Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
by Marzena Piwko, AERC#M39555, President of "Rackers Wear" and the proud owner of "Ridin Miss Daisy" KMSH
The trail is widening and we can see the clearing ahead. The last turn marker and the big sunny field opens up. Here it is, the fat black arrow pointing ahead with those magic letters "FINISH".
Daisy pricks up her ears and lunges ahead in a full gallop. I drop the reins, get up in my stirrups and just let her go. We pass the finish line among the hooting and cheering spectators and our delighted crew members. "Ridin Miss Daisy", my little Kentucky Mountain mare has just finished her first AERC National Championship, 50–mile endurance ride coming up 6th out of 96 starters!
Endurance racing is a very particular discipline, long ago reserved for the thin-skinned flighty Arabians, bred for generations for the purpose of covering long distances at speed with minimal food and water requirements. The modern distance riding is now more than open to other breeds and there are many non-Arabs successfully completing in 50 and 100-mile rides. Some of these new breeds have accumulated impressive mileage records over the past years.
There are however, very few that try to compete at the highest levels – in events that require speed as well as stamina, where the competition is fierce.
In the USA, American Endurance Ride Conference is the main organization sanctioning endurance rides around the country. Once a year, AERC organizes its National Championship event for its members. To qualify for the race, the horse and rider are required to have already completed 250 to 500 endurance miles for 50 and 100- mile distance races respectively. This year’s Championships were held in Asheville, North Carolina on the grounds of the beautiful Biltmore Estate. We barely squeezed in with only 250 miles completed, which made it even harder for Daisy against the more seasoned and mostly Arabian competitors.
If six years ago somebody told me that a little, scrawny gaited horse I bought for the kids would take me to national levels in endurance riding, I would’ve probably just laughed.
I had no real idea what "endurance riding" was, I would call it a success if I was able to get back from the trail ride in one piece, without falling off several times!
Back during that time, my first horse an off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding, fell ill and I had no choice but to bring him home from the stable where he was boarded. Next measure of course, required I find him some company. After some internet research, we nailed it down to the "mountain horses" – they were supposed to be hardy, gentle with kids, with great feet (a must after an ailing Thoroughbred) and had that reputable "smooth gait" that was heard to be great on trails. We finally found a 3.5 year old chocolate Kentucky Mountain mare with her cute 3-month old filly in Liberty, Kentucky. Why buy one, if we could get two in a package deal?
The mare, Daisy was not started under saddle yet, but I was assured by the breeder they were "born broke". Oh, yeah I could deal with that!
Just a couple of weeks later, a big rig pulled down our driveway and a little chocolate mare emerged, followed by a lively and spirited, fluffy little filly.
I have to be honest, it wasn’t love at first sight. First of all, Daisy was small, barely 14-1hh, a midget compared to my 16hh TB and looking so much different than anything I’ve ever seen in our fox hunting, show–jumping country. First off, she was only interested in her food and decided the kids were the competition which she chased off with her teeth exposed. So much for kid-friendly attitude!
But now that she was here we decided we had to somehow make it work. So after giving her few weeks to get adapted, I was encouraged to put my old English Crosby saddle on her and off we went on the trail. Yes, she seemed "born broke" as we both survived that first ride and several more after that and slowly but surely started warming up towards each other. Daisy turned out to be a very brave, intelligent and sensitive horse and after all, she showed tolerance of all my beginner’s blunders (and they were endless).
Time passed and she quickly grew another 2 inches! I still had no idea how to make her "gait" – she only trotted, since I started her in a jumping saddle and probably made all the training mistakes along the way.
Thankfully, with some help from a Paso trainer, she started gaiting and was slowly morphing like a caterpillar into a butterfly and has become a rather surprising and competitive trail horse.
It was a few years later when we went for our first 25-mile Competitive Trail Ride. I figured she was in a good shape and we could try something different than riding the trails around the house or going to the local paces.
CTR’s are different than Endurance rides and the pace is set (usually much slower) and the horses are judged primarily for their condition and attitude after the finish, not speed.
We didn’t do well… as a matter of fact we placed 34th out of 37 competitors, but I didn’t dwell on the result.
After Daisy left the pack of horses, and it seemed like she enjoyed chasing down cars along the roadside for several miles (ignoring all my attempts to slow her down) it became obvious she was interested in racing, not just racking up simple trail miles and demonstrating the "perfect pace" for the judges reward.
That was the day I realized my "Seabiscuit" was born. Endurance riding was the next logical step to take and we both never looked back from that point. Since then, Daisy finished seven 50-mile races, winning one, coming second once and after that always placing in the Top Ten. Our 6th place in Biltmore, in AERC National Championships this September 2012 was by far the best result and the toughest race. We have graduated the ranks and are now looking forward to start the 100-mile rides next in 2013.
Competition at this higher level does not come without its problems. I am constantly learning and we have to learn to deal with all kinds of unexpected issues, from training mishaps to stomach ulcers, but at the end of the day it seems to humble and make us feel worthy. Daisy still exceeds my expectations every single time and event and I’m delighted to see her happy to do what she really wants to. Our synergy was found together out of trial and error, but we found and accepted each other for who we were and the enjoyment of the game.
I believe that horses, like people, have their own special talents and if we are lucky enough, we find a companion to pursue those talents together. With some luck and much desire, we can achieve great success, even if the odds are against us.
For little "Ridin Miss Daisy" and me, it is taking on Arabians in endurance and we are just warming up!