Monday, May 03, 2010

My Biltmore Store - Mary Howell

This was my 11th year at Biltmore. I was transporting a friend's horse from SE Virginia and planning to crew for that friend and a few others in the FEI 100. We arrived just before dawn on Friday to find camp already almost full. After a few hours sleep, I headed over to registration to sell raffle tickets to help subsidize this year's AERC championship (visit for details). While there, I enjoyed catching up with old friends and meeting new ones as folks came by our table after registering.

Early that afternoon, Kathy Downs asked my if I could ride a horse for her in the 50. After checking with those I'd promised to crew for, who were very understanding, I squeezed in registration and vetting "Gibby" along with my other duties. To check tack, I took him out for a half hour before the ride briefing, and de-spooked him on the big rock you pass near the start. He was leery at first but then started licking it like a salt block - too funny!

Friday afternoon was windy and fairly cool, but ride morning was much warmer than the previous morning and I knew we were in for it. The 50's 7am start was mellow, thanks to Jeannie Waldron and Sarah Fletcher, who led at a steady trot. I enjoyed riding behind Meg Sleeper's veteran horse "Troy," who never broke a trot and barely broke a sweat as he negotiated the trail. HIs rider, Sarah from NH, was one of the many young riders there prepping for the Young Riders Championship in July.

Since this was Gibby's first 50, I eventually slowed up and came into the first hold around 8:40. Kathy's husband Stan helped me crew while I ran back to the trailer for a t-shirt and my favorite reins. Leaving on the 2nd loop, I hooked up with Leigh Ann Pauley who set a great pace. The first part of the trail went along the woods behind my rig, so I called out through the trees to my now-retired Shiloh, who was serving as a buddy horse that weekend and whinnied back as he recognized my voice. He seemed glad to have the day off!

After a long drink at the water tub, our horses headed off the riverbed into the hills and that's when my left stirrup broke as the bolt holding its bar in place came unscrewed. I sent Leigh Ann on while figuring out how to patch it together. Claire, a SE region rider who caught up to me, loaned me some wire but I ended up using my sponge string after taking about 15 minutes to try patching with the wire.

I needed to go slower anyway since Gibbey's owner wants to take him through the FEI series, which means 3 50s slower than 5 hours before trying an FEI 50. I rode the last half of the 2nd loop with Natalie Muzzio and Steven Hay, who were great company. Gibbey vetted through around 11:40, and by that time the heat and trail were starting to take their toll. My friend Sarah Schick's horse Legs was off so she was out of the 50, which was a real bummer since it was her birthday. Megan, my friend in the FEI 100, had also pulled. Teddy at RunningBear was very hepful in trying to help with my stirrup, but since we couldn't find the right size bolt and nut, I borrowed a stirrup from Lynn Kennelly,.

With no other horses to pull him along, Gibby was sluggish leading out on the last loop so we just walked along in the sun and heat until Steven Hay caught up. He explained that Natalie had rider optioned. They pulled us along at a better pace and halfway through, Sandy Thompson, one of my teammates (Biltmore lets you pick teams and gives out special awards) came blazing by on her wonderful mare. We stayed with her a bit, but then slowed since Steven just needed a completion to be able to go to Young Riders and I was close to being under the 5 hour mark. We crossed 8th and 9th with a 5 hour 6 minute ride time. I was so proud of Gibbey, who was 9 but had just been under saddle about a year. Kathy said I could ride him again for her!

Now I put on my crew hat and started helping Eone, Megan Savory's protege from South Africa who had already qualified for the WEG in Kentucky on one of Megan's other horse and was now trying to qualify a second horse, the same one I had ridden with Megan in the 2009 Biltmore 100. Shammi is an elegant, gentle Saddlebred cross who is easy to crew and trot out. I also enjoyed watching other finishing up their rides - Nicky Meuten's horse, who won the 75, looked fantastic cantering out on the last loop.

Sarah and went into town to get supplies and watch the Derby (I'd promised Eone some ice cream when she came into her last hold around 7:30pm). We drank margaritas in a nearby sports bar and had a great time watching the TB's who looked like they'd been mud wrestling as they came around the muddy track. That rain was heading our way from Kentucky, but it was still hot when we got back to camp and the pink of cookies and cream disappeared in about 10 minutes between Eone and Austin Shaffer, who she was sponsoring since Deb Shaffer's horse had been pulled.

Standing by the finish line around 9:30, we first watched Samantha Sandler and Elliptic canter across all by themselves looking great. Our riders came in about a half hour later (ended up 3rd and 4th), as spurts of rain came down here and then. By the time Shammi finished vetting through and I'd shown her for BC, it was well after 11pm and time for bed.

At awards the next morning, we learned the completion rate was lower than usual - 70% of the 50s and only about 50% of the 75s and 100s completed. There were some hard luck stories, but one of the worst was the horse Anne Hall sold to Mr Hasumi. She had flown the horse in from California and he had flown in from Japan, only for the horse to step on a screw somewhere between his pen and the way to the vets in and not even be able to start. Ann was amazingly composed when we talked, saying at least the vets caught it before it could have been a career ending injury.

Sarah had a chance to have the vets check her horse before we left and fortunately his lameness appears due to a minor issue. We were on the road by 10:30am and I reflected how fortunate my Biltmore experience had been (Our team of Sandy, Ruth Sturley and myself was 2nd team in the 50).

Every year, Biltmore can serves up a share of disappointment, but if you hang in there long enough in this sport, you'll eventually have enough good days to make up for the bad luck ones and be able share in the joys of your friends when they have their GREAT days! - Mary

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