By SVERRE BAKKE
The universe of United States and Canadian endurance riding centered on Trout Lake and its surrounding environs last weekend when the biennial Pan American Endurance Championship came to the Mount Adams Country.
Ninety-one riders and horses, representing 14 teams and nine nations, took part in the international event, which was organized by the Trout Lake-based Mount Adams Endurance Riders and officially opened last Thursday by Ian Williams of Switzerland, chairman of the sport's governing body, Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI).
The 2003 Pan Am Championship, which doubled as a selection trial for the U.S. Equestrian Team that will compete in the next World Endurance Championship, began before dawn Saturday, with the first rider/horse teams leaving the Mount Adams Horse Camp at 5 a.m.
Their objective was to cleanly ride 100 miles on a technically challenging up-and-down, twisting and turning course that the organizing committee had devised through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest's Mount Adams Ranger District and neighboring private timberlands.
A field of 89 teams started the race and 50 finished, for a completion rate of 54 percent, which is about average for an international competition. On Thursday, FEI's Williams had suggested the prevailing conditions might provide for a completion rate as high as 60 percent.
First to finish all six loops was Cia Reis of USA East and her horse, Catch A Wave.
She and Catch A Wave took the gold medal, in a time of 9 hours, 14 minutes and 13 seconds (10.78 miles per hour), and also won the best condition award.
"We planned to do it (win) and we did," Reis said during an impromptu interview conducted while she and Catch A Wave posed for pictures Sunday afternoon, following the medal and award ceremony.
Defending PAC gold medalist Heather Reynolds of USA Pacific South, aboard a 7-year-old Arabian named Aleclipse, captured the silver medal, finishing in 9:37.40.
USA East rider Vicki Crance earned the bronze medal with her mount, RA Jestic Diamond.
Team gold to the USA Pacific North squad, while the USA Mountain Zone team collected the silver. Canada West, the only team to finish all four riders, garnered the team bronze.
While the horse-and-rider teams were working their way through the course, Saturday was a day of rest for members of the organizing committee, who were among those who saw their hard work over the past year come to fruition.
"We'd spent a good portion of the past year organizing the event sitting around a kitchen table, pulling together all the pieces," said committee vice chairman Stephanie Irving. "On race day, it felt great to stand back and watch everything fall into place."
Reis and her entourage arrived at Mount Adams Horse Camp two weeks before the ride and used the time to get familiarized with much of the trail.
Her biggest surprise, she said, was how difficult the ride was. Nonetheless, she and Catch A Wave completed the last 13-mile loop in 53 minutes, just as the sun was setting on a warm, cloudless September day.
"It was as if he knew that this was his last leg and I just let him go," Reis said.
Leonard Liesens of Belgium was the top international rider. He and Great Santini, a 15-year-old bay Arabian gelding on loan to him, came in 33rd overall in 12:48.19.
"The weather couldn't have been better, and the trails were in great condition. We were worried about it being too dusty, but the rain we received earlier in the week helped tamp things down," Irving said.
She added, "People had a great time. People left here with big smiles on their faces."
On a down note, the organizing committee announced Monday that a horse that competed in the PAC died. At the committee's request, the veterinarian commission initiated an investigation into the cause of death.
According to Mike Foss, a White Salmon veterinarian and FEI's foreign technical delegate for the event, the horse was treated for colic prior to the start of the ride. It was pulled from the competition during a mandatory vet check after exhibiting signs of distress.
"The organizing committee and all ride officials express deep sorrow at this loss. Our condolences go to the owner," said Foss.