Published August 14, 2009
ALVIN — While many people head to the gym to stay active, Alvin resident and Alvin Community College computer instructor Mike Maul heads for the saddle.
Since the mid-1990s, the former Silicon Valley engineer with a Ph.D. from MIT has been challenging himself — and his horses — by competing in endurance races throughout the southwestern United States.
“It’s an extreme sport and you find that after you and your horse are conditioned, you both really love to do it,” Maul said. “It’s a sport that has kept me active with goals that are more challenging than being on a treadmill or an exercise bike.”
Sanctioned by the American Endurance Ride Conference, the events are classified by categories including 25-, 50- and 100-mile rides.
“We sometimes have multi-day events where we will do 50 miles a day for five days,” Maul said. “I typically do 20 to 25 50-mile endurance rides each year.”
For many competitors, the Western States Trail Foundation Tevis Cup Ride is the epitome of the sport in America. Considered the “oldest modern-day endurance ride,” the event takes riders from Lake Tahoe, Nev., through the “High Sierra” into California.
“It goes up to 9,000 feet and 100 miles later finishes in Auburn — there are 42,000 feet of ups and downs during the ride and takes most of us 23 to 24 hours to complete,” Maul said. “There’s only about 2,400 people in the world who have completed this ride in the last 50 years and some more than once. Typically, 150 riders start the ride each year and less than half complete it because we want to make sure the horses stay in good health.”
“We ride along cliffs in the dark and depend on our horses to keep us safe,” he said. “That’s the hardest ride I’ve ever done.”
According to Maul, to compete in endurance racing both the horse and rider need to be conditioned and maintain top health throughout each event and off season.
“To condition a horse is very much like you training for a marathon,” he said. “Since we don’t have mountains here, I train the horses for long distances at Jack Brooks Park (in Hitchcock) and Galveston Beach and Quintana Beach for trotting in the water and sand for resistance training.”
Maul’s interest in riding was eventually spawned by his wife, Cyndi, who has been riding for 38 years and competing in dressage shows for more than 25 years.
“I didn’t learn to ride until after I was 50,” he said.
Despite both their love of horses and riding, they seldom ride together.
“We have six horses between us and one of us has to stay home when the other is away. When she’s showing, I’m home taking care of the other horses and when I’m competing, she’s home taking care of them,” Maul said.
For information about endurance racing and the AERC, visit www.aerc.org.