Easy rider – Endurance horse rider views for spot on national team
Michele Roush describes it as being a “mystical” sort of thing.
And her father, Dale Roush, doesn’t deter from that definition of his daughter’s fascination with horses. In fact, metaphorically speaking, he says it goes much deeper than that.
“All I can tell you is that when she turned 2 years old, she didn’t just get interested in horses, she became a horse,” he said, recalling Michele’s upbringing in Marin County. “Everything in her life was geared that way from then on. We held her off until she was nine, when we finally got her a pony.
“But before that, she had the stick horse and cowboy outfit. She wore out two stick horses, in fact, before we got her into the pony club.”
Though the origins of her fervor for horses is something the Roushes still haven’t figured out – if her parents had anything to do with it, like them, she would have a passion for pottery – the same zeal she showed as a little girl has never waned. And now, she’s about to accomplish something she dreamed of long ago, competing in the saddle on an international stage.
Roush, who resides in North San Juan, is about to take the final step – atop her mount, PR Tallymark – in earning her ticket to the World Endurance Championship, which will be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in January.
“My dream was to go to the Olympics,” said Roush, who works as a veterinarian at the Animal Clinic of Rough and Ready and Penn Valley. “I always thought it would be in three-day eventing. And endurance riding is not part of the Olympics yet.
“So, this is my Olympics. Yes, I dreamt it. But did I really think it would be a reality? No. I still can’t believe we’ve made it this far.”
She and Tallymark have made it to the last stop before the World competition. Roush and her ride will head to Ocala, Fla. in December, where she will be joined by the 14 other members of the United States’ National Endurance Team, all of whom will be vying for one of the coveted spots on the six-horse traveling squad flying to Dubai the following month.
Through the summer, Roush and Tallymark (a 9-year-old Arab/Standardbred gelding owned by Steve Shaw of Aptos) have made their mark with the national team, successfully completing two training events and best their own personal time in a 100-mile race in Oreana, Idaho in August – they completed the course in less than 10 hours.
“If (Tallymark) is sound in January, we’ll be going,” she said. “Unless, the horse comes up lame or has a problem with something, we’ll be going.”
One of the fastest growing sports, endurance riding pits riders and horses against 50-100 miles of terrain and the elements, fellow competitors and the clock. Depending on the terrain, a 100-mile race can be won in as few as eight hours or in as many as 24.
The sport became official in 1970 with the organization and founding of the American Endurance Ride Conference, with its headquarters – most convenient for area endurance riders – located just south of western Nevada County in Auburn.
Roush, who attended Dartmouth College and UC-Davis, is a graduate “A” pony clubber, has a background in three-day eventing, competed in Ride & Tie racing and has logged more than 8,500 competitive endurance miles, including many regional and national titles.
He and Tallymark were members of the gold medal-winning Pacific North team at the Pan American Endurance 100-mile Championship in Trout Lake, Wash. in September 2003. They have raced more than 1,500 miles together, nearly all of which ended in top 10 finishes. This year, they lead the West region in the Best Condition category, which is awarded to the horse deemed to be the freshest and soundest at the end of a race.
Her experience in endurance riding includes the annual Tevis Cup, a 100-mile, one day ride from Squaw Valley to Auburn. She said she was so nervous on her first Tevis Cup ride, that she would up giving too much grain to her mount and the two didn’t finish. She started the famed event four times before she scored her first finish. In 2002, she finished in sixth place.
“It was a big dream of mine,” she said. “I haven’t done it since. It’s important to have the right horse for the Tevis, because it’s so difficult. This guy (Tallymark) he’d be all right for it, but he’s had other things to do this year.”
He’s mainly been preparing for Roush’s ride of her life.
“He’s very powerful. He’s got a huge, fast trot and just this year he’s coming into his own mentally,” she said. “That race in Idaho, he was really good. It takes him almost the first half of a race – 50 miles- to settle in. At the first vet check, he was just perfect.”
She’s hopes that’s still the case in December when they depart for Florida, though they won’t exactly be traveling together. How do you get a horse halfway across the country without driving the distance?
“Fed Ex!” she said with a laugh. “I’m serious.”
The reason the team will train in Florida, she said, is to train the horses in high humidity and flat terrain in order to somewhat replicate the conditions they’ll face in Dubai.
Because of such travel – and seemingly other endless preparations – the cost of Roush’s quest is substantial. She estimated a $20,000 price tag on the trip, which friends and supporters are helping to offset through donations and fund-raising events.
On Thanksgiving, the Desert Gold Endurance Multiday rides in Monterey will be geared to help fund the trip. Friends have also donated jewelry to be raffled off at the event. Those interested in helping, should make their tax-deductible donation payable to American Horse Trials Foundation, Inc. and send to Desert Gold, 13054 Folsom St., North San Juan, 95960.
“Quite frankly, from very early on, her goal was the Olympics,” said Dale. “Now she’s changed her style, but basically this is her Olympics.
“As a father, you visualize your child doing something like that, but to actually get there? That’s something else.”
When she gets “there,” Roush will be competing in some volatile country. The UAE, after all, is a little more than 300 miles from Iraq-Saudi Arabia border.
“Oh, yeah … just a minor issue!” Roush said. “No, actually, I have no fears for my safety. The Emirates are very ‘user-friendly.’ The Sheiks have a pretty close handle on the goings-on there, and they are very small countries.
“Dubai gets only 10 percent of it’s income from oil … the other 90 percent comes from trade and tourism. We will be flying directly to Dubai, and it should be fine. The team coach has spent loads of time in the area recently, and tells us that there is nothing to worry about. I trust that he would not send us into danger.”
And if the daughter says she’ll be safe, that’s good enough for her dad.
“I have some apprehension about that, because it’s not the best part of the world to be in right now,” Dale said. “Michele seems to be not very worried about it, so what else are you going to do? This is her big thing. This is it. She has the horse. She has the ability and everything she needs to do it right now.
“She’s gotta go for it.”
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