George was, as many Thoroughbreds are, prone to chips and nasty cracks in his front feet. (To this day, he bears a large crack up the center of each front foot, giving the appearance of cloven hooves.) This had rendered him extremely tender-footed and dependent on shoes for traveling any length of ground, be they sandy trails or gravel roads. Combined with his history for losing shoes it was hard to imagine George’s feet holding up long for several loops of trail at an endurance ride.

So after a lameness pull during this year’s Sand Hill Stampede, I began casting my net on Facebook for a mount for the upcoming Broxton Bridge ride. No takers.

“You could always ride George,” offered Patsy. I was not at all sold on the idea, instead envisioning myself getting bucked off while George tore down the trail past other horses and their disapproving riders. Or perhaps spending countless minutes in front of water buckets, fruitlessly pleading with him to drink.

But over the next few weeks something began to change in George. He began to settle down during his conditioning rides with only an occasional feel-good buck here and there. And newly shod, George now strode out confidently with his ears pricked and eager for more trail.

It was time to take a chance on George.

The day before the ride was rainy and cool. Patsy, having arrived first with Hero and George, texted that the two had settled in well but her stomach was “in knots” at the thought of me riding him the next morning. Gulp.

My fears were somewhat alleviated when I arrived at camp later that evening. George vetted in well and seemed unconcerned with all of the action going on around him, instead coolly eying the activity with nonchalant interest. He was the same way in the morning.

While everyone else left on time Patsy and I hung around for an extra twenty minutes before heading out, half-expecting some fireworks. But with the exception of some sidestepping and snorting as we headed out there were none. George quickly settled down and traded leading off with Hero for the rest of the way. There no bucks, kicks or spooks, nor did he try to run off with me. In fact, he was the perfect gentleman all day, and he genuinely seemed to enjoy himself.

George ate everything that was put in front into his bucket and even volunteered clean up what Hero left behind. So much so that he finished the day only fifteen pounds lighter than what he started at. He also stunned Patsy and I by drinking from nearly every tub and puddle he encountered on the second, third and fourth loops. This contributed to solid vet scores of almost entirely A’s and plusses for his gut sounds. George and I finished towards the back of the pack, but I couldn’t have been prouder.

(Also for pedigree buffs: George's granddam is a half-sister to Belmont stakes winner Caveat, as well as stakes winners Dew Line and Baltic Chill. She also apparently broke down --but survived, obviously-- in Personal Ensign's debut race back in 1986.)

Imagegeorge_broxton by Megan Grant, on Flickr
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Re: Completed a 50-miler on OTTB

Postby lurkey mclurker » Tue Nov 21, 2017 5:52 pm

Congrats to you and George!!! What a wonderful story all around. :)))))))))))
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Re: Completed a 50-miler on OTTB

Postby Starine » Wed Nov 22, 2017 2:01 pm

Thank you. We have another 50 this weekend and I hope he does just as well.
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Re: Completed a 50-miler on OTTB

Postby neighhey » Wed Nov 22, 2017 7:49 pm

Well done! And good luck on your upcoming ride!
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