Rough and Ready woman, 65, earns endurance riding championship
As Rough and Ready woman Susannah Jones broke the finish line near Ridgecrest atop her 17-year-old Arabian horse, she knew the pair had already gone through more together than the 50-mile endurance race could ever throw at them.
Jones, 65, and her horse Diablo Maj are now retired from endurance riding — the long-distance equestrian competition where riders aim to cross the finish line first while passing through periodic veterinary checks — after being crowned as American Endurance Ride Conference National Champions Oct. 31.
While the duo’s racing journey has ended with them retiring on top as champions, their start was anything but easy riding, and has grown their bond far beyond the course.
“We had our tendons severed at the knees and I had broken mine (kneecap) along with many other injuries,” Jones told The Union previously. “I somehow dragged myself for eight miles in desert heat … It was sheer willpower, man, because I was bleeding all over.”
During their first ever endurance riding practice in 2012, Jones was flung tumbling down a cliff after Diablo Maj got his leg stuck in barbed wire in the middle of the desolate “Oregon Outback.”
After crawling for hours to find help for her horse and herself, veterinarians told Jones Diablo Maj would never be able to compete again. Undeterred, she recovered and continued training.
Just three years later, she was competing, unable to let Diablo Maj’s potential go unfulfilled, despite already being 12 years old and past the prime of most competition horses. Jones said there was something about Diablo Maj that made her want to compete with him.
“I had to give him a chance,” Jones said. “He was old and I was old but you have to try, and look how it turned out.”
Although endurance racing was at first an ambition of hers for the sightseeing and challenge of just finishing the grueling courses, seeing Diablo Maj’s energy and sturdiness chasing after cattle as a work horse made her believe he had a competitive edge.
“He would spend all day up in the mountains for hours on end herding cows,” Jones said. “He had so much energy and took to the rough terrain very naturally.”
It wasn’t long after starting that their underdog spirit and natural energy had them finishing and placing. They steadily moved up the ranks and by their third race season were consistently placing. Last year they placed in eight of 10 competitions.
“He does not like other horses being near me when I am on his back,” Jones said. According to Jones, she sometimes has to take precautions to make sure Diablo Maj doesn’t get aggressive with competitors.
Jones and Diablo Maj were a minute behind the lead coming out of the first vet check, but the horse set the pace the rest of the way, not allowing anyone to pass the team.
Despite their past success and the motivation to end their career with a championship, even finishing was far from certain. Jones wasn’t sure if she’d be able to race, dealing with the fallout from the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs as well as fire danger in the area.
She had to enter the race without a crew to help her out, but was delighted to find fellow competitors helping her when their horses were unable to continue.
“I was fortunate to have some great help from Brian Weast, as well as Dianne Stevens and Ann Starrs Hall, themselves supremely accomplished endurance riders,” Jones said. “It was amazing to see, they could have went home but they stayed and helped. This community, both the county and racing community are so special.”
Diablo Maj completed the race in 3 hours and 57 minutes, while only 61 of the original 80 participants finished.
“My message is that age can be a factor, but nothing is as important as a great partnership and knowing what you both have in guts and spirit,” Jones said.
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.
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