You want endurance?
Try to comprehend what Maria Alvarez Ponton of Spain accomplished Sunday.
Seven weeks after giving birth to a daughter, Maria, mom went out and captured the gold medal in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games endurance event.
Covering 100 miles in and around the Kentucky Horse Park, Ponton came in to the event as reigning world and European champion.
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Sunday, she sat in second place through the first two vet checks, then took control on her French-bred gelding Nobby.
The runner-up, leading his country to an overwhelming team victory, was Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, aboard Ciel Oriental.
His son crown prince Sheikh Hamdan Mohammed al-Maktoum was third on SAS Alexis. Younger son Sheikh Majid Mohammed al-Maktoum placed sixth aboard Kangoo D'Aurabelle.
Heather Reynolds of Team USA crossed the finish in fourth aboard Ssamiam. However, they were disqualified at the post-race trot out when Ssamiam came up lame.
Ponton made a remarkable recovery over seven weeks.
"I feel really well," she said soon after dismounting. "I feel normal — and I want to go to the hotel to see the baby."
With a 7:30 a.m. start, the race lasted about 11 hours including the mandatory holding (rest) periods. Actual time on the course was 7 hours, 35 minutes, 44 seconds.
As for her game plan coming into the race, Ponton said, "It was no strategy, really. He is a really strong horse, so I always have to try to go behind someone, behind the first one. Everybody pushed really, really strong, so I couldn't have a strategy at all. I have to keep going with them.
"I thought it was too fast, but, at the end, he was really strong."
Sheikh Mohammed led after the first vet check, about 20 miles into the race.
A slower presentation at the second vet check dropped him to 14th place. He steadily progressed from there, though, to sixth at the third check, then fifth, third and second. His time on the course was 7:36:39.
"Just to go out and enjoy yourself and look out for your horse," Sheikh Mohammed said of his strategy. "I love this country and the people here, and everything's great. Organization is good. The track is difficult, not easy, but that is (expected)."
With a cousin, Sheikh Rashid Dalmook al-Maktoum aboard Rukban Dikruhu Mmn, finishing seventh overall, the United Arab Emirates dominated the field.
"The love of the horse is in their blood, and that is why," Sheikh Mohammed said.
France took the team silver, more than 56 minutes of combined time behind the UAE.
Reynolds held off Jean-Philippe Frances of France at the finish line, only to see fourth place slip away in the trot out.
"He ran tremendous," Reynolds said of her gelding Ssamiam. "This is the second 100 of his lifetime, so he has very little experience. I'm really proud of him even though we got scratched at the end. I really look forward to future rides on him."
Each of the vet checks was a display of frantic organization. Horses slowly passed through a "bucket brigade" of water, helping the heartbeat slow.
Jeremy Reynolds, husband of Heather, was part of the U.S. crew. He came to Kentucky with hopes of competing but withdrew earlier in the month when his horse came up lame.
"It's hectic because it's tight in those quarters," he said of the crew area. "What we're trying to do is get the horse through smoothly and moving at a slow rate while we can get lots of cold water on them. You can get them really cool really fast."
Ellen Rapp, who like Jeremy Reynolds was knocked out earlier in the month due to an injured horse, also crewed.
"Our practice for our crewing absolutely helped us," Rapp said. "We're getting these horses through in under two minutes. Tack's coming off in under five seconds. So it definitely helped improve the crew."
The lone American to successfully complete the test was Deborah Reich on DJB Juniper. She placed 18th.
"Of course we're disappointed we didn't finish more horses, but we feel like our program is progressing well," Reich said. "We've had a year since we started this program and, all in all, we're making progress.
"We have an amazing crew. They're as fast as some of the best crews in the world."
Team USA was eliminated from team medal contention at the third vet check. Jan Worthington's Golden Lightning came up lame in the trot out. Lindsay Graham's Monk did not meet the critic recovery index, or CRI, of 64 beats per minute.
A third American, Meg Sleeper, was eliminated at the fourth vet check when Syrocco Harmony did not meet the CRI.
"It's a real bummer," Sleeper said. "You prepare for it for a few years. And he felt wonderful all day. I think he's tired — that's what happened.
"He did 75 miles fast, so I'm pleased with how he did what he did, but it's pretty depressing to not finish, especially when there's so many people supporting you and helping you along the way."
Worthington, at 70 the senior member of the team, also was disappointed.
"I just wanted to finish so badly and (Golden Lightning) was doing so well," she said. "We didn't have a clue that there was anything wrong with him until we trotted him out, and then you could see it. And that's why veterinarians are here, for the safety of the horse.
"We would have pulled him ourself because that's just how we are. We want to make sure he's OK. But he'll have other races. He's only 10 years old. That's young for an endurance horse."
Graham's horse, Monk, was eating, drinking and looking spry with ears pointed up soon after being retired.
"I had a lot of horse under me," she said. "He had a lot of juice left, so that's a bummer. I couldn't use it for the next few loops, but stuff happens. That's part of being in the horse industry.
"The sad part of this is we were both team members, so now the USA doesn't have a chance for a medal. So that's probably the biggest bummer for me."
■ While most entrants rode off to a cheering crowd, one did not. The Canadian horse RBF Super Sport, ridden by Ruth Sturley, wanted nothing to do with the noise and balked at the start line. Not until the crowd quieted was Sturley able to urge her horse on, about four minutes behind the leaders.