Long-distance horseback riders from all corners of the province made the Hangman Springs Trails their home this weekend (Aug. 24-25) while competing in the Quesnel Canter endurance race.
Almost 70 endurance horse racers, ranging in age from 10 to 75, took their steeds along a series of looped trails in the Cariboo wilderness just north of Bouchie Lake.
Some of the contestants rode up to 50 miles a day, while others opted for fun rides of 12.4 miles.
Welfare of the animals is of utmost importance to the organizers as well as the competitors.
If the horse is not deemed to be in tip-top shape, the contestant cannot win the race.
The day before the ride, the horses come in and are pre-vetted to ensure that they are sound to ride, and for each loop that a rider and their horse completes, there is a detailed vet checkup to ensure the animal is capable of running the next leg of the race.
“We have two vets here and a treatment vet on call,” says co-organizer Erin Wilde.
She adds the number of vets is dependent on the amount of riders that take part.
“And each vet has a scribe, so it’s all documented and they have a working baseline of the horse’s condition.”
The goal of the sport is to finish quickly with your horse in excellent shape.
“A big part of it is being a team with your animal,” says Cambria Volonte, who came to Quesnel from Bridgelake to race on her horse, Toby.
“You want to make sure that they come in healthy and strong and tired. We always say it’s a healthy horse if it will eat, drink, pee and poo on the trail, so you’re watching all those things.”
The sport of endurance riding is an old one that is still in practice in many places throughout North America, the Middle East and Europe.
One of the most famous races is the Tevis Cup, which is a 100-mile race that follows the coastline of California. This year’s competition was won by an 18-year-old girl on a horse her family had acquired for free off of an ad they had seen on Craigslist.
While the Hangman Springs Trails are not quite the same, the consensus among organizers and riders was the course was a technical one.
“There’s some road riding, but the majority of it is double track,” says Wilde.
“There’s roots, there’s rocks, there’s some mud, and there’s the elevation gain. Our 50-mile riders have climbed an average of 2,000 feet and descended 2,000 feet in one loop, and both the other two loops are about an 1,800-foot elevation gain, so it’s a little hard on the horses.”
She adds the best breed for the contests are often Arabians, as they are known for their ability to recover quickly.
“Vets are looking at horses’ CRI [cardiac recovery index], so you take the horse’s resting heart rate and you ask them to trot down to a certain distance and come back and measure it again, and the average will give you where they’re at metabolically,” says Wilde. “Typically, Arabians recover a lot faster than a lot of different breeds.”
The Quesnel Canter was an Endurance Riders Association of B.C. race. There are about a dozen other races being held by the organization across the province.
For riders like Wilde, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had in checking out new trails.
“I love exploring new terrain,” she says, adding the people and the campsites also add to a sense of community among riders.
“We’re all here because we love horses. The biggest thing is exploring and finding new trails and seeing what our horses can do.”