Leona Jones (left), riding J.J. and Denise Pascucci, riding Nikea trotted to top-4 finishes at the Cariboo Plateau endurance ride at 108 Mile, in August. Monika Paterson Photography

Hope riders take second and fourth place at summer competition

Nearing retirement, Denise Pascucci’s Arabian steed Nikea still has a few more years left

A life-long love of horses is nearing a turning point — but before then, there should still be a few good years of riding for Denise Pascucci and her Arabian steed, Nikea.

“I’ve always been around horses,” said Pascucci (pronounced “Pas-KOO-chee”). “I had aunts and uncles who had farms outside Winnipeg, in Vassar and South Junction. I got my first horse when I was 18.

“I got the one I currently own on my forty-first birthday, 18 years ago, from Del and Carl Augustine. He’s a pure Arabian and his registered name is Aur Lanii but I call him Nikea.

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“I started riding endurance about 13 years ago, with Buffy Miller — and Shelley Taylor rides with me now. I keep my horse at Shelley’s place, by the airport. We’ve got morning and evening feeds, so Shelley usually does the mornings and I do the evenings and we work around our schedules.”

In 2012 and 2013, Pascucci and Nikea took part in the Cariboo Plateau endurance event at 108 Mile, then injuries, forest fires and other encumbrances kept them from returning until this year. On August 11, she partnered up for the competitive 25-mile ride, with fellow Hope rider, Leona Jones and her standardbred named J.J.

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There were 20 riders, with 10 in the 15-mile and 10 in the 25-mile event.

“A lot of the riders were from the Island, where they hold a lot of these rides,” said Pascucci.

“In this particular area, it’s rolling hills,” she explained. The trails are all marked with coloured ribbons. Because it’s a ranch, you ride through cattle in some places. In many places, you’re riding on cross-country ski trails, so the hills aren’t very steep. Where we train, up the Coquihalla and around Tulameen, the horses get a good workout, so this was easier for them.”

“You ride alone or in pairs and I rode with Leona,” said Pascucci. “Every group is spaced 10 minutes apart, so technically, if you run the ride the way you’re supposed to, you would never see the other riders.

“After the first loop, which is 15 miles, you have a mandatory 45 minutes to rest your horse and get a vet check.

“Your horse is given 300 points at the start and when you have your vet check, you lose points or keep your points,” she said. “They’re looking for saddle sores, limping, cuts and hydration.

“To check for hydration, they expose the inner lip and do a pinch test, to check for capillary refill,” said Pascucci, who is a lab assistant at Fraser Canyon Hospital.

“At the start, they told us we had 6 hours and 42 minutes to complete the ride, including the rest period — so we had to calculate our finish time. More than 10 minutes too early or 10 minutes late and you’re disqualified.”

Within that window, every minute early loses two points and every minute late loses one.

Riding at a pace of 4 or 5 miles per hour, the pair finished very close to their allotted time… then it was up to the final vet check, to see how many points they had retained.

“I got second place and Leona got fourth,” said Pascucci. “My horse managed to keep more points. He also won the senior high point award.”

Pascucci plans to retire next year, after 30 years at FCH. Nikea will be 23 years old by then. How long can they keep going?

“It all depends,” said Pascucci. “I know some people are riding horses that are 30 years old. Myself, I’d probably retire him by age 25.”

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