Holly Corcoran of Stroudsburg, PA dropped 40 pounds and got herself fit as part of a ten year plan to compete internationally in endurance. Her team won the bronze medal at her first international competition, the North American Team Endurance Challenge, shown above, just two years into her ten year plan.
It is a long hard road to the top of any sport, but Holly Corcoran of Stroudsburg PA has gotten there in 50 and 100 mile stretches. Corcoran is actively competing and winning in FEI level endurance rides with an eye toward the WEG in 2014 and more.
Corcoran is a CPA and entrepreneur by profession, yet she is passionate about the sport of endurance riding. Originally from New Jersey, she has always loved trail riding. She grew up with horses, riding since she was six months old when her father first put her on one of the family Morgan horses.
After a fifteen-year hiatus, she returned to riding as an adult, entering the western show ring, and teaching her children to ride. They were involved in 4H, and Corcoran was a club leader for 10 years while the family took part in showing Arabians. “It kind of started off pretty tame. As I was going along, I was finding I was really looking for something different,” she said.
Daughter Kelly is now 21 and nearing graduation from Penn State and has applied to vet school for the fall. That leaves Corcoran time to pursue her love of endurance riding.
Not for Everyone
Endurance riding is not a sport for every horse and rider combination. It involves a timed race over 50 to 100 miles in one day over a marked course, monitored by veterinarians at intermittent checkpoints. Winning requires the horse and rider team to turn in the best time within the maximum time limits of 12 hours for a 50 and 24 hours for a 100 mile ride, plus the horse must be deemed “fit to continue” at the end of the trek.
Endurance rides are sanctioned by the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) and in 1978, the FEI recognized endurance riding as an international sport.
Corcoran has a small Arabian farm in Effort, PA where she trains and conditions horses for competition. She became involved in endurance in 2003, finding that it combined her love of the horses with competition over trails. Initially she began riding “limited distance” rides, which are 25-30 mile rides sanctioned by the AERC.
In 2007, Holly entered her first longer ride in Elkins, West Virginia on her purebred Arabian mare, SEG Tornado Star (aka “Tora”) for whom it was also her first 50-mile ride. The pair teamed up with a very nice mother/daughter team and completed the ride in just under the maximum limit of 12 hours. From that point, Holly was truly hooked and was overwhelmed by the sense of accomplishment both personally and in preparing her mount for such distances.
Ten Year International Goal
In 2009, Corcoran set a long-term goal for herself to compete internationally and gave herself 10 years to accomplish it. To reach that level of riding, she knew there were several milestones that she needed to surpass. One was her own weight. She was 40 pounds overweight and it was a burden for herself and the horse to carry that weight over long distances.
Since 2008, Corcoran trimmed her weight by 40 pounds and implemented a successful fitness plan with the help of Elevations Health Club in Scotrun, PA. “The struggle with my weight has been a life long battle,” she said. “I realized I needed to be thin. I needed to be fit.
“My upper body strength was lacking so I decided to go to the gym and work on that, then I started spinning,” Corcoran said, noting that she hoped the workouts at the gym would help her keep fit during the winter season when riding is limited. It not only kept her weight down, it helped her performance as a rider. “In the first year I started riding it took me maybe six months. I found as I was losing weight we were doing better and better.”
Need the Right Horse
Another necessity to reaching international competition is having the right horse. While Tora was (and is) a spitfire horse, and able to cover 100 miles, she would not be the type of horse that could successfully race and win a 100-mile course.
Corcoran found Asgard Arabians in West Virginia, which specializes in Russian/French bred endurance Arabians. She now owns a five-year old gelding that will be qualified to race in the next few years. In addition she trains some of the unbroken prospects for competition and resale in conjunction with the breeder.
In April Holly received an invitation from Alexandra North, former member of the horse selection committee for the 2010 World Equestrian Games held in Kentucky, to ride her best horse, CV Nobody’s Fool, in the Buck Meadows California FEI 1* (50 mile) race on April 9, 2011. It was a challenging logistical feat since Holly is a CPA and was in the throes of tax season. At that ride, she placed 6th FEI and in May she completed FEI 2* (75 mile) race in San Jose California coming in 3rd FEI.
These rides provided Corcoran with the points necessary to receive an invitation to the North American Endurance Team Challenge in Greenville California on September 24, 2011. At the time of the invitation, she did not have a qualified horse to compete but was able to secure a 7-year-old gelding through Cypress Trails out of Texas. The North American Endurance Team Challenge (NAETC) is considered an international ride, hosting riders not only from across the US, but also Canada, Sweden, Great Britain and Romania.
The Northeast District fielded eight horses assigned to two 4-member teams. Holly’s teammates were veteran FEI competitor Megan Sleeper, Melody Blittersdorf, and Lisa Green. In order to receive a team medal, at least three horses must complete the ride. At about the 50 mile mark, Melody Blittersdorf was eliminated. But Meg Sleeper finished second, racing neck-to-neck at the finish line a second behind Jeremy Reynolds from California. Lisa Green finished eighth. Holly finished the ride at 2:30AM with a ride time of 16.5 hours and anchored a Bronze medal for the team. The other Northeastern team won the Silver.
“Overall, 2011 has been a fairy-tale FEI year. Progressing from a 50-mile rider with some top ten AERC finishes to a 100-mile FEI medal team all in one year!” Corcoran said.
Corcoran has various AERC rides scheduled for this year and will be starting six-year-old Faveur (Asgard Arabian by Bandjo DeFalgas, an imported French racing stallion) in completing his FEI requirements. Faveur completed his novice requirements last year so he will be doing an FEI 1* in June and an FEI 2* in December 2012. He will also be ready for the AERC National Championship ride in Sept 2012 that will be held at the Biltmore Estates in North Carolina. She is also preparing him to be ready for WEG in 2014.
Corcoran also has a five- year-old named Poete, also by Bandjo D.eFalgasm who will be completing his novice requirements in 2012 in preparation for his FEI 1* in 2013. He will be age ready for FEI Championship rides in 2015. “You have to make the best plan possible and be very fluid with that,” she said.