Lightning, Illness Rein in U.S. Team at Endurance Championship

A cloud of bad luck hung over the U.S. squad at the first-ever FEI World Endurance Championship in Malaysia, held Nov. 7-8 in Terengganu. Of the six American riders, only two completed the 160-kilometer (99.4-mile), course, having endured a tropical thunderstorm, high humidity, and darkness in the first event to be held at night.

The biggest scare came during the second phase when lightning nearly struck Jan Worthington, riding Golden Lightning, and Meg Sleeper, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, riding Syrocco Reveille.

"I saw the bolt of light and sparks all around us," recalled Sleeper, an assistant professor and cardiology section chief at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. "The thunderclap was immediately after and both horses bolted. Unfortunately, Leon (Jan's horse) bolted into Rev and pushed both horses out into the jungle. We hit a tree, and both horses went down and rolled."

Scratched and bruised, once the women determined their injuries were minor and the horses were sound, they remounted and finished the loop.

"It turns out a (lightning) bolt had hit the venue as well, and since everyone was standing in water over their feet because of the rainfall, they had actually felt the electricity run up their feet," said Sleeper.

Although both horses passed the following vet checks without trouble, the accident eventually caught up with them, and both horses were eliminated due to lameness in the legs that took the brunt of their collision.

Cheryl Dell, the third team member, started the event strong. But she was quickly overcome in the second phase by severe nausea and vomiting caused by a bacterial infection. Dell withdrew at Gate 2 and she was taken to a local hospital for treatment.

Of the four entries on the U.S. team, Katharine Brunjes and Theatric were the only U.S. pair to finish, placing 24th.

In individual competition, Valerie Kanavy and Flash Flame were 25th, just two hours behind the leader. Another individual rider from the United States, John Crandell III and HH Saba Shams, were eliminated at Gate 2 for lameness.

Despite the challenging conditions, the completion rate for the 126 riders from 32 countries participating was just under 40%, one of the highest ever recorded for this event.

About the Author

Irene Stamatelakys

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