Friday, April 02, 2010

California at a canter - Full Article

Susan Hack
April 01. 2010

I fly to San Francisco and drive to Fort Bragg for a blind date with my northern Californian travelling companion. A spunky 14-year-old with golden blonde hair, my new friend is named Citron. She's an endurance race horse, a palomino mare, half-Arabian and half-Akhal Teke, an obscure but smooth-gaited breed from Turkmenistan.

The Arab world has been breeding endurance horses for centuries; in the United States, however, the equine ultra-marathon was introduced in 1955 by Wendell Robie, a Californian businessman who wondered whether horses no longer used for transportation could match the feats of their Old West counterparts. He founded a 100 miles-in-one-day race, now the annual Tevis Cup, on a mountainous 19th-century Pony Express trail between Lake Tahoe and California’s former capital, Auburn. Today endurance races consisting of 25- to 100-mile courses over natural landscape take place in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. Not surprisingly, the sport favours pureblood Arabians, desert horses bred for stamina.

A casual rider since childhood, I've signed up for a September week of endurance training in Mendocino County, whose terrain includes redwood forests, cattle flats and miles of undeveloped beach. My host is Lari Shea, who won the 1989 Tevis Cup on a pureblood Arabian stallion and has since competed with various crosses, including the offspring of Arabians and Russian Orlovs, a trotting breed introduced to the United States during the Cold War.

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