NEW JERSEY - Don’t underestimate the power of a diminutive woman and her diminutive horse, especially when she’s wearing “cheap and brightly colored riding tights,” her signature style. The 4’ 10” Kate Vogel, and her 14.3 mustang, Fez, won three of the New Jersey Trail Ride Association’s (NJTRA) competitive trail rides (CTR) last year — the Bunny Hop, a 25-mile ride; the New Jersey 3-Day 100 and the Jersey Devil, a two-day 50-mile ride.

They also participated in several endurance rides, where they finished in the top 10. Along the way, Vogel and Fez won the highest number of points in the Colts Neck Trail Riders Club open hunter pace division, as well as riding in parades and doing meet-and-greets for equine organizations at the Monmouth County Library. This year, the duo hopes to compete in more 3-day 100 CTRs, as well as a 75-mile endurance ride and possibly the Moonlight in Vermont ride, a 50-miler held during a full moon.

What exactly is the difference between endurance and CTRs? According to the North American Trail Ride Conference, “Both cover a set, measured course, and the veterinary judge closely monitors the horses in both sports. 

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"Endurance rides must be completed within a maximum time, and the winner is the horse that finishes first and is judged fit to continue. But in CTR, the horse and rider must finish the ride within a window of time, and speed is not a judging factor.

Horse manners are judged in CTR trail riding, as is horsemanship; these are not judged in endurance. In endurance riding, horses are checked by a veterinary judge at certain points and are judged as fit to continue. The veterinary judge in CTR will check the horse anywhere along the trail, and the horse is judged on whether his parameters have changed since the baseline established at Friday check-in. Riders can proceed on foot in endurance riding, but for all forward motion in competitive trail riding, the rider must be mounted.”

Vogel, 58, of Howell, NJ, grew up in Gloucestershire, England, the youngest of five children born to a country doctor and his wife. As a teen, she hunted with the Cotswold Vale Farmers Hunt and the Ledbury Hunt, participating in both hunts’ Pony Clubs and earning an “A” level in horsemanship.

She was later an apprentice jockey at Goodwood Racecourse, but found she wasn't tough enough to become a professional jockey. Vogel eventually earned a degree in poultry production from a UK agricultural college, a degree she admits she’s never used “unless you count the six chickens she had at home until the coyotes ate them.”

She met her husband Ethan in 1982 and married and moved to the U.S. in 1985. Once here, she began riding at Overpeck Stables in Bergen County. “It was so contained and disciplined versus riding in England. It was good for me,” said Vogel.

Her mustang, The Fabulous Fez, hails from Wyoming’s Divide Basin and was captured at the age of 3. Now 14, Fez was 6 when he came into Vogel’s life. She found him on Dreamhorse.com, and the green broke gelding had two previous owners. Vogel’s daughter Diana saw him on the website at the same time as her mom, and both women instantly thought there was something about him that demanded further inquiry.

Fez was originally called DeFazio, a la “Laverne and Shirley,” but Vogel said that’s only because she misheard his actual name, Desafio, which is Portuguese for “challenge.” DNA tests reveal that Fez is primarily Morgan, with some quarter horse and Rocky Mountain blood.

Fez isn’t the only equine in Vogel’s backyard. His companion is Waterloo Willie, an 11-year old chestnut Standardbred she adopted from the Standardbred Retirement Foundation after the organization rescued him from a kill buyer.

When asked about her conditioning regimen, Vogel said Fez is already in good condition, as he lives out 24/7. She’ll start riding him next month in preparation for their first competition at the end of March. She focuses on interval training, walking a bit, trotting a bit, and working up slowly to more heavy trotting. “I don’t push him,” she said. Her training schedule for most of the season consists of three or four outings per week at 45 minutes to an hour each ride. “I don’t do 20-mile rides on the weekend. I want the long rides for when he is competing,” she said.

“I’m not a show ring person anymore,” said Vogel. “It’s too much money to ride in a ring for three minutes.” With CTR or endurance, it doesn’t matter what type of clothing you wear or what type of horse and tack you have. “It’s all about you and your horse, out on the trail,” she said. Vogel wants to attract juniors to the sport, and said always more than willing to have a junior tag along with her on a ride.

Endurance rider Wendy Mancini, of Wall, NJ, has known Vogel for 17 years now, meeting through the NJTRA. “One of the things about Katie that makes her a good horse person is that she is calm, steady and yet firm. She doesn’t get flustered,” said Mancini. “That calm and steady attitude is always communicated to the horse.”

She adds that through CTR, Vogel has developed the discipline of pacing to travel many miles at a steady pace to maintain aerobic metabolism in the horse. “Katie reads educational articles on endurance, attends seminars, listens to the stories of expert riders and communicates with the veterinarians associated with CTR and endurance. She understands the equine physiology of endurance and manages her horses carefully to avoid metabolic imbalances, muscle and tendon use injuries,” said Mancini. “Endurance is a complicated equine discipline, more so than most would believe. Katie’s steady training of Fez and her accomplishments with Fez are a tribute to her ability to apply concepts of equine physiology and equine psychology to riding long distances – 50 miles or more. It is notable that Fez is a mustang in an endurance world that is dominated by Arabians. And yet, what better horse to compete in endurance than a mustang?” said Mancini.

For more information on the New Jersey Trail Ride Association see www.njtrailride.org

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