Meg Sleeper VMD to challenge other international competitor in a 75 mile endurance ride
[September 9, 2011; Philadelphia, PA] – Meg Sleeper VMD is at the top of her game. She has been teetering between first and second in the nation, and was second in the world for a time as well. But international placements in endurance riding, where competitions are few and far between, tend to seesaw up and down. Dr. Sleeper hopes to solidify her standing at the top of the pinnacle when she rides in the Pan American Games, October 22nd, in Chile.
Dr. Sleeper competes in what could be considered the marathon of equestrian sports, endurance riding. It’s a long distance horse race that covers up to 100 miles. In Chile the ride will be 75 miles and Dr. Sleeper says competitors will probably average 11-12 miles an hour to finish in six hours. “It’s basically a canter the whole time,” she explains, “over rolling terrain.” There are four or five veterinary checkpoints along the way to evaluate the condition of the horses. Conditioning is a key element of the discipline, and at recent competition in North Carolina, Dr. Sleeper’s horse was awarded top-conditioned horse.
Cadie, Dr. Sleeper’s mount for the games, is an eight-year-old Arab mare that she bred herself at her Frenchtown, New Jersey farm. She’s a petite gray that Dr. Sleeper says “is very opinionated. She feels that I should just be quiet and sit there, and she will make it happen. I like to be able to pace her, though. She can be very strong in the beginning.”
Training is a challenge for Dr. Sleeper, who is Chief of the Section of Cardiology at University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is a clinician and an associate professor, as well as a researcher. Dr. Sleeper credits her lifelong love of horses, and growing up with a veterinarian father, for her career choice. “I’ve always been involved with horses, and that sparked in me a real interest in veterinary medicine.” Though her research and clinical work at Penn Vet’s Matthew J. Ryan Hospital on the Penn campus is focused primarily on dogs and cats, her special interest in cardiovascular disease is closely related to the conditioning work that is required of a successful endurance competitor.
Dr. Sleeper travels from Frenchtown, to Philadelphia a minimum of four days a week. “It’s quite a commute,” she admits, “but I love what I do so we make it work out.” Dr. Sleeper’s husband Dave Augustine helps enormously with the training and plays the crucial role of groom and right hand man at competitions. Dr. Sleeper also cross trains the mare in the sport of dressage. “The training is a keystone for us because it develops balance and core strength in the horse, which protects them from injuries over the miles of conditioning and competition. It has also greatly improved my riding.”
The Pan Am Games are held every four years in North, Central or South America and though Sleeper has been qualified before, she has never been able to go on her own horse. The cost was just too prohibitive. “Off continent championships,” she says, “just don’t receive as much funding from the United States Equestrian Federation as some of the other big competitions.” This time, however, she and her husband decided to go for it, and are reaching out to supporters to help make the $16,000 trip possible. “The support has been heartwarming. Without it, this trip wouldn’t be possible.”