Monday, July 03, 2023

18-year old Belle Stroh wins Virginia’s Old Dominion 100 Endurance Ride

Transitioning from the show world, Belle Stroh has found her sport

Monday July 3 2023
by Merri Melde
photo by Becky Pearman

After winning Virginia’s Old Dominion 100 Endurance ride on June 9th, 18-year-old Belle Stroh reflected on an already long and accomplished riding career.

The teenager from Hackett, Arkansas, pretty much grew up in the saddle, starting at age 3. “I grew up riding in the English showing world in hunt seat flat starting age 8,” Belle said. But by age 11, she knew it just wasn’t her thing. “I got really bored in the show world and I wasn’t having a good time getting all dressed up,” she said. “And then I found Endurance.”

Annetta Tinsman, who’d been teaching Belle to ride, had previously ridden Endurance, and she was willing to help Belle get into it. Belle didn’t have an eligible Endurance horse - her show mare was an old Morgan with an old injury - and so began Belle’s career as a catch rider. (At age 11!). One learns a lot riding different horses, and to this date, Belle has partnered with 14 horses in Endurance rides for a total of 77 rides, 1410 Endurance miles and 1120 Limited Distance miles.

Belle’s first Endurance ride, a 25-miler that she finished in mid-pack at Cowboy Country in Oklahoma in 2016, was an eye-opener. “I absolutely hated it!” she laughed. “It was muddy, it was hot, I was scared out of my mind! And when we crossed that finish line, I was like, ‘I don’t think I can do this again!’ My mom said, ‘Well, we already signed you up for the next one.’ And I said, ‘Oh, ok.’”

Pulls in her next three of five rides might have discouraged her, but Belle already knew Endurance was her sport. She finished her first season completing 6 of 9 Limited Distance rides and she was in love with the sport. “I was so in love with it, I decided I was never going to do anything else but Endurance rides. And if I could make a career out of it, then by god that’s what I was going to do!”

Along the way, she’d also fallen in love with Renegade Aladd, aka Bubba, whom she partnered with in five of those first-season rides. He was her first ‘project’. “He was a beast. He’s still a beast!”

Belle moved up to 50-mile rides in her third season, still catch riding for other owners and riding Bubba.

“My first 50, I thought I was going to die. We hit mile 25 and Annetta said, ‘You hit your wall? Oh, you’re fine,’ and we just kept going. And when we finished, I was like, oh my God, I just want to keep going. Is it over? Is it over?”

Then in 2019, along came Thee Satara JD.

“Laura Hudson had started her, and we [Belle and Annetta] got her as a 6-year-old. Annetta tried a couple of rides on her and didn’t care for her, so she wanted to sell her. I did my first ride on her [at Indian Country] so I could advertise her. She had that spunk that my first mare had, and I was like, oh crap, I like her, I’ve got to buy her now.”

The pairing has been an auspicious one. In 2021, the duo stepped up to 75 milers at Racing Stripes in Texas (finishing in 6th place) and Fort Howes in Montana (7th place), and Racing Stripes again the next year (4th place).

Near the end of the 2022 season, Belle and Satara attempted their first 100 miler in the Armadillo ride in Texas, where they garnered a 4th place finish.

“It was so fun and it was such an amazing experience. And it was such a beautifully run ride. I’m so excited the National Championships are happening there this year.”

And early this season Belle got the idea to try the Old Dominion 100, “the Beast of the East”, with Satara. “It had never been on my radar before because it’s so far away, but I looked at the calendar, and I said to my dad, ‘We need to get a 100 done so I can qualify for the National Championships!’ He said all right, and we drove to Old Dominion.

“And I proceeded to only tell about two people I was going to the OD, because everybody I’d talked to had said it was going to be lucky if I finished, because there was such a high pull rate. So I thought, I’m not going to tell anybody I’m going to the OD if I’m going to get pulled. It would be so awesome if I came in top ten; it’d be so awesome if I finished. But I was just going to go and have a good time.”

Old Dominion is about a 17-hour drive from Arkansas, but with truck issues on the way, it took closer to 20 hours. It didn’t faze Belle or her parents at all.

Despite the fact nobody in Belle’s family had any interest in horses - other than her grandma who rode a bit out of necessity because she lived on a farm - her parents have been taking her to Endurance rides and crewing for her all these years.

“My dad and my mom are the best crew that I could ever ask for,” Belle said. “They have taken painstaking amounts of time to take me to these rides and to crew for me and to help me condition these horses, and they are just so amazing that I can’t thank them enough for it.

“They didn’t know a thing about horses, but now they do. I crack up when people watch my dad crew, and ask him if he rides. He’ll say no, but he’s over there massaging Tara’s butt. My parents are on top of it!”

The OD 100 was a dream ride with smooth sailing. After riding an afternoon loop together with Jennie Heilman, they arrived at the 70-mile vet check in first place, but there Jennie was pulled. “I don’t like to say that I’m competitive, but I am really competitive! Satara had a lot more gas in the tank than I thought she had. So we moved out by ourselves on the next loop.”

The last 13 miles were in the dark, but as some of the green glow lights had been pulled along part of the stretch, Belle had to use her flashlight to look for ribbons. She wasn’t sure at that point she was even on the right trail, and she wasn’t sure she was still in first place, but she realized it when they arrived at the last vet check at 92 miles.

“When we left the last vet check, I just tied my reins in a knot so they weren’t super long, and I set my hands on Tara’s neck. It was a pretty flat stretch, and she just cantered home the last 8 miles. And that was my favorite part of the ride - she just picked up her little canter and off we went!”

And not only did they win the Old Dominion 100, Satara won the Best Condition award, judged that night an hour after each of the top ten crossed the finish line. And the next morning Satara also won the Old Dominion trophy, presented to the horse/rider team which has demonstrated optimum performance based on its post-ride recovery and condition after completion of the 100 mile ride. Not a bad haul after hoping just to finish the ride!

“I’ve been doing Endurance for a while, but I really only started getting competitive this year," Belle said. "It’s been cool to watch Satara go from bottom of the pack, to top ten, to winning or coming in second place in almost every ride I put her in.”

In addition to her parents, Belle credits Annetta Tinsman for getting her and Satara to where they are now.

“Without Annetta, I would have never done Endurance, because she’s one of the only people in my area who does Endurance besides me. I give a lot of credit to her for how she got me started. She taught me to ride properly, she taught me how to take care of horses and how to train. She’s been instrumental in creating the rider I am today.”

Belle currently attends the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) studying for her Bachelors degree in Biomedical Science so she can go to medical school to get her doctorate in physical therapy. But she still finds time to ride Endurance and spend time with Annetta.

“She lives five mile away from my parents, so I go out there and I start horses for her and help her give lessons. She’s turned into my adopted grandma. I’ve spent so much time with her on trails.”

Annetta was the least surprised by Belle’s win in the Old Dominion 100. “Belle started riding with me when she was 8 years old. She started doing shows and trail rides. She is an exceptional young lady, and when she decides to do something she is all in. I have not seen her get discouraged with anything. She graduated high school a year early and is in college. She works and goes to school and still finds time to ride and be very competitive. I can't put into words how proud I am of her.”

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