Team Liberty plans to join the Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

Shawn Davis of Tucumcari and eight other horsemen from Quay County are setting their sights on The Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race of September 2007.

Entered as Team Liberty, they will be one of the inaugural teams riding in the first race. The 13-day event from Sept. 3 through Sept. 13, 2007 will be from Santa Fe to Independence, Mo.

The race will be 550 miles over 11 days.

Davis, who is an inspector with the New Mexico Life Stock board, is Team Liberty’s captain. Other members are Pete Walden, Donnie Bidegain, Ryan Hamilton, Dustin Nials, Dereck Owen, Kacee Bradley, Paul Leonard and Dawson Higgins.

“It’s a challenge because of the length of the race and it’s never been done before,” said Davis, organizer of the local team.

“Another appeal to me is that several times I’ve owned a horse that I thought could really go a distance. I think the ride manager is right, you learn more about your horse in this type of event.”

Preparation is also about getting riders in shape. Beginning in November, not only will the horses be stretching out for five to eight miles, three times a week, “the guys will be running, too,” Davis said.

Often, because of the terrain or to meet daily goals, the rider will dismount and run along with his horse, said Davis, who runs about a mile and a half four times a week.

It is not certain, but Team Liberty is planned to have three riders with the rest serving as support,” Davis said.

“I picked the name Liberty to stay with the Santa Fe Trail era,” Davis said. “Tucumcari used to be a community north of here called Liberty.”

Liberty was founded in the late 1800s, north of Pajarito Creek, for the soldiers of Fort Bascom. Five men from Liberty founded Tucumcari in the early 1900s when the Rock Island and Pacific Railroad decided to build a line to connect with the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad at Santa Rosa.

Team Liberty met on Sunday with race organizers to discuss the race and to learn more about endurance training for horses and riders.

Jim Gray of Genesco, Kan., told the story of how the race came to be.

“I’ve been aware of endurance racing since the 1970s,” said Gray, who is a cattle rancher and owner and operator of Drovers Mercantile in Ellsworth, Kan.

“Then I started thinking about the Tour de France and how they have a team. It just seemed like a good idea.”

Then one evening Gray told his friend Rob Phillips about his dream. Phillips was skeptical and didn’t seem too interested– until he called the next morning.
The rest is history in the making.

Phillips is now race village coordinator and has been instrumental in organizing the organizers. Gray is trail coordinator. Ray Randall is head veterinarian. Courtney Hart is ride manager and Dean Jackson is alternate ride manager.

The organizers have met with and are hoping to get the event sanctioned by the American Endurance Racing Association.

Hart, the ride manager is also an endurance horse trainer and was here from England to help organize and prepare for the event. He has coached and trained a team that won the FEI Endurance World Championship, served as chef de equipe for Sweden at the North American Championship at Carson City, Nev. and for United States at European Championship at Southwall, England. He was also the assistant chef de equipe for the United States at The World Equestrian Games in Barcelona, Spain.

The author of “Winning Strategies of Endurance Horse Riding,” Hart provided Team Liberty with a number of tips in his three-hour presentation on topics from nutrition to heart rate to cooling down your horse to trailering equines.

And like any athlete, Hart said, it was paramount to make sure an endurance horse was well hydrated.

For example, the adage about bringing a horse to water, but not getting him to drink might be overcome with a hint of beet-mash in the water. “The horse will be more interested in the sugar,” Hart said.

Often hay and grain are soaked in water to make sure a horse is getting enough water, Hart said.

But the hay can become rancid if it’s soaked too early before feeding, and a grain that is not thoroughly soaked can actually cause a horse to become dehydrated because it will draw water from a horse’s stomach, he said.

While it is always satisfying to come away the winner, another prestigious and coveted recognition of endurance racing, Hart said, is the best condition award.

“It tells you that you are enough of a horseman to complete the race and keep your horse in really good shape,” he said
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Endurance training and racing is the one activity that gives a rider the opportunity to learn and know more about their horse than any other, Hart said.

“You become more attuned to your horse, you spend a lot more time riding your horse and you learn to pay attention to what your horse is telling you,” he said.

The ride, which is geared to 50 miles a day, means that it will be open to more riders, Hart said.

Organizers said want to make the ride as fun and as competitive for as many riders as they can, so that it will an event that can be repeated annually. Entrants can enter as a team or an individual.

“It will take about nine months to get the horses in shape,” Davis. “In November, we begin conditioning of all the horses we can get our hands on.”

Meanwhile, the team will be seeking out local, regional and national sponsors, Davis said.

The entrance fee for a team is $3,000. “Our budget is going to be about $15,000 to buy endurance saddles, heart monitors and the feed needed to condition the horses,” he said.

Davis, who is competitive by nature, is focused on the event. He said, that even “if all my team members bail, I’m going up there with one horse.”