Wed Aug 27, 2008 - 10:47 AM
By BECKY SILER/Correspondent
They came in droves. Hundreds of them to be exact. Horses, riders, pit crews and volunteers from 13 states converged upon Jubilee Park in Ivanhoe Thursday through Saturday.
Huge RV-style horse trailers rolled into the park beginning Wednesday for the inaugural Virginia Highlands 30- and 55-mile Endurance Challenges. Trailers were parked in neat rows until it seemed not another trailer would fit. But fit they did, and finally it appears that Jubilee Park has been revived.
The challenge was the idea of local endurance riders Don and Nikki Meuten of Ivanhoe, and Tom and Gina Hagis of Fries. For nearly a year, the couples have worked with the national forest service to plan the trail courses, set up a Web site, hire veterinarians and gather a core group of volunteers to host the event.
Jubilee Park, originally founded by the Ivanhoe Bridle Club in the mid-1980s, hosted its last major horse show in 1998. The park, which is nestled on approximately 14 acres along the New River just a quarter mile off highway 94 in Ivanhoe, is the perfect setting for hosting such events. With direct access to the state-operated New River Trail, recreational enthusiasts from all over can enjoy horseback riding, biking and walking from the park.
During the 1990s, the Ivanhoe Volunteer Fire Department held all-breed horse shows at Jubilee Park as fundraisers. After the last horseshow was hosted in 1998, the park lost its access into the grounds off Carbide Road, and had to close to the public for several years.
By 2005, a new road had been established off Trestle Road going under the New River Trail, and the fire department held its first poker run trail ride as a fundraiser at Jubilee Park. The annual poker ride has helped the fire department purchase new equipment. This year’s poker ride will be held this coming weekend Aug. 29 and 30 at Jubilee Park.
This past spring, the fire department and Wythe County officials met to discuss the fire department gaining control of the park grounds to host fundraisers and horse events on a regular basis. Once it was official, the volunteers from the fire department got busy cleaning up the over-grown areas of the park and tearing down the dilapidated arena.
Todd Hyatt, a 17-year member of the department, has been instrumental in reviving the park. He and other members have used mowers, weed trimmers and disking equipment until the park fairly shines once again.
Hyatt, an avid horse rider, said, “Our goal for Jubilee Park is to host horseshows and events to the caliber that they once were. To bring economy back to Wythe and Carrol counties in the form of recreational horseback riding and family fun.”
Hyatt partnered with Myers Lumber of Hillsville, which donated the boards needed to rebuild the riding arena. The fire department team is in process of working with the power company and the New River Trail officials to bring electricity into the park soon. It is expected to be fully operational with electric, water and a new arena by next spring.
Endurance rides are horse races along a marked course in the woods, which are sanctioned by the American Endurance Ride Conference. Endurance races range between 25 miles to 100 miles with numerous veterinary check points along the route to ensure safety of the horses. Although many of the riders ride to be competitive and finish first, the majority ride endurance rides to complete them and enjoy the scenery and friendships that are built along the way. The motto of the American Endurance Ride Conference is “To Finish is to Win.”
Any breed of horse or mule may enter endurance rides, but many endurance riders prefer Arabians and half-Arabians for their extreme athleticism, speed and heart recoveries.
Two weeks prior to the event, the organizers knew they had their hands full. The entries were piling in, and the two-day rides now had over 200 horses entered. More volunteers were rounded up to man the road crossings, water trucks and veterinary check points. Ivanhoe volunteer fire department would be crucial in their help with the water truck to fill water tanks for horses in camp. Thousands of gallons of water would be consumed during the three days.
Another local Fries couple, Bill and Nancy Sluys, helped the Hagises mark the trails, which consisted of a 55-mile continuous loop mainly along the Virginia Highlands horse trail. The 30-mile trail followed much of the same course, then separated from the 55’s to loop back to Jubilee Park after both rides had a vet check at Iron Mountain Horse Camp on Brush Creek Road each day.
The veterinary check points are mandatory, and are designed to give each horse a rigorous physical exam before it can continue on the trail. The horses must pass a cardiac recovery test, a lameness exam and an overall physical in which the veterinary team will check for soreness, wounds or fatigue which would impair the horse’s ability to complete the ride. After the horse and rider completes the course, a final veterinary inspection takes place to ensure that the horse is sound and would be fit enough to continue if necessary.
Thursday evening, ride manager Don Meuten conducted a pre-ride briefing for the 125 riders who were going out on Friday’s rides. Eighty-five 55-mile entries and 40 30-mile entries along with their pit crews and family members gathered near the stage to hear critical information about the trail and rules of the ride. Meuten teaches at the University of North Carolina Vet School, and his light-hearted jokes and bantering had the crowd roaring with laughter.
Friday morning dawned clear and cool- a perfect day for an endurance ride. The 55-mile ride started at 7 a.m., and the horses thundered out of camp to a call from the timer of “the trail is now open”!
Ivanhoe firefighter John Pearman came down to the old railroad trestle with his young nieces to watch the start. “It sounded like a car race starting with the pounding of all those hooves coming down the gravel road at once,” he said. Pearman, who’s been around horses all his life, mentioned he had never seen anything quite like the start of this horse ride.
Most of the technical part of the trail had to be negotiated by the horses in the first three miles as they climbed up out of the river bed on a narrow one-track trail. During the course, several elevation changes took place which had the horses ascending and descending a couple thousand feet.
Valerie Kanavy, a world champion endurance rider from Fort Valley had several horses entered. “The course was somewhat rockier than I expected, but the trail was fast, beautiful and well-marked,” she said. Kanavy finished second in the 55-mile ride on her Arabian mare “Saager.” Seventy-nine horses completed the 55-mile ride and 37 completed the 30 miler.
Friday evening, a supper was hosted by the Ivanhoe Civic League, whose president Maxine Waller headed up the crew. Following supper, an awards ceremony for Friday’s rides and a pre-ride briefing for Saturday’s rides were held. 55 mile rider Jeremy Reynolds of Richmond and his Arabian horse took top honors with a winning time of five hours and 43 minutes.
Saturday morning was cloudy and cool: “Another fine day for riding fast horses,” shouted Shelley Scott-Jones of Dalton, Ga., as she cantered past the photographer midday. Jennifer Wertz of Ivanhoe rode Randy Sayer’s horse “Flash” on the 30-mile ride Saturday. This was the first competitive event for the 4-year-old spotted walking horse and his rider. Sayers and his family have raised Tennessee walking horses in Ivanhoe for over 50 years and Sayers has shown horses at Jubilee Park since he was a young boy. Wertz and “Flash” came in 29th with a clean vet score.
With competitors attending from as far south as Florida and as far north as Pennsylvania, manager Don Meuten commented, “This is called a ‘tweener’ endurance ride. It’s between the north and the south, and everyone can’t resist the relatively easy travel distance.”
Overall, the comments heard from riders about the caliber of this event were positive and up-beat. Nearly all riders said they would return next year. Organizers are already planning for next year.
If you would like to attend the Ivanhoe Poker Ride and/or pig picking this Saturday at Jubilee Park, contact Todd Hyatt at (276) 620-0225 or Keith Burnett at (276) 699-2421.
Becky Siler is a freelancer writer who lives in Cripple Creek.