Friday, March 02, 2007

US: Endurance in Arizona

Horse and rider going long way

Kim Goetz
Special for The Republic
Mar. 2, 2007 12:00 AM

Stephanie DuRoss of Queen Creek has covered nearly 5,000 miles of trails on horseback.

An endurance rider for 19 years, DuRoss, 33, and her horse, an Arabian gelding named Hadji, have logged half of those miles on trails all over the country.

"I've had a phenomenal year with him (each of) the last two years," said DuRoss of the gelding she purchased for $1,500 from a rancher six years ago. Little did she know how well this former hunting mount would do as an endurance horse.

DuRoss and Hadji were recognized for their most recent achievements at the American Endurance Ride Conference in Nevada last week, taking three national and four regional awards.

The horse and rider team was among three in the nation to receive a gold medal for the completion of a series that included five multiday rides that covered 155 to 250 miles each.

"That's pretty huge," DuRoss said. "It takes a good three years to get an endurance horse to do what he is doing now."

DuRoss said she has to take good care of her horse on and off the trail to get so many miles out of him.

A typical training day for the duo consists of a 20-mile ride on sand, hills and rock through the San Tan Mountain Park. In the world of endurance riding, limited distance trails start at 25 miles, DuRoss said.

Although the majority of the horses that compete in endurance are Arabians, all breeds are welcome and most that ride pleasure trails are conditioned enough to compete in limited distances, she said.

"The goal of endurance riding in general is 'to finish is to win,' " said DuRoss. "There are some people that go out there and just ride because they want to be with their horse."

Veterinary checks before, during and after the ride require horses to meet several physical criteria in order to continue on and complete the trail. DuRoss said finishing the trail is one thing, but to finish with your horse in the best condition is a huge accomplishment.

"The welfare of the horse is top priority," said Rusty Toth, ride manager for an upcoming endurance ride at McDowell Regional Park in Scottsdale. "That's where the challenge of the sport comes in. You have to know the fitness level of your horse."

DuRoss said she paces her ride depending on her horse that particular day. At times she will get off and run beside Hadji to save his energy so that he finishes stronger and in good condition.

"Each ride is different," said DuRoss. "I try and take care of him so he can take care of me."

DuRoss and Hadji will compete in a 55-mile endurance ride in Scottsdale. Although there are several endurance rides in Arizona, this will be the first in the Valley in some time.

The Scottsdale McDowell Mountain Endurance Ride will be April 7. It will include 25- and 55-mile rides.

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