Linda Crandell thinks nothing of hopping on her horse and going for a little ride -- of about 100 miles or so.
The 59-year-old Anne Arundel County resident is on the short list of the nation's top endurance riders. This international sport features 100-mile races on horseback, usually completed in about 12 hours.
The terrain varies from flat, sandy courses in Florida to mountain rides through Virginia to switchbacks in the Rockies. Competitors have up to 24 hours to finish a race, and veterinarians are stationed along the trail to monitor the horses. Riders go anywhere from 10 to 40 miles before they reach a checkpoint, where they can take a short break.
Crandell, who had ridden as a child, didn't take up serious riding until 1976, when she was 35 and the mother of three young boys. She planned to raise show horses on her West River farm, but her first horse didn't cooperate.
"You couldn't keep him in the show ring," she says. "He was scared to death of paper, noise -- he would jump out of the ring."
A friend told her about competitive trail riding, "and this horse that couldn't stand to be in a ring, we put on an endurance trail." Today, Crandell's biggest challenge is keeping enough strength in her arms -- especially her upper arms -- to hold back an excited horse that wants to run. To prepare for her endurance competitions, she stretches regularly and lifts weights, working out with 5- and 10-pound barbells three times a week.
"I try to do 20 lifts in five different directions," she says. She also does crunches and leg lifts to strengthen her torso. She can skip a workout for her legs because constant riding keeps them strong.
Finding the time to get herself in shape for a race can be tough, especially because of her job as a real estate agent, but getting her horses fit is easy.
"It's great when you have one that's got some age and experience and has done this -- there's little you need to do," Crandell says.
She trains her horses in a pen when they're young, and then starts them into serious trail riding at about age 5, gradually conditioning them with moderate climbs.
The horses climb hills at a trot, but canter and gallop the rest of the race. In one race, Crandell says, "I probably galloped 75 miles of the 100."
The most prestigious award in the sport, she says, isn't the first-place finish, but an award given to the best-conditioned horse as determined by veterinarians.
Crandell raises Arabian horses, a breed she favors because they have greater lung capacity and generally weigh less than other horses. Her current partner is an 11-year-old gelding named LR Forgeym. The LR stands for Long Run, the name of her farm.
Though her boys are grown now, the entire family is still involved with horses. Her oldest son, John Crandell III, is a farrier and an international consultant for competition horses. He also competes in endurance rides.
Jeffrey, married to an equine nutritionist, manages a 600-acre farm and trains young horses. Her middle son, Jay, broke ranks and became an engineer -- but he helps train young horses, too, and when the family is traveling to races he takes care of the horses left at the farm.
Crandell, who was in contention to represent the United States in the world championships to be held next month in France, was not chosen as a rider, but LR Forgeym will likely be in the competition, and she will act as a trainer.
For more information about endurance riding, visit the American Endurance Conference's Web site at www.aerc.org.