Old Dominion Endurance Ride July 11 & 12, 2021 ECAHS Achievement Award Winners

Sep 2, 2021


ECAHS had entries for the 50 and 100 mile rides. Adrianne Diehl riding Starstruck Muse (Pioneer Eclipse x Daalda Magnolia) won the 50 mile ODE ride. Starstruck Muse is 28.78% Crabbet.

Clarke Martin aboard Syrocco Tanka won the 100 mile ECAHS Achievement Award. Tanka is 56.75% Crabbet. Read Clarke’s story below about their jouney.

Old Dominion Endurance 100 Mile Ride

By Clarke Martin

Riders who have earned their Old Dominion buckles likely also own a red t-shirt, the back of which declares that “it’s hard to be humble when you’ve finished the OD 100.” In my experience, there’s an element of truth to the t-shirt. I think, however, that the more accurate statement is that it’s hard not to be humble when you’ve finished the OD 100.

            The Ride

Becky Pearman Photography

            You can’t utter the words “Old Dominion” in the endurance community, especially east of the Mississippi River, without incurring a solemn acknowledgement that it is, without parallel, the “Beast of the East.” The elevation gain and rocky footing work together with the humidity and heat to create one of the most challenging courses in North America. Old Dominion is particularly exciting because it offers—with the exception of about ten miles which comprise the beginning and end of the ride—an uninterrupted loop through the Appalachian wilderness of Virginia and West Virginia. This differs from the typical endurance trail map, where a central vet check and campground serves as the start and end point of several loops of trail, cloverleafing around camp. If you ride a safe, smart ride and luck is on your side, you might just beat the heat, humidity, rocky terrain, elevation, and distance, and find yourself crossing the finish line sometime early in the morning on the day after you started the incomprehensible task of 100 miles on horseback. There is no greater privilege.

The Horse & Rider

            Syrocco Tanka (age 16) has been competing since 2012. He’s got attitude in spades and a handful of screws in his right hind from a 2014 spiral fracture, both of which require a bit of management from his owners, Stagg and Cheryl Newman, as well as the other members of “Team Tanka”. A bay gelding standing 15.1 hands, Tanka has a penchant for sticking his tongue out and a dislike of most dogs; his laid-back starts and willingness to eat and drink on trail make him a delightful, if sometimes surprising, partner with whom to spend a day.

I first met the Newmans in 2010 or 2011, when my homeroom-and-art-teacher-turned-friend Marbie Kollath brought me along to their farm for a training ride. After five miles of downhill trotting, I was hooked and the rest is history. In the summer of 2018 Tanka and I rode to my first (his second) OD 100 finish. We had a solid 2019 season leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, which paused what looked like a promising 2020 season. This summer, the time was right for another trip to Bayse.

The Day

            This year, Marbie and I planned to ride together on two talented, well-matched geldings. We had a mellow, if quick, start and found ourselves cruising into Bird Haven with Tom Hagis (out on his gelding’s first 100). With 15 miles down and 85 miles to go, we headed off to Laurel Run. First, we had to face the most technical 16 miles of the ride: a steep climb ending in the infamous “stegosaurus spine” of rocks tracing the ridgeline. Aboard Tanka, who’s got a long, low way of going, spurts of steep climbing and the technical footing are my cue to hop off and help him by jogging when I can and walking the rest. Careful attention to the footing means careful riding overall, which came in handy when I heard Tanka’s left front shoe come off against one of the rocks on the ridgeline: I was able to get his boot on before he’d taken more than 5 steps on the treacherous footing, which saved us some heartache with the farrier at Laurel Run. At the check, our trio lost Marbie when her gelding presented with lameness. With a good-luck hug from our dear friend, Tanka and I set out alone (up a long, hot climb in the noon sun) to catch Tom, with whom we stayed for the rest of the day.

At Buck Tail, we were reunited with the Newmans (and my patient and supportive mom, Catherine, who joined us for a weekend of crewing and moral support) and I promptly—accidentally—paused for too long next to the pulse timer and pulsed in fully tacked, having put almost no cool water on Tanka at the check. Due to a well-timed stop in the creek just before the in timer, Tanka was cool enough that we breezed through the pulse timer and into the vet check after stripping our tack. Tanka ate and drank well during the hold, at which point I turned my attention to my own food and fluid intake. My rule of thumb is that for each loop/leg of a ride, I should drink at least 16oz of water on trail and another 16oz during the hold, although I get a pass for the first loop if Tanka is strong and I’m having trouble rating him back. At Buck Tail, I was dehydrated and it was starting to show, so I took extra care to rehydrate before setting off on the 22 miles to Big 92. While Waites Run and Little Sluice are helpful breaks in the section of trail which spans almost one quarter of the entire ride (thank you again to the cheerful volunteer at the bottom of the hill at Little Sluice around 7:00pm that night for your positive attitude and for celebrating my 1,000th competition mile with me), that distance is nearly an entire LD in its own right and demands thoughtful, prepared riding. We made good use of the breezy greenway on either side of the former Mail Trail, which is now more washed-out creek bed than delivery route. The Mail Trail, Tanka tells me, is a prime spot for riders to jump off and hike if they’re able.

The dirt road leading up to Big 92 feels longer than 3 miles. We rode in at dusk, and had just enough time to complete our vet-in and hold before riding off in the dark. I could wax lyrical about the magic of riding glow-stick to glow-stick and enjoying the starlight with an athlete as special and talented as a 100-mile horse, but the thing that stood out the most about Big 92 was the speed with which a volunteer pressed an aluminum foil-covered piece of rotisserie chicken into my hand after I pined for “some turkey or other sort of protein-y lunchmeat” out loud to Cheryl. We made good time in the dark; Tanka and I were both relieved to be out of the sun and humidity, and he settled into a working rhythm which told me that he was ready to grind out the rest of this race. Lauren Run 2 to Birdhaven 2 offers a nice climb up a starlit dirt road which, at a steady, sane pace, allows a tired horse and rider to make good time. We left Birdhaven 2 a little after 1:30am, with the intention of taking our time to pick through the mucky footing that would comprise the final 6.5 miles of the ride. When I smelled the turkey musk and started downhill, I took a moment to savor what my senses were taking in (even the earthy turkey scent).

Tom and I tied for fourth place with two happy, sound horses. Stagg said Tanka looked the strongest he has ever looked at the end of 100 miles and ready to go again the next day. Tanka said, “wait until next year.” There is nothing more humbling than reaching the 100th mile with a horse who’s well within himself and has more to give. In addition to the meticulous training and care that he receives at home with the Newmans, I credit our performance in June to Tanka’s voracious appetite and thirst on trail as well as his innate gameness for a big day out in the woods. His athletic capabilities are as humbling as the terrain and weather related obstacles which present themselves in a 100-mile ride like OD. Upon completion of the Old Dominion, and in the 3:30am delirium and hustle of a late-night-turned-early-morning, it’s equally hard to be humble and hard not to be humble. I remain grateful to Tanka, the Newmans, and the people who make endurance rides possible for the hours I get to spend in nature with my favorite athlete, Tanka, who has now won the OD Crabbet award three times.

Stagg Newman and Syrocco Tanka
Photo by Cheryl Newman