by Genie Stuart-Spears
Successfully completing 50- or 100-mile endurance rides in one day, one horse, one rider, requires building a partnership between horse and rider in order to enjoy mile after mile of trail. It begins with finding the right horse and doing lots of in-hand ground and arena work, lots of training and conditioning time on the trail, and most importantly, starting with short distances and riding to complete, not be competitive, for at least the first few years or more. It takes years to build a working partnership. And, emphasizes Stagg Newman, “Patience, patience, and patience!”
Having competed in endurance and competitive trail riding since the mid-1980s, Stagg and Cheryl Newman, both 68 years old, have over 15,000 combined career miles on some very tough trails and on some very tough Arabian horses.
Partnering up with a spouse or significant other to train and compete can be as difficult or as easy as partnering up with a horse. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
For the Newmans, training and competition is teamwork — an extension of their marriage. Stagg says, “Riding together has actually strengthened our marriage because of the quality time we spend together training and competing. We share the passion for horses and distance riding. We frequently help each other on trail, giving encouragement, making sure that each of us is eating and drinking, riding in balance, and so forth.
“That does not mean we do not sometimes disagree or growl at each other during a competition,” added Stagg. “This might happen particularly during the latter part of a ride in hot weather when we are suffering from DIML (Distance Induced Mental Lapses).
“When we do disagree, we work out a compromise,” he explained. “We try to always do what is best for each horse, given their strengths, limitations, and level of conditioning.
“We have been riding together for over four decades and married over 45 years,” Stagg says. “We were too poor to have horses for our first few years of married life. I was a long distance runner but failed to get Cheryl interested in running. However, she succeeded in getting me to ride a horse after we were eventually able to buy Thoroughbreds. But I was not into jumping, dressage, nor eventing, like she was, so I started doing competitive trail riding. I eventually convinced Cheryl to try distance riding, particularly after I watched her have some scary, unplanned dismounts in eventing.”
“We bought our first Arabian, the wonderful Ramegwa Drubin (*Druch x MPR Bithynia), in 1987 from the late Maggie Price, Ramegwa Arabians in Pennsylvania, when Stagg decided to become serious about endurance riding,” says Cheryl. “Stagg soon realized that the Thoroughbreds were designed to go six furlongs, not 100 miles, and thus the mighty 14.1-hand Ramegwa Drubin, or Drubin for short, was purchased.”
Maggie Price, who was elected president (1990, 1991 and 1992) of the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) and also inducted into the AERC Hall of Fame (1994), became the Newmans’ mentor and role model. “Maggie did later admit that she cheered when Drubin, a recently gelded handful, left her farm,” Stagg says, “Drubin, of course, went on to earn AERC Hall of Fame Award (2003), and became the first AERC horse to do 20 consecutive seasons of endurance competitions with the same rider (Stagg Newman). Drubin still holds the AERC record for most points in 100-mile competitions in one season (1992), the season where he had seven firsts, a second and a third in 100-milers. Drubin did over 50 hundred-milers, counting 1-day, 2-day, and 3 day CTRs over his career.”
Cheryl’s first Arabian came two years later (1989). That horse was Smoke Rise Strut (Atilanch x Cameo Sudani), bred and raised by Dinah and Steve Rojek. Cheryl competed on Strut, as the gelding was called, for over a decade. They completed 18 one-hundreds (one and two-day hundreds), many of those alongside Stag and Drubin.
In 1990, the Newmans and their two Arabians moved from New Jersey to California (San Francisco Bay area), and then back to New Jersey in 1993. In the late 1990s they moved to Virginia and then to property at the base of the Mount Pisgah in North Carolina, where they’ve lived since 2000.
“We have ridden 100-mile rides in every AERC region of the county and between us probably have over one hundred 100-mile competitions of various types,” says Cheryl.
How do they sort out the pecking order on the trail? Stagg answered, “Usually we decide which horse should lead based on which one is the best over the different terrains encountered and what the horses are telling us. For example, Drubin was great on narrow tracks, downhill, and open flat gallops. He loved to lead and did not like to follow. Strut was a great climber and would lead or follow. So Drubin would do most of the leading except for the climbs, when Strut would move to the lead.”
“Strut took me through 15 one-day one-hundred-mile rides and being second alternate to a Pan American National Championship (1993) and first alternate to the World Endurance Championships (1994),” Cheryl says proudly. “He taught me many things, including about equine sense of humor and curiosity, and the true joy of just being on the trail, day and night, with a wonderful horse.”
Strut passed away in 2004 and in 2007 Drubin died as a result of colic. “He had a tear in the mesentery,” explained Stagg, who said Drubin was taken in for surgery. “Ten feet of intestine was already lost and the only kind thing to do was euthanasia. Once horses get in their mid-20s bad things can happen. I don’t know which is worse, losing a horse quickly to colic or seeing a great horse deteriorate over the years from old age.”
