When Marie Mallon arrives at the Pan American Games in Verÿmont later this month, she won't be in search of Zen.
She's already found him.
In fact, she's had him for nine wonderful years and hopes to enÿjoy his company for many more.
Zen is Mallon's Arabian horse she will be riding for the Pacific Northwest Endurance Team as they compete in the Pan American Games in South Woodÿstock, Vt. on Aug. 25.
Teams from all over North and South America will participate in the 100-mile endurance race, which will test both the equestrian contestants as well as their riders.
"This race is highly competiÿtive," said Mallon, who is the lone finalist from Oregon.
"I'd compare it to a state cross-country meet. Everyone gets along before and after the race, but if you fall during the race, you can't expect anyone to help you back up."
In other words, this is no casual ride in the countryside.
The physically demanding course takes competitors over rugged, winding terrain and reaches elevations of up to 4,000 feet. Combine the constant uphill battle with the sweltering East Coast summer heat and it takes a special horse -- and rider -- to finish the race.
"If we finish, that would be wonderful," Mallon said. "In a race like this, to finish is to win."
Mallon, 37, has been training Zen for endurance competitions for about nine years, most recentÿly riding him 100 miles on July 21. Preparing for an event like the Pan Am Games takes about three full years, but a horse must also meet certain pre-race requireÿments and pass numerous veteriÿnary tests before it is deemed capable to compete.
"It takes a pretty special horse to ride 100 miles," Mallon said. "It's difficult to keep a horse sound over that distance, so not many people make it."
For a horse to qualify, it must have completed 500 competitive miles, including at least two 100-mile rides, and be ruled physicalÿly sound by a licensed veterinarÿian.
Dr. Michael Foss of Hood River Alpine Vet Hospital has helped keep Zen on track for the competiÿtion by monitoring his heart rate, hydration levels and mental state throughout all phases of training.
"Zen's is a great horse, and Marie is a very smart rider," said Foss, who has been a team veteriÿnarian at every world and nationÿal endurance championship event since 1995. "We have very high expectations for both of them."
Mallon's challenge will be to keep the horse in shape while they travel from Odell to Vermont over the next two weeks. She has allotted 10 days to get there and plans to have another three or four days to prepare once they arrive.
Mallon is hoping not only for a safe trip back east, but a positive finish to this epic adventure.
Foss believes she has as good a chance as any rider because of her hard-working, conscientous attitude.
"Marie probably has the best chance to win of anyone in the Northwest," he said.
"In fact, I hope I don't see her," Foss laughed. "If I don't see her, that means the horse is doing well."
Though she and Zen still have along road ahead of them, Mallon doesn't seem phased. She's doing what she loves -- and competing in a world-class event like the Pan Am Games only fuels her soul.
"It's more fun to have some sort of a goal," Mallon said. "I love to ride, but it's much more exciting when I have something to train for."