Lisa Delp and her 21-year-old daughter Meghan Delp, both of Westminster, have ridden their horses in endurance competitions across most of the East Coast, from Maine to Florida, and a few Midwest states, but the pair has always dreamed of riding the mountains of Utah and Wyoming. Now they are making that dream come true.
Endurance is an equestrian sport recognized worldwide — a controlled long-distance race with veterinary checks along the way. Horses must pass the vet check at each checkpoint to continue on. Most endurance competitions are 50 or 100 miles long.
On June 19 and 21 the pair competed in the Strawberry Endurance Ride, which began 55 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, just north of the Strawberry Reservoir.
According to the Strawberry Endurance Ride website, the Uinta Mountains terrain they rode during this endurance competition is challenging but steeped in beauty, with trails winding through aspens and meadows filled with wildflowers.
Three races in three days were offered, but they chose to rest their horses on the June 20 race.
Meghan rode the 55-mile race on her horse, Fire, on June 19, then took a day off before riding the 35-mile race with her mom on the third day.
Lisa's horse, Wicked Breeze, had begun acting odd after the pair were separated at a mud bog the first day, so she decided to go back for a vet check, skipping the 55-mile ride. When she found that her horse was OK she competed in the 35-mile ride on June 21.
For the June 21 ride, both mother and daughter finished in the top 10, scoring seventh and eighth out of 23 riders.
Only the top 10 horses in the race are eligible for the High Vet Card Award, given to the horse the veterinarian considers most fit, and Lisa won that award, which earned her a new horse blanket.
Meghan said the horses will get two weeks of rest as they travel on to compete again in the three-day Shamrock Endurance Ride, held on a Wyoming ranch in early July.
Meghan said the races are "a bonding experience" for her and her mom.
"We do everything together, both with and without horses," she said. "During a ride we never race each other and we usually take turns placing ahead of each other unless a tie is allowed."
According to Meghan, competitive rides usually begin in early morning.
"Sometimes it's still dark when we head down the trail," she said. "We like to move a little quicker early on [while] the weather is still cool and the horses are fresh. Later in the day when it's hotter we slow up a little but still keep a steady pace, trotting most of the way, usually averaging about 8 mph, depending on the terrain."
Over the past eight years, Lisa has accumulated more than 8,000 competitive miles and Meghan has completed more than 5,000. They are both members of the American Endurance Ride Conference, the national governing body for endurance riding. They are also members of the Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association and the Old Dominion Endurance Club. Lisa has won the ODEC Triple Crown Award several times.
"You have to finish all three of their rides in one year [to get this award]," Lisa said. "The more miles you compete the bigger the award."
In the field of endurance, awards do not come in the form of cash. They are often belt buckles, horse blankets and other noteworthy trinkets; but for this pair the ride is not for the prize — it is for the joy of riding.
"I love this sport because it allows us to see beautiful trails and meet wonderful people that really care about their horses," Lisa said.
Those interactions, Lisa said, have blossomed into lasting friendships.
"I have done this long enough to have developed wonderful relationships and great friends," Lisa said. "Endurance riders seem to really have your back and go out of their way to help fellow competitors — even at the cost of their own ride."
Cate Peloquin, of Darlington, said she has put down many trail miles with Lisa and Meghan.
"Lisa and Meghan are both phenomenal," Peloquin said. "Lisa is a very good mentor — so willing to share whatever knowledge she has that it makes it really easy to be around her. She's passionate and knowledgeable about her horses. She's been significant in my education as a horse person and has helped me learn so much about the horses, pacing and how to be successful."
Patti Pizzo, of Upper Black Eddy, Pa., agreed.
"Meghan is laid-back and puts her horse above everything," Pizzo said. "She is very kind to her horse and considerate to fellow riders. And Lisa has helped me in so many ways. They are always willing to share information and companionship on the trail. I know I can always count on either of them to help me out no matter what, no matter when."
Meghan is about to start her senior year at Virginia Tech, where she is studying animal and poultry sciences. She has plans to go to veterinary school and follow her dad, Brian Delp's career path. He currently serves as a vet at Laurel Racetrack.
"I want to study equine medicine and hopefully work with my dad one day at the track with the thoroughbreds," Meghan said. "I've always had horses in my life, and I will always plan to have them in my future."
Lisa's mom, Pat Holland, of Westminster, said she's "never seen a mother and daughter as close" as Lisa and Meghan.
"Their whole life is about endurance riding and Meghan's college," Holland said. "I got Lisa her first pony when she was about eight old. From then on there was no stopping it. Meghan gave up gymnastics to start doing endurance rides with her mom when she was about 13. About four years ago I flew to Reno, Nevada, to the Endurance Nationals for an awards ceremony where Meghan won the high point junior rider in all of the U.S. and Canada."
Meghan said she is drawn to endurance by the challenge.
"Whenever I cross the finish line with a healthy and happy horse I feel very successful," she said. "At the end of the day, especially after a 100-mile ride, I really enjoy the feeling of mental and physical tiredness. I feel like I've done something productive."