“Since Strut, I have had a number of horses that were not as well suited for the sport so they now have other careers.” Cheryl continues, “However, JS Comet (Jayel Zonyx x SF Regalita Bask), better known as O’Ryan, came into my life in 2007. With a couple of rare exceptions, our completions have all been top tens, in distances ranging from limited distance through one-day 100s. O’Ryan has over ten best conditions in longer distances, and a few in limited distances, and over 10 wins, the vast bulk of them with me riding. He has taught me the joy of riding a superb athlete who loves the sport and has all it takes to excel, including the heart and mind. I admit that I am spoiled.”
After Drubin, Stagg partnered up with Jayel Super (Zambizy x Jayel Suprize), to earn the Decade Team Award, win Old Dominion (OD) 100-Mile Ride five times (the only horse to win more than two OD 100 milers), along with multiple best conditions. He also won and earned Best Condition at the Biltmore Challenge three times (2001, 2003 and 2004). Super, as he is called, had the best record in FEI 4* rides in North America during the 2000 decade. He carried Stagg to a fourth-place finish and team gold at the 2001 Pan American Championship in Woodstock, Vermont, fourth at the 2003 Pan American in Trout Lake, Washington, and second place with Dominique Freeman riding him in the 2005 North American Championship in Delaware. Stagg and Super won and earned Best Condition at the Northwind Challenge, an FEI 3-Star 100 miler in Canada (2006).
Since Super, who is twenty-five years old and retired for the past 10 years, Stagg has been competing with FFC First Csea Lord (SSA Csea Dream by Dreamazon x EF Lorgnette by *Monokl), aka Winston. Fittingly, Drubin’s last competition, with Beverly Brock riding, guided Winston with Stagg riding, through his first limited-distance (less than 50 miles). And most recently, Cheryl and Stagg tied for first place on the grueling 2016 Old Dominion 100-Mile Ride; Stagg was riding Winston and Cheryl on O’Ryan.
“More recently, we’ve paired up with JS Comet, aka O’Ryan, and FFC First Csea Lord, aka Winston, and have done many competitions together, says Stagg. “O’Ryan really likes to lead and Winston prefers to follow. So O’Ryan does most of the leading but at times we may ride side-by-side on a wide trail.
“We do have to be careful that the stronger (metabolically) or bigger-gaited (long strided) horse does not pull the other horse along too much,” he continued.
“We will split-up if one horse is looking really strong and the other horse needs to slow down. At the 2015 National Championship, our strategy was to keep the two horses together into the second vet check so as to position O’Ryan for the win if he looked strong. That worked. O’Ryan recovered quickly and went on to win. Winston took about 10 minutes longer to recover at that point and then I slowed way down and finished over an hour behind O’Ryan. Because of our decision to separate and slow down, Winston looked good at the end.
“If we ride all day together, we don’t race each other but rather have the stronger horse that day finish in front or we will tie,” Stagg says. “But we will compete for Best Condition although I will often trot out both of the horses for the veterinarians as Cheryl is not a runner.”
The Newmans help each other at vet checks even though they usually have a crew. “We have done rides, even 100-mile rides, with no crew other than each other and done well. We did that more with Drubin and Strut as we were a bit younger then,” admitted Stagg.
In addition to Winston, Stagg is also competing on Syrocco Tanka (Syrocco Troubador x Edgewood Schelite), purchased from Meg Sleeper, DVM. The pair has had five seasons together, including a careful recovery from a condylar spiral fracture. (Condylar fractures occur in mature animals and affect the distal ends of the humerus or femur, or the proximal tibia.)
Keys To Success
There are many things that must come together to create a long-term partnership with a horse. The Newmans shared three main points of selecting a horse for long-distance riding. The horse needs to be: 1) a good match to your personality; 2) have good conformation and be sound; 3) and be an efficient mover.
“You can’t always know these things when buying a horse, but it is important that you enjoy the horse and that it really wants to go down the trail but still is level-headed about it,” Stagg says. “If you are not clicking with a horse for whatever reason, then you probably don’t want to put a lot of time into that horse because you aren’t going to enjoy putting the miles of training on it.”
Cheryl adds, “I had a few that were easy to form bonds with and fun to ride, and I’ve had horses that I just plain didn’t like. They typically moved through my life within a couple of months.”
While Ramegwa Drubin was extra special, neither Cheryl nor Stagg clicked with Drubin’s son Ramegwa Bahrain (Ramegwa Drubin x Ramegwa Ka Raffe). “We thought he was going to be a bigger, stronger version of Drubin, but he was nothing like Drubin,” Stagg says. “Bahrain,” explains Cheryl, “was sulky and skittish going down the trail. We sold him to Ellen Tully who dearly loved that horse and together they garnered over 5,000 miles. He was 29 when old age got the best of him and he had to be put down last year.”
If all goes well in training but then problems arise during competitions, Stagg notes, “You need to sort out why and decide whether it is manageable. My horse Jayel Super is a wonderful horse to ride. Of all of the horses, he was the one to put a relatively inexperienced rider on as long as he was with his buddies. But at competitions, he just got so excited he was almost unmanageable. Part of the problem was learning to control him. I would tense up. And of course an Arabian is so sensitive to that tension that they react to the rider.
