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[RC] [Endurance Riding: News] Malaysia WEC: USA to select Team - Steph Teeter

September 9, 2008

Twelve horse and rider teams have gathered in Florida for the final selection of the squad to represent the United States (United States Equestrian Federation - USEF) in the 2008 FEI World Endurance Championship in Malaysia, November 6-9. Of these 12 horse and rider pairs, 6 will be selected to travel to Malaysia and 3 alternates will be named.

Friday September 12, is the first day of a 3 day evaluation session designed to determine which horses are the fittest and which riders and crews are the most capable and prepared for the ultimate international endurance challenge. All US hopefuls will begin the session with meetings and discussion Friday evening, introducing the staff to the riders and explaining the itinerary for the weekend.

Saturday morning will begin with a physical evaluation of each of the horses to determine base levels of metabolic and physical fitness. All will then participate in a 40 mile controlled demonstration 'competition'. Riders will be released in stages, 2 at a time, and will traverse the 40 mile course in 10 mile increments at pre-determined speeds, beginning at 10mph, and increasing speed in each consecutive phase, not to exceed 15mph. Ambient conditions will factor into the speed determinations. After each 10 mile phase, a veterinary check will be staged to evaluate the horse's condition.

In addition to the horse's evaluation, riders and crews will be expected to perform at peak efficiency and this will also factor in to the final selection. The full 'team' of horse, rider and crew will be on site for the demonstration ride, and will be expected to demonstrate efficiency and competency. At the World Championship level, a good crew can make a huge difference in the ability to minimize recovery time, cool and care for the horse during holds, trouble shoot, and prepare horse and rider for the next phase. Minutes can be shaved off of final ride times in this way, and minutes can often make the difference between medal winning performances.

Conditions in Florida will be as close as possible to what the US team will experience in Malaysia. The session is being held at the Black Prong Equestrian Center near Ocala, in north-central Florida. The trails in this area are flat and sandy. Heat and humidity will still be relatively high and according to Vonita Bowers, USEF Endurance Director, USEF feels that this will be an ideal test to determine which horses and riders are best suited to compete in Malaysia.

Becky Hart, 3-time World Endurance Champion, is the USEF Chef d'Equipe and has been coaching the USEF team since she was appointed to the position several months prior. Becky is aware of the unique challenges facing US riders in Malaysia and the need to prepare and acclimate both horse and rider.

"Horses going to Malaysia, for the most part, will have proven their ability in humid conditions. We have two west coast horses, one lives in a micro-climate of high humidity, the other is training in a neoprene neck sweat and wool rump rug in 104 degree weather. He wears his winter blanket at all times.

"The horses will be tested at the final training session over a 40 mile fast-paced course in Florida. Blood will be taken every 10 miles to compare fitness to the prior training session and to see where the horses are now in fitness. The horses will stay in Florida until they ship out, wearing their blankets to reduce hair coat growth as much as possible."

The USEF selection committee (Fred Clusky, Tom Johnson, Linda Howard, Jim Wiseman and Kathy Downs) will determine the final 6 horse and rider pairs to represent the United States. Also contributing to the selection will be USEF Chef d'Equipe and 'coach' Becky Hart and the USEF 3-member veterinary panel of Jim Bryant DVM, Tom Timmons DVM and Duncan Peters DVM.

Sunday, day 3 of the Florida session, all 12 horses will once again stand for a veterinary evaluation, similar to a Best Condition judging. Sunday evening the final selection will be made and the 6 member traveling squad and 3 alternates will be announced.

In 2010 the United States will host the World Endurance Championship as part of the World Equestrian Games. While USEF is determined to ship the best possible squad to Malaysia for the 2008 Championship, they are keeping their sites on the 2010 goal as well.

According to Becky, "We are just setting out on a new program for world competition and to develop a TEAM. Malaysia will be a test to gauge how we are doing. It takes time to develop a team, especially among independent endurance riders. How would you like someone telling you what pace to ride and with whom? Yet that is what our riders must do if we are to have any kind of team strategy. Winning for individual glory is not the goal. A rider may need to sacrifice an individual gold medal so the team can have a solid finish. This is what we are asking our best riders on their best horses
to do. Wait 'til the WEG in Kentucky. By then we should really have this team thing down."

With just 4 weeks left before shipping, the United States is now focused on choosing the best possible team to compete in Malaysia. Hopefully the efforts of the USEF staff and the hard work and focus of the riders will pay off with a medal performance in Malaysia.

Posted By Steph Teeter to Endurance Riding: News at 9/09/2008 07:56:00 PM