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Endurance horse ride draws teams from around region

May 29, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

MONT ALTO, PA. - More than 100 riders and horses took to the wooded and mountainous terrain of Michaux State Forest this weekend, each pair covering 30 to 75 miles of trails selected to test the participants' endurance.

"It takes a year to 18 months to condition a horse to do a ride," said Skip Kemerer, manager for the third annual Michaux Madness endurance ride.

He explained that riders and trainers condition the horses for rides harder than the ones they'll actually face. That leaves the horse with stamina after the competitive ride's end and allows it to pass veterinary checks, he said.

Large-animal veterinarians, like Dr. Nick Kohut, took the horses through a series of tests four times during the 75-mile rides. The tests included those examining the color of mucus, refill ability of the jugular vein, sounds from the gut, muscle tone, sores, ease of movement and overall attitude.

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"You clump multiple things together," Kohut said.

In one test, the veterinarian takes the horse's pulse, requires it to trot in a straight line 250 feet and back, and then waits a minute before taking the pulse again. The two numbers should be within four to eight beats of each other, said Kohut, who has been examining horses at endurance rides for 13 years.

The top 10 times in the 30-, 50- and 75-mile rides, combined with a clean bill of health, can result in "best condition" honors and points toward year-end standings.

Veterinarians reserve the right to pull a horse from competition, and at some events, that can be 30 percent of the competing teams, he said.

Kohut and Kemerer shared stories from other events with the 123 riders, ages 14 to 69, at briefings on the evenings before the early-morning starts Saturday and Sunday. Many of those tales dealt with surprises riders have encountered.

At a recent ride in Huntingdon, Pa., one horse-and-rider duo came seriously close to bears, Kohut said.

"He had a sow and cub cross the trail in front of them. We determined that no matter how big your horse is, bears have the right of way," he said with a laugh.

"There are lions in this area," Kemerer cautioned, explaining that, in 2005, a mountain lion screamed around 9 p.m., sending two horses running out of base camp and into the forest. Searchers chased the pair until midnight.

Kemerer praised the Penn State Mont Alto campus base camp as the nicest around and said the trails were recognized by Endurance News, published through the American Endurance Ride Conference.

Contributing to the local economy over the weekend were riders hailing from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky, he said.

They brought approximately 80 rigs hauling an "eclectic mix of horses," including Arabians, Anglo-Arabs, Morgans, quarter horses, thoroughbreds and Appaloosas. Each of those rigs will spend $100 in gasoline within five miles of the base camp, Kemerer said.

Riders also will spend $50 to $75 on incidentals in the area, he said.

"Lowe's has gotten my credit card many times this past week," Kemerer said.

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