“Over time, I learned how to manage him and it was well worth it. He and I have had over twenty 100-milers and lots of successes together but I had to constantly manage his mental state at competitions. Part of managing him was selecting his competitions. He was never good if he could see horses ahead of him. The Old Dominion Ride, for example, was a good trail for him because he couldn’t see the horses on the trail ahead due to the thick forest and many hills and turns.
“There is a fine line between a horse that is bold and wants to go down the trail, and one that is hyper,” says Stagg. “Super was almost too much; it was a constant, ‘Slow down Super!’”
The horse’s conformation should be good with only minor flaws. “A lot of the great horses have minor faults but no major structural faults,” says Stagg. “Drubin was bench-kneed.” And Cheryl adds, “Drubin developed amazing splints on his front legs. But he never took a lame step.” Then Stagg confessed, “Drubin was not even in muscle development in the front. He definitely preferred me on his right diagonal. So 80 to 90 percent of our trotting was on one diagonal.”
According to Stagg, the famous RT Muffin (Rabiytu x Muferra) was clubfooted. And the two-time world endurance champion Pieraz (*Pierscien x Aziella) worked off the front end rather than the hind end and didn’t have the straightest front legs. Newman’s horse FFC First Csea Lord has 10 years of competition and he’s got a high-low hoof syndrome.
“And you’d cringe at Jayel Super’s feet,” Cheryl says. “We were warned prior to his purchase that Super had some hoof issues, especially the left front. That’s where he had quarter cracks twice until we got a good farrier who has managed the problem for 15 years. Although he didn’t have the ideal hoof structure, we learned to manage it.”
Conformation dictates the way a horse goes down the trail. Some will be harder to ride because they pound the ground and jar the rider with every step. Others seem to glide across the ground. “You want a horse that doesn’t waste a lot of energy going down the trail,” explains Stagg. “In other words, an efficient mover. An efficient mover is smoother and easier to ride and has less joint concussion going down the trail.
“If you start with a small, compact Arabian, you have a better chance of the horse staying sound. They are well balanced (proportionately), often more so than the taller Arabians.
“I had a surprising discovery some years ago when I listened to John Shelle, Professor Emeritus, Michigan State,” continues Stagg. “The professor was speaking at a seminar for Crabbet breeders and owners. He was asked what could be done to make Arabians better. The professor responded that, ‘… first of all the way you make any breed better is that you outcross to increase genetic diversity. The good news, is that Crabbet breeding has a lot of genetic diversity. But you think you’ve been breeding a taller Arabian because that is what people want? We’ve been running this Arabian breeding program at Michigan State for 25-30 years and measuring these Arabians and not getting increased bone length; the bone lengths are not getting any longer. How can you make a horse taller if the bone lengths aren’t getting any longer? If you straighten that angle of the shoulder slope, you get a taller horse without making the bones longer. What you are really doing is breeding an ill-conformed taller horse because you are making the angles straighter than ideal for the horse.’
“Interestingly,” Stagg points out, “O’Ryan is 14.1 and Winston is 15.1 hands. If you measure them from the tip of the butt to the tip of the shoulder, as you would measure them for a blanket, they are the same size. And they are within about 10 pounds of the same weight. Then you start looking at their body structure and find Winston is a more upright horse. When O’Ryan pushes off, he moves forward. Whereas when Winston pushes off, his energy moves upwards. If you watch Cheryl on O’Ryan and our friend Marbie, an excellent rider, on Winston, you will see Marbie’s head going up and down and Cheryl’s staying quite level. Winston is our best dressage horse because he has a lot of up and down motion, which helps in deep sand or mud, but it means he is less efficient than O’Ryan on good footing and in climbing hills.
“These two horses are an example of getting height by changing the angles rather than lengthening bone,” says Stagg. “There are taller Arabians that are proportionately right but you need to have a keen eye to find them. In general the smaller horse is what the Arabian was intended to be.
“But if you are looking for larger horses — and larger people do need larger horses — you might look into the crossbreds. Endurance riders Lani Newcomb and Kathy Broaddus (both are veterinarians in Virginia), for example, are crossing Arabians with draft-type horses to get the larger horse.
“Keep in mind that some horses are better adapted to work in the mountains, others on the flat; some like to go alone, while others do better in company,” continues Stagg. “The horse’s strength needs to match how and where you enjoy riding and competing. If you like to ride alone, you would not do well with a horse that requires company; or if you live in the mountains, you need a strong mountain horse not a horse that does better on the flat trails.”
There’s no perfect horse; but you must strive for the best and learn to manage the rest. “What is more important,” adds Stagg, “is what is in that horse’s heart and head, provided they don’t have conformation problems that will lead to lameness.”
“The value of riding together, working as a team, is high,” says Cheryl. “Each can help the other during the unplanned moments that go with our sport on the trail, or at vet checks, and also the forgetfulness that goes with age. We ask key questions: ‘How is your horse looking and feeling? Does he have all four shoes on? Is he EDPP (eating, drinking, peeing, and pooping)? Has he received electrolytes on schedule? Does he need a date syrup boost (an energy boost for endurance horses commonly used in today’s competitions)?’”
Partnering up with a horse is similar to partnering up with a spouse. Find the right one, commit for life, work out the problems along the way, and enjoy the journey.