She's won many endurance riding awards in her career
HEREFORD — For nearly 30 years, competitive endurance riding has been Marilyn Smart’s life. After a highly successful year in 2007, the Hereford resident is hanging up her helmet and retiring her saddle, looking forward to a more relaxing lifestyle with her husband of 50 years, Lee.
“I’m 68 years old, and this sport can take a lot out of you,” Marilyn said. “For 40 years, Lee has been nothing but supportive when it comes to my horses. I couldn’t have competed like this without him. So now it’s my turn to give back to him.”But Marilyn didn’t retire quietly. Hoping to achieve some “lofty goals,” on her way out, she set her sights on specific endurance competitions that she wanted to win, a kind of grand finale to top off her impressive endurance resume.
“I conferred with my trusty adviser, husband Lee, and together we decided to set another lofty goal and pursue it with vigor — I would train and condition my Morgans and compete for the Bill Stuckey Award.”
And that’s exactly what they did.
The Smarts logged more than 15,000 driving miles in 2007 alone, as they traveled to different endurance competitions in six states.
In a sport dominated by Arabian horses, a breed known for its stamina and endurance, Marilyn’s two horses were an exception. She won top honors and national recognition with two Morgan horses, brother and sister Excalibur Gabriel and Excalibur Annakate. Gabe was Marilyn’s primary horse during the competitions, carrying her 1,735 miles of the 2,095 total miles that she logged.
The year 2007 was a stellar one for Marilyn and her horses. They earned the Morgan Open High-Point Award two different times that year. In addition, Marilyn achieved a number of national accolades, to include a personal aspiration, the Bill Stuckey Award. It’s an award that honors a rider 65 years of age or older, who has the greatest number of miles in a season. Stuckey was a personal friend of Marilyn’s, someone she met when she started competing in endurance in the early ’80s. A highly competitive senior endurance rider, Stuckey actually died on the trail.
“He (Stuckey) was a legend in endurance riding then, as he is today,” Marilyn said of her friend. “I’m honored to receive the award bearing his name.”
Also in 2007, Marilyn and Gabe won the Pioneer Award, presented to the competitor with the most points in a multi-day event of 155 or more miles. She earned second place in the National Mileage Championship and was honored with six regional awards, to include first place wins in the Regional Point Standings, Southwest Region Featherweight Division and the Regional Rider Mileage Award for the Southwest Region.
Endurance riding is an equestrian sport based on controlled, long-distance rides, usually varying between 50 and 100 miles. There are, however, shorter rides for beginners and longer, multi-day events for the die-hard, experienced competitors like Marilyn Smart. It’s a sport that takes competitors and their horses through scenic country, faraway destinations, rugged trails and nights spent under the stars or in the sleeping quarters of horse trailers.
Riders chose their pace during a competition, making adjustments with changes in terrain and the horse’s condition. Before each ride, horses are inspected by a veterinarian to ensure they are fit enough to tackle the course.
In addition, horses are checked at different points throughout a race, where veterinarians look for soundness and dehydration. The horse’s pulse and respiration are taken at the veterinarian inspection points, as well. Veterinarians will eliminate horses from a competition if deemed unfit to continue.
Horses are fed and watered after the inspection, giving them a break before continuing on.
The following is taken from Marilyn’s 2007 competition experiences, in what she dubbed the “June Campaign.”
“Our posse, Lee and I, scout dogs Dingo and Spunky and my mounts Gabe and Annakate, left our home in Hereford at 5 a.m. on June 1st, on an odyssey that would take us through four states and cover 3,578 miles,” Marilyn wrote.
The first ride of that odyssey was the Pony Express out of Fort Shellbourne, Nev., a five-day, 250-mile ride through the rugged Shell Creek Mountain Range. On the third day of the competition, riders faced high wind and driving snow as they tackled an uphill climb over a mountainous pass. The weather was so cold that day, a vet check was cut from 45 minutes to 15 so the horses could stay warmed up.
“Fortunately, I was riding with three knowledgeable endurance riders that knew the trail,” Marilyn wrote in her journal. “As we continued to climb, the bad weather got worse. We were now riding in driving winds, sleet beating into our faces and almost white-out conditions ... It was all I could do to keep Gabe on the trail.” As riders dropped to the other side of the mountain, the weather let up. Marilyn recalls being “grateful but not surprised that Gabe never faltered as we rode on to the finish line.”
The fourth day was much easier. The riders stayed in lower elevations and snow was minimal. On day five, Mother Nature gave the riders a welcome reprieve, with a sunny day, calmer winds and temperatures in the low 80s. Marilyn and Gabe finished second overall. Seventy-one horse/rider teams started the competition, with 13 horse/rider teams completing all five days.
According to the American Endurance Ride Conference, in 2006 there were more than 3,000 Arabian and Arabian crosses involved with endurance competition, as compared with 60 Morgans. “Her accomplishments with our two Morgans are amazing, something we’re very proud of,” Lee said of his wife.
Marilyn’s attraction to horses goes way back, when she started riding as a teen on a ranch in Northern California. In 1970, Lee was stationed in Ethiopia, where Marilyn, her three daughters and one son all rode horses, competing in gymkhanas and open jumping classes.
From 1972 through 1975, the family lived in Germany, where they rode, as well. While living in Missouri, the family owned two horses, a thoroughbred and a paint. During that time, Marilyn competed in dressage. “I started endurance riding in 1980 when we were living in Southern California,” Marilyn said. “At that time, I was riding Arabians, and did well in regional competitions.”
When her two Arabs passed their competitive prime, Marilyn thought her endurance days might be over. But she acquired the two Morgans, trained and conditioned them, and started competing again, with Lee’s support.
Now that she has accomplished her competition goals, Marilyn is stepping out of endurance riding. She is selling her Morgans and plans to enjoy a life of leisure with Lee, golfing and traveling.
The following statistics are provided by American Endurance Ride Conference in the 2007 Yearbook of Endurance Riding:
• Marilyn Smart and Excalibur Gabriel finished first in the Southwest Region Featherweight Division, logging 1,735 miles with 3,608.5 division points.
• Marilyn Smart and her two horses Excalibur Gabriel and Excalibur Annakate finished first in the Southwest Region for the most miles, logging a total of 1,990 miles.
• Marilyn Smart and Excalibur Gabriel won first place in the Featherweight Division of the Belesemo Arabians Pioneer Award competition, with 1,305 miles and 2,528 points.
The 2007 American Morgan Horse Association Open Competition High Point and Medallion Report provided the following information:
• Excalibur Gabriel was the Morgan that won the champion honors for the 2007 Open Competition High-Point Award for endurance trail riding.
• Excalibur Annakate was the Morgan that placed fourth for the 2007 Open Competition High-Point Award for endurance trail riding.