Lindsay Graham is excited about her latest chance to team up with 10-year-old gelding Monk, the horse she rode for a North American-record time for 100 miles last summer.
The 2000 Vintage High graduate is one of only two Americans who have been invited to compete in the annual President of the UAE Endurance Ride in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Feb. 11.
Despite her record last summer, and fourth-place finish in the North American Endurance Championships in Greenville, Calif. — just north of Truckee — in September, Graham isn’t planning to push Monk as hard as she can to claim a victory in the Middle East.
This is just the first race of a year she expects to be busy.
“What our goal is this year,” she said of herself and Monk’s owner, Chris Martin of Penn Valley, “is to make it to the World Endurance Championship in England in August, and we have trial for that, a tryout, at the end of March in Texas. So I have to be careful. If Monk has a problem over there he might be out for the tryout. So I’m going to use it as a really good conditioning ride and work on a good pace. He’s still going to be working, but we’re not going to be out there racing for the win. We’re going to go out there and do the best we can but also enjoy the experience.”
That doesn’t mean Graham is going to throw in the towel, which the organizers certainly wouldn’t want to read online.
“I’m not holding him back,” she said. “I’m just going to be working on a good pace. You can still do really well; you can still win this way. But I’m not going to say I’m going there to win. I’m going there to ride my ride and just do the best I can, but more importantly keep this horse healthy.
“If they read that they’ll think I’m not a threat, and then I’ll be a threat. The other horses could get tired, get pulled for metabolic or lameness problems. I’ve won 100-mile races doing it this way. But if Monk wants to go faster, I’m not going to let him do it. I need to work on him just being relaxed and at a nice easy canter and not getting ahead of himself and wanting to take off, even if he feels fantastic.”
Graham is ranked No. 5 in the country for the 100 mile distance, but the Abu Dhabi ride wanted American riders who had never competed in it before, and the top four had. The other rider invited is Doug Swingley, 58, from Lincoln, Mont. Swingley started competitive endurance riding after winning his third straight Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska in 2001, having won his first one in 1995.
Graham said she doesn’t know too much about the UAE ride except that it will be unlike anything she’s competed in before.
“It’s literally in the desert, not quite like it is here,” she said. “You can’t go over there and expect your horse to compete against those horses because they’re used to that terrain and run their horses faster than ours because they have a lot of them. Our horses are only going to be there 48 hours so you can’t really expect them to be able to perform at the top of their ability because it’s a lot of travel time. They’re not eating and drinking well and it’s not the normal routine for them.”
She’s heard the ride is as chaotic as the Tour de France at times.
“It’s going to be crazy because they start with a lot of horses galloping and like 100 vehicles driving alongside you,” she said. “People follow you and honk their horns at you and scream and yell, versus here, where you go out and do loops in the mountains and come back and see everybody. But Monk will be OK. He gets trained alongside the quad (four-wheeler), so he is used to a lot of noise.”
Monk was flown out via Los Angeles and Singapore on Saturday and Graham is flying out on Tuesday via Frankfurt, Germany.
“I get there at 11:40 p.m. on Feb. 8 and fly back at 1:40 a.m. Feb. 13, I’ll be exhausted,” said Graham, who graduated in June 2010 from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and now works for Napa Valley Veterinary Hospital on Silverado Trail. “Everything’s paid for, the flights, the hotel. It’s a free trip, and that’s why I’m going — to experience the Middle East, which I probably would never get the opportunity to do otherwise. My work is letting me have the time off again, which is so nice.”
Weather.com says the temperature will be 82 degrees that day in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m not sure what the course is like, but I heard it’s mostly flat and most of it is hard-packed sand and not deep sand,” Graham said, adding that Martin has taken Monk to the sandy Washoe Valley near Reno to get used to the terrain.
Graham will be going with her mother, Susan Graham-Seibert.
Her busy year will include her wedding to Erik Fisher in Yountville on June 9.
For more information on Graham and Monk, visit Chris Martin’s blog at feiredhorse.blogspot.com