Titanium, the three-day, FEI 3* Endurance race at Fort St. John, BC is the most northerly 3* endurance competition in the world. They have two events per year, one on the May long weekend, and the other on August long weekend.
For most riders it’s a two day trip to the ride camp at Doig River. Those coming from the east have a route over rich prairieland and forest. Past Slave Lake, they travel through the “Mighty Peace” country known for its diverse landscape of prairie, boreal forest and the Rocky Mountains. At Dunvegan Historical site, just before crossing the Peace River, there’s an accessible grassy area to graze your horse. After crossing the Peace River, elevations vary noticeably. The terrain opens up into foothills with spectacular vistas. The highways are wide and offer safe travel and even “flatlanders” can confidently manage the occasional steep slope.
Those coming from the south travel right through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. The scenery here attracts people from all over the world. The terrain varies from desert to soaring mountains. There is a beautiful rest stop west of Pine Pass at Bijou Falls. Williams Lake and Prince George have rodeo grounds for safe overnight stays.
The last 38 kilometres to the rodeo grounds on Siphon Creek Road are slower going – it has a few turns, but is paved all the way to the ride camp. Any one of the MacLeod family will greet and orient you as you come through the gate. Trailer parking is in a spacious, roughly mowed racetrack infield. Large water tanks are conveniently set out for horses in camp and for the crewing area. There is also potable water available at the band office not far away.
Tara MacLeod, along with her family and extended family, has organized endurance races for years. MacLeod’s Gone with the Wind racing team pulls together to mark trails, and provide meals for officials, riders and volunteers.
First riders (160K) start out at 5 a.m., just before sunrise. By the time riders get out of camp and up the river hill to trail, it’s already light enough to see. With almost 17 hours of daylight, no one needs a headlamp or glow stick for most, if not all, of the 160 kms.
Stretches of green pastures open up for those who like a scenic ride; bush trails gradually narrow for those who like to get up close and personal with a Jack Pine. It’s a great trail system for those wanting to start out a horse for the season, or those wanting to hustle and make COC time. It’s a place where new riders can learn to pace their horses. The footing for the most part is firm sand, with some soft bush trails. Any “hard parts” are short and safe. It’s not without its excitement with rocky bottomed, knee-deep (for horses) river crossings and a few steep inclines. Each year the MacLeods take onboard riders suggestions about making improvements to the trail, so each year it becomes easier for riders to achieve their goals.
Riders coming into camp will be greeted by their crew, of course, and by the most helpful and cheerful officials you’d ever want to know. Year after year, they come from all over North America and beyond, to officiate this ride.
This is the best reason to go to an FEI race. Vets and officials are regularly updated on what issues and rules are relevant to endurance. They have experience from conferences and endurance competitions that they have attended all over the world. They are tested regularly to make sure they are up to date with rules. They are approachable, helpful and willing to give riders information. From the perspective of endurance riders, they represent the best veterinarians the endurance community has to offer.
This year, during each weekend (May 20 – 22 and Aug. 5-7), there will be three days of racing. The possibilities for horse and rider combinations give the most bang for your travel buck to riders who have more than one horse. This is the best opportunity for riding teams to bring in a number of horses to fast track the star system for the year. It’s a great opportunity for those wanting to learn more by either crewing or volunteering for as many days as there are horses racing.
Afterward, if you are in the mood for cultural exchange with the Beaver (Dane-zaa) tribe, the interpretive center is a short walk up the hill. Sam, the storyteller, hangs out after the races to share the history of his people. The most popular person of all, Debbie the bannock lady, brings treats that disappear quickly.
An ancient Beaver Indian legend says: “Drink the water of the Peace River and you will return.”
I haven’t, directly, but my horse has. We’ll be there.