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By Lisa Parker
Some people wander around most of their lives wondering what they love or want to do -- others have it figured out at 2.
Or so it seems when you talk to Alexandra Luck, a petite blonde girl all of 12 years old who was just invited to the United Arab Emirates to do what she does best -- compete in a grueling equestrian endurance race.
Alexandra, from Pinos Altos, rode her first horse, a nondescript "palomino pony," when she was 2. She says she remembers her first ride. Ten years later she has graduated to some of the finest horseflesh in the world -- full blooded Arabians that dominate the sport of endurance riding.
Alexandra says she knew all along that she wanted to compete in the sport. Her mother, Nicole, had become involved in endurance riding and told Alexandra when she was 8 she could compete too.
Nicole said she required the age limit because "Right here in this area it's (endurance riding) really competitive."
In four years of competing, Alexandra has amassed 4,420 endurance miles. That's a lot of time in a saddle, but the miles can add up quickly. The race in the U.A.E. was 50 miles long, and according to Nicole, Alexandra's favorite event requires covering 100 miles in a single day.
In 1997, Alexandra rode 1,245 endurance miles on her Arab mare, VP Golden Musk. In 1998, she and VP Golden Musk covered 1,715 miles and Alexandra earned the title of junior national endurance riding champion. Juniors are all riders under age 16.
What does a 10-year-old do for an encore? Alexandra said that since her success in 1998 she's been giving her mare a break and focusing on improving her riding skills. She rode several different horses during 1999, and since Dec. 1 has competed in seven races on six different mounts.
And of course, there's the trip-by-invitation to the U.A.E.
Valerie Kanavy, a two-time adult world champion rider from Virginia, wrote Alexandra in August telling her she might be able to compete in the "World's Most Preferred Childrens Endurance Ride."The ride has been held for a few years in the U.A.E., Nicole said, but this is the first year the country opened it to international competition.
Endurance riding is a very important sport in the U.A.E., Alexandra and her mom said. Entire small villages are built around it, they said, and competitors are generally the offspring of sheiks.
Alexandra found out March 9 that she would be able to compete in the Most Preferred ride. She and a California boy were chosen from the United States to go; three youths, one each from Portugal, Spain and New Zealand, were also included. The rest of the 18 competitors were from the U.A.E.
Nicole said the children from Portugal, Spain and New Zealand were chosen by their respective countries. The U.S. youth were required to be credentialed by the U.S. Equestrian Team.
With 10 days notice, Alexandra, her mom and dad, Gary, left March 19 for the U.A.E. With the calendar showing two days elapsed, they arrived. The race, scheduled for March 23, was postponed and held March 24.
Alexandra has become accustomed to riding other people's horses, but this time she had just one hour of riding time to get acquainted with her horse, an Arab gelding named TK High Roller. The beautiful grey was made available to her with the help of U.A.E. businessman Khalid Al Ghurair, who arranged for her to ride his cousin's horse.
"Since I really didn't know the horse I didn't really know what to expect," Alexandra said.
The newly-matched pair did well, though, placing fifth and garnering the coveted "Best Condition" award at the race's finish. During the 50-mile race, the horses were given one break each of 30 and 40 minutes. During these breaks, the horses were examined by a veterinarian. Each animal's pulse was taken; then the clock began ticking. Alexandra said she likes to compete at a level where the horse's pulse is in the 120-range. But 20 minutes after a horse's pulse is taken at a break, it must be down to 60.
As Nicole said, "They only give the horses 20 minutes to pulse down, so if they're over 60 they pull them -- even if it's only 61. It takes smart riding and a good crew" to finish an endurance race, she said.
The race was held in close to 100-degree heat, Alexandra said, and "There were quite a few pulls -- just people pulling their own horses because they didn't want them to get hurt."
Nicole said Alexandra did a good job of riding a smart race with TK High Roller. "He looked great after the competition -- with this big old floaty trot."
The event, Alexandra said, "was kind of like the Olympics for kids."
She plans to continue competing this year on various horses, along with training other people's horses for endurance.
To what does she attribute her early success? "I think it's partially naturally, but you really have to work hard even if it comes natural to you." She also practices ballet and jazz, and used to do gymnastics. These things "really help for balance and training myself and keeping myself in great shape."
A student at Meadowhawk Erdkinda, a Montessori affiliate school in the Arenas Valley, Alexandra hopes to go to Illinois this summer to train with Jan Worthington and Grace Ramsey, the manager of the U.S. Equestrian Team. These women have already given her "a lot of help," she said.
In the future, she hopes endurance riding will be accepted as an Olympic Sport. In the meantime, she has her sights set on a 100-mile race near Truth or Consequences on Saturday. And of course, when she hits the ripe old age of 16 she'll be able to compete in the prestigious Pan American Games. The adults now in the sport are probably breathing a sigh of relief that that's still four years away.