I normally explain to people that I must have been born an endurance rider–it just took me a while to find the sport. I started riding as a toddler. As soon as I was able to manage my own horse, I set off for my “adventure rides”. As I grew older, my distances grew, but I still had no idea there was a competition like “endurance.”
During my teenage years, I got into the normal Oklahoma things–rodeo and/or barrel racing, pole bending, western horse shows. I started spending more time doing boring circles and less riding out.
In 1974 I bought the property on Cypress Creek, near Houston, where I still live today. For the next six years, along with my sales career with Tony Lama Boot Co., rodeo was still my primary focus, but I couldn’t resist those adventure rides on the creek either.
In January of 1981, while idly waiting in a shop, I picked up a magazine and read the 1980 “Tevis Win” story of Lori Lee Stewart. Inspired and challenged, I informed my husband that I absolutely had to do this race before I died and commenced the preparation right then and there. I set out to do this race as just a “one time deal”.
At that time there was not one endurance ride in the state of Texas, nor anyone that I knew who could advise me. I called the Tevis headquarters in California to ask for an entry blank, and actually spoke to one of the original founders, Wendell Robie. I cringe now at the dumb things I said to this man! My first question: “How many days does it take to run? Only one!!! Oh my God!” “May I enter? Full? Oh no, I have to do it this year, ’cause I’ll be too old if I wait any longer.” I was 31.
Among the things that I didn’t know was that Wendell was in his 80s and still riding long distances. He was so very kind and patient as he explained that I wasn’t too old, and there was a good chance that if I got on the waiting list, I would get a slot. I started training an older, heavy-muscled quarter horse, as Wendell also explained (patiently) to me, that no matter how wonderful, big and strong my 4-year-old Quarter horse was, he was not old enough to run the Tevis Cup. I must have sounded like an idiot.
Texas did have its first 50-mile endurance ride that May. Intent on making it THE training ride for Tevis, I entered on “Ole Grey” and tried to keep up with these hot shots from Mississippi. That poor Quarter horse — he had been a runaway his whole life. Not any more – one 50 miler cured him of that!
Our first race did convince me Arabians were the horse for this sport. Since there were none trained and ready for long distance in Texas, my husband and I went out to California several weeks early, leasing trained and conditioned horses from Chuck Stalley and Richard Barseleau. We trained with them and Pat Brown. All of these people were Tevis experts and are still actively competing. What a lucky gal I was.
In those 6 weeks each of them taught us special things in their own way. At the end of 100 miles, Pat French, (my husband at the time) and I finished the mighty Tevis in 98 and 99th position in a race that normally only finishes half the field. We were so dumb, we didn’t know two novices couldn’t do it. Luckily we had good horses and some good coaching!
We came home from California, so absolutely “bit” that within one year all of our quarter horses–barrel horses, team roping and steer roping horses–were gone, replaced by Arabians and part-Arabians. Our arena soon became over grown with grass and simply another paddock. We never looked back. At last, I was back to simply covering ground when riding and I couldn’t be happier.
I soon started managing endurance rides both in Davy Crockett National Forest and at my place, Cypress Trails Equestrian Center. That gave me even more time in the saddle as I explored the flood plains and creek banks further and further around my little farm. Eventually I established a 100-mile trail. Some of it even goes around Bush Intercontinental Airport. Riding sandy trails on beautiful white creek beaches lined with stately pines made up my life of riding. I started giving clinics as well.
Then in 1994, after rebuilding my home and stables following a devastating flood, I gave in to the public who continually asked to rent horses from my very visible farm. Today, my husband Mark Dial, our children and I combine our sport with the business of giving Adventure Trail Rides and lessons, while conditioning, training, buying, and selling only the long distance race horses. It takes all of this to make a living, but what else would I be doing even if I had a kazillion dollars?
So here we are, 44 horses on the place, 31 of them ours. Besides the trail rides (yes, on our trained endurance horses, each with their custom-made tack) and lessons, we also have an active lease program so students can compete. We often take 16 horses to a ride, with all of us working together as a team to get everyone home safe and sound.
We compete under the cardinal farm rule: Don’t stop unless the horse is in trouble or you are in the ambulance! If a horse gets pulled, the rider falls in with the crew, working with the rest of the farm team. We are all for one and one for all. I don’t guess we’re slowing down anytime soon!
Darolyn Butler-Dial has a passion for endurance riding – a passion which has kept her in the saddle for nearly 20,000 competitive miles, taken her to races all across the Americas and on several continents, and earned her Team and Individual medals of Gold, Silver and Bronze, in the U.S. and abroad.
The year 2001 was a trying one for Darolyn and her family. While off at a ride, her farm flooded again. Friends and family were able to save most of the horses, but two were drowned, including one of her top competitors. Another top horse died of colic while at a ride, while a third was injured and required surgery. Then a horse fell with Darolyn, smashing her pelvis. At this writing she is still in recovery mode, having graduated to a walker.
“The endurance world has been so kind to me,” Darolyn reports. “With all the problems we have had this year, a lot of my recovery is thanks to my friends — brothers and sisters on the trail. It is a wonderful sport with wonderful, caring people.” To visit Darolyn’s farm website and learn about the endurance riding and training at Cypress Trails Equestrian Center click on www.horseridingfun.com.
More On Endurance Riding!
Endurance Riding is normally a one-day event (much like a human marathon) of distances from 25 to 100 miles, with the horses’ fitness and condition monitored by veterinarians and ride officials throughout the distance. Like a marathon (and unlike competitive trail riding, another sport) the first horse to cross the finish line is the winner.
In the U.S., the American Endurance Ride Conference sanctions endurance riding and the sport is recognized internationally by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI).
Bred through the centuries to cover great distances, pure and partbred Arabian horses tend to be the stars in the endurance world. To learn more about long distance riding click here.