By JIM SULLINGER
The Kansas City Star
Think of this race as the Iditarod or Tour de France — but on horseback.
The Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race began Sept. 3 in Santa Fe, N.M., with about 60 riders and 160 horses and finished Saturday in Gardner.
About half the riders reached the final day. Some dropped out because of dehydration. One broke his collarbone and shoulder in Dodge City when his horse reared.
The race (participants preferred to call it a ride) covered 515 miles. Only two riders completed the route without changing horses. Many wore spurs attached to tennis shoes. Instead of cowboy hats, they wore helmets.
Riders spent nine to 12 hours in the saddle each day for three days, rested and traveled a day, then repeated another three days at a different location along the old Santa Fe Trail.
Scott Griffin of Seattle won the race, competing in his first horse endurance competition. His reward was a belt buckle presented Saturday night by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. There was no prize money, just bragging rights.
Event organizer Rob Phillips worked 18 months to put it together. Was it everything he had hoped?
He was quick to say it was not. Two horses were killed and their riders injured when they were hit by a car south of Canton, Kan., on the ninth day.
“It was very unfortunate,” Phillips said. “Was there anything we could have done different? Well, we could have not put on the event.”
One of the injured riders, Teresa Wilcox of Chadwick, Mo., returned Saturday and rode a 15-mile leg.
Jeanie Hauser, a veterinarian from Leavenworth County, said all the horses received regular inspections by veterinarians each day. About five or six horses a day were eliminated for minor ailments.
“They have fared very well, and that’s because people have been taking very good care of their horses,” she said.
Phillips said some riders often walked miles to rest their horses. Water troughs were spaced every five miles.
Although injuries are rare in endurance horse racing, there is an element of danger.
Rick Medlin, a team rider from Paola, Kan., said Saturday that he could have gone three or four more days and wasn’t saddlesore.
“The most enjoyable thing is seeing the country and riding horses,” he said. “It’s the adventure of a lifetime.”
Rick Lee, a rider from Adams, Neb., said wearing the right clothes was important, especially for riders spending hours in the saddle.
A rider wearing just a pair of jeans would finish the day with badly battered legs.
To increase protection, he said, many riders wore pantyhose or bicycle pants underneath their jeans.
Kept close by, he added, were jars of skin ointment.
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