Grace Ramsey and Sheikha Madiya bint Hasher Mana al Maktoum

3. Ride Day - Getting Started

The race venue itself was well organized. Steady construction during the weeks before the race, details finished just in time - everything ready by morning. They had a nice press room set up with wireless Internet access. It all seemed so pleasant and personal - very friendly venue. Especially after the intensity of the World Championship just three weeks earlier. A much different atmosphere.

During the early weeks John and I focused on stories, photos, history, work, regular Endurance Net stuff. And during the ride, John stayed focused on the whole event, while I spent the day on the trail with a trio of riders.

Since arriving in UAE in January, I've become involved with the story of Sheikha Madiya - the young UAE woman who is hooked on horses and Endurance in a big way. She decided at the last minute to enter the President's Cup on one of her best horses - a good horse that has been brought on slowly and correctly, he finished well in a 120km ride earlier this season, and she felt he was ready for a slow ride, completion, at the Presidents Cup 160km event.

Madiya, Meg, Heather - early morning Well, I figured I could do the 'embedded reporter' thing and crew for Madiya. And the prospect of another day with Grace and Madiya was very appealing! I was also asked by the OC to take the Omega - the Crown Jewel Sponsors, out on the course at some point - maybe they'd like to come out on the trail and help crew for a loop- it would certainly give them a differenct perspective on the sport to follow the turtles.

Eventually there would be three riders to crew for, so it became even more attractive to spend the day on the trail, rather than in the press room. Madiya would ride her grey gelding Saif al Arab. Heather Stevens from Montana would be riding Madiya's horse Aliya. Heather Stevens - early morning Heather originally came to Abu Dhabi to ride Aliya in the Childrens race, the day after the President's Cup - but discovered that she couldn't because of a technicality in the definition of 'children' - so Grace and Madiya offered her Aliya for the Presiden'ts cup.

It would be the Aliya's first 160km ride, but she did will in a 120km ride in January, so it seemed reasonable. Meg Sleeper would be riding Bint Dana (Toady) - another of Madiya's horses. Toady had a good base and conditioning, but also had never attempted a 160km ride. Meg and Troilus shipped over as first string for the World Championship, but a developing bruise/abcess kept them from starting, and they were to sit out the WEC, but hopefully be in good shape for the President's Cup (3 weeks after). Not to be, Troilus didn't vet through to start the Presidents cup and Grace and Madiya offered her Toady. So the trio of three women, two mares, and one gelding (poor guy) were ready to start - plans were made to ride a steady, conservative ride, and hopefully finish all three horses. This would be Madiya's first 160km attempted in UAE, quite a few eyes were upon her - but she kept telling us 'it's just another ride - we'll do our best - not to worry'.

Start - Rigs John and I drove out to the Endurance Village (this one is called a village, not a city) early in the morning - left the hotel around 4:30 with Cidinha Franzao (Brazil) and Pamela Burton (also invited as 'press' to come cover the event). Dark drive, not much traffic - mostly trucks - we arrived at the village around 5:30 - time to drop stuff off in the press room, and start taking photos of horses warming up in the dark. It's always so exciting in the early morning, before a ride - calm horses, dancing horses, bucking horses... hushed concentration. I walked out on the course to get some photos of the first riders leaving - zoom, they're off. The rigs already heading down the trail behind them.

The OC had earlier decided to prohibit crew rigs from the course for the first two loops, and also the Tora Bora (4th)loop - a section of steep rolling hills, which had seen a few rig wrecks in the past. But sometime between the decision, and printing of this decision ,and the first rider meeting, the decision was reversed. I think half the riders were ready to mutiny if they couldn't have their support rigs. But they did at least limit it to one rig per rider. (in theory) Meg Sleeper and Bint Dana (Toady) at the Start

I got a few pictures and went back to meet up with Grace. She was ready to head out to crew. Juan (from Spain) was going also, and I joined them. Here we go. A little rushed as we set out to find the riders - all four wheels off the ground, took a corner pretty hard and I saw a few items go flying across the dash board and out the window. Oops, no going back. Closed the window after that. We found the trio, settling in to a nice trot - the three horses were happy being together - and on these courses the track is wide enough that they remained side by side all day. A nice picture - they looked more like a wagon team than endurance horses at times. I took up my photographers station through the sunroof of Madiya's truck and away we go.

We caught up with Bill Stevens (Heather's dad) and Dave Augustine (Meg's husband) in the other rig and settled in to the day. The first loop was pretty fast - steady trot and some cantering. Madiya got kicked at one point when too many horses crowded around an obstacle - she took it in the ankle. Pretty pissed... but 'at least it was me, not the horse.' and 'I'm gonna find that sucker and kick his butt'. Her stirrup got pretty bent up too - we ended up changing saddles at the first hold. But no serious injury.

FEI Website

HH President's Cup
February 17, 2005
Abu Dhabi, UAE

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