Lake Palo Duro Hosts Endurance Horse Race

by By Julie Parker

In the sport of endurance horse racing, "to finish is to win." It's the motto.

Palo Duro Lake hosted the Rocky Road Endurance horse race Monday, April 8, a contest organized by Karen Binns-DiCamillo and Jessica Torres, both of New Mexico.

National and international riders competed, some seeking to qualify for the United States team. According to Torres, the U.S. Team will participate September 9, 2024, in Monpazier, France at the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) Endurance World Championship race.

Robert Howell, General Manager for the Palo Duro Water District, assisted Binns-DiCamillo and Torres when they toured the lake area a few months ago as a possible race location. Various geographical challenges were necessary, including flat land, up-and-down incline, narrow bicycle trails, and "technical" - maneuvering over rocks, tree roots, and other land encounters.

There were four races on April 8: 100-mile, 50-mile, 25-mile, and 10-mile. According to Howell, there were several competitors from the Texas Panhandle that rode in the 25-mile race.

All of the horses that raced were Arabian, or half Arabian.

"Arabians excel at the sport," said Torres.

Each horse's health is monitored carefully during the race. Each rider is obligated to pass numerous health checkpoints during the race, monitoring muscles, gut sounds, mouth gums, pulse, attitude, and impulsion. Five veterinarians, hailing from Florida, Oregon, New Mexico, and Costa Rica, served at the various inspection areas.

Vet checks last from 40 minutes to one hour. Once a horse is cleared to ride the next round, its rider will allocate time to cooling down the horse, maybe icing its legs, and getting the horse to eat and drink as much as possible. The last vet check happens after the horse has crossed the finish line.

"That's the most heart wrenching [vet check]," said Alex Shampoe of Colorado Springs, winner of the 100-mile race. Although the rider may finish first, the horse has to receive a clean bill of health after crossing the finish line. The goal is to finish the race with a physically sound horse with the best time, requiring the rider to pace the horse so it does not become exhausted.

In addition to the veterinarians, there were five other officials that assisted with Monday's race, arriving from Montana, Mexico, Texas, and Costa Rica.

Shampoe's ride began at 6:40 a.m. and lasted 11 hours and 48 minutes. She was riding one of Valerie and Larry Kanavy's horses of Gold Medal Farms. The Kanavy couple own farms in Virginia and Florida, keeping the horses in Virginia from May through November. They transport the horses to Florida for care from December to April.

Valerie Kanavy is a two-time gold medal World Champion and an ambassador for the sport. She is also Shampoe's trainer and employer. She has been involved in endurance racing since 1972 when the sport was in its infancy.

Shampoe's next competition will be in South Carolina on Saturday, April 20, but she will ride a different horse for that competition. The FEI has a 33-day mandatory resting period after a horse has participated in a race.

Qualifying for the U.S. Team requires riding two 100-mile races and scoring enough points. The FEI allows four attempts to qualify, meaning that a rider may not enter more than four endurance races. Additional points can be accrued by winning the "Best Condition" award, a prize bestowed on the horse that exhibits outstanding health at the end of each race.

Both horses and riders have to be physically fit to withstand an endurance race. According to Kavany, horses take years of training before they are ready for such a competition. For Torres and Shampoe, their daily life of working with horses fulfills any need for additional exercise.

For Torres and DiCamillo, qualifying for the U.S. Team would mean flying their horses to France. The process is tedious, requiring extra days for travel to the airport. The horses then need rest, preferably close to a warm-weather airport, before flying to Europe. There are only four airports that handle horse transportation in the United States: Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, and Miami.

The horses are quarantined for three to five days, according to Torres, once they arrive in another country. Transportation costs run about $30 thousand per horse.

Howell assisted with anything the race organizers needed. Torres acknowledged that they had never had anyone so helpful at a race before.

"It was a great day," said Torres.