Sturley Accomplishes Mission in Germany
Ruth Sturley lives in Seven Lakes. The 59-year-old rider was a member of the Canadian endurance team that competed in the FEI World Equestrain Games. In the following piece, she shares her experience during the 100-mile race she competed in at the Games.
What a truly great experience Sport and I had at the World Equestrian Games held in Germany in August.
I opted to start out slightly behind the main group of horses quietly trotting over the start line to begin the 100-mile "marathon" at 6:02 a.m.
Along with several other competitors, we avoided the confusion and melee usually associated with the start of a race. I felt that the energy saved at this point would be valuable later in the day.
We trotted and cantered our way over the beautiful German and Dutch countryside -- traversing through fields, on roadways, paved pathways and forest trails. I knew I would have to manage this ride very carefully if we were to finish in good health.
The terrain demanded a thinking and well-planned strategy to get through what I knew would be a very challenging and technical course. Much of the route was familiar to me during this first loop as I had been able to pre-ride it during the days leading up to the race.
We came into the first vet gate -- happy to see my crew and the team officials -- and pulsed down within a few minutes. Later, I learned that we had moved from almost last place (out of 159 horses) at the start of the race to 93rd place.
At the time, however, I had no idea where I stood, but I knew I had passed a lot of other competitors. Once through the pulsing and vet inspections, we retreated to the crewing area to chow down in the time allotted for that hold period. Sport ate like he hadn't seen food in a year, then we saddled up and headed back out on the next section of the course.
All through the race I was so amazed at the people lining the streets and along the pathways and fields. During the part of the race that went through Holland, the Dutch people would call out Ka Na Da, waving Canadian flags.
Some of these same people came to the stadium to greet us at the finish. They were so supportive and friendly. Having so many spectators mile after mile, shouting words of encouragement and clapping as we rode past was a new experience for me. I felt that it really added a very positive dimension to the whole experience.
Loop after loop, we rode strong and steady -- eating up the miles while continuing to pass other competitors.
Sport came into each vet gate, pulsed down quickly, passed his vet inspection and settled in to eat and relax until his out time. My crew and team officials took over during the hold periods, leaving me to eat and relax a bit before heading out again.
Team crews were also assigned at various points throughout each loop who helped -- not only with the physical part of feeding and offering water to the horse but also providing very welcomed moral support throughout the day.
Everyone knew his or her job and did it well, very quietly, efficiently and professionally. This type of crewing only comes with experienced knowledgeable people who know what is required, especially at this level. International and world level competitions are accomplished through the effort of so many dedicated people helping both the horse and rider get through the day successfully.
The course was tough and thus took its toll. Sadly, news filtered through to me about my fellow teammates. We had started with five competitors, but by the halfway point we were down to just two. The other three had been eliminated at various stages of the race. Linda Riley and "Sir" and myself and "Sport" were left to carry on.
When I came in to the fourth Vet Gate at "The Point" (where the countries of Holland, Belgium and Germany meet) my crew informed me I just had to ride back down toward the stadium where we started -- all downhill -- get through one more vet gate and then back out on a short 8-mile final loop to finish. We set out feeling really good.
The end was starting to become a reality. Within a few minutes it started to rain but we rode on, covering the ground still feeling strong. Then about 4 miles from the stadium I felt something was wrong! Sport's stride was off! No, I thought to myself. I've come too far to fail now. Looking down, sure enough, I could see he had lost his left front shoe and pad.
I didn't know how long it had been missing and if he had suffered any damage as a result. Our last few miles had covered some very rough ground. I couldn't take any chances now. We slowed right down, walking quite a bit and trotting very slowly where possible. I knew we were really loosing time and our miles per hour would drop drastically, but getting into the next vet gate 5 without causing lameness was now paramount.
Then suddenly with about a half-mile to go a Jeep drove down the trail and passed me with the sign "FIRST HORSE" displayed on the back of the vehicle. I stepped Sport to the side of the trail and looked behind me. What a sight! There was the "soon to be winner" coming at a strong and steady canter, through the rain toward the stadium and finish line.
We stood quietly to the side of the trail in awe and with respect. I think this was one of the most memorable points of my experience. With very little sound other than the rhythmical beats from the horse's hooves, they rode by me and then were gone.
I resumed my trek in the direction of vet check No. 5. A minute or two later I heard a loud thunderous roar coming from the stadium. Although I couldn't see anything but the back of the stadium, I could visualize this rider and horse and their glorious first-place finish.
He had won the gold medal. It was a remarkable moment for me that evoked emotions, which can only be felt first hand.
Back to reality -- I still had another 8 miles to cover and a shoe to replace -- all in the cold and rain. The shoeing took some time as we couldn't find a farrier and therefore lost another four minutes of race time. I knew we had dropped down in our placing now but felt we would still do all right. Just get through one more little loop and we would be done.
With four shoes in place including pads, I set out thinking the last 8 miles would be relatively straightforward even in the rain. However, Sport had other ideas. Less than a half-mile out, he just stopped and refused to move. I mean he would not move at all.
The rain was coming down in buckets. It was cold and as far as he was concerned he had come full circle and there was no need to do more. I'm sure he had visions of a nice warm bed, a rub down and some good food in his comfy cozy stall. After trying everything I knew to do, I got off and led him over the field and through the rain. Once more I mounted and asked him to carry on. By this time we were both starting to feel miserable, wet and cold.
With one last effort he mustered up his courage, cantering some and then slowing to a trot for a period but still getting the job done. With just a few miles to go, a rider from Sweden caught up to us and took the lead. I could feel Sport's enthusiasm and strength return once more. Together we cantered, eating up the last miles of the course.
It felt so good to finally see the back of the stadium -- canter into the lights with the finish line in sight. The Swedish rider and I put on one last burst of speed and cantered enthusiastically for the remaining 100 yards. By this time, the crowds in the stadium had dwindled but all I could hear and care about was our Canadian team members cheering for us.
We did it! I couldn't believe it! I had to jump over so many hurdles to even come across the ocean, and now my dreams had come true. One more final vet check before being given my completion status.
Finally, Sport was taken back to his stall by his grooms, Marion and Brianne, to be given the warmth, food and attention that were so well deserved.
I didn't find out until the next day that my placing was 38th overall, first for the Canadian team and third for North America. I was happy with that but had hoped to finish in the 20-something. Maybe next time, but that's another story. We went to the World's with the hope of coming in the top 25 percent, as well as being the first Canadian to finish. Mission accomplished.
What an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity. My crew, Marion and Brianne, were so wonderful and knew just what to do for Sport. My husband, Ken, was so helpful too -- making sure I was cared for during the vet hold periods and even helped with Sport, making sure he got his electrolytes and food. The team officials were there for us at every turn attending to our needs before we could even ask. And then there were the many friends and family sending e-mails, encouraging me and helping me keep my pre-race jitters in check.
So many people were responsible for me being at WEG, including friends, family and businesses. I was really overwhelmed by the many generous donations and sponsorships from everyone.
I would have never been able to participate without them.
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