Cody Middaugh pivoted from baseball to horseback riding, finding his passion in the process. (Photo provided)

Cody Middaugh pivoted from baseball to horseback riding, finding his passion in the process.

Cody Middaugh is a sophomore at Ithaca High School, and when I learned that he had just completed a 30-mile endurance race last month, it got my attention. I always knew he was a determined young man, but 30 miles? That’s quite a distance.

Cody’s mom, Jan, is a longtime friend and former colleague, and I recall sitting with her at one of his Babe Ruth baseball games a couple of years ago. It was a continuation of a family legacy, as I had written a story about Cody’s brother, Brandon, who did a fine job on the diamond for the Little Red a decade earlier. Cody held his own as a baseball player, but it turned out that the sport just wasn’t his thing.

A few months after that, I asked Jan if Cody was doing any other sports, and she said that he had lost interest in baseball. I was sorry to hear that. Jan assured me that while her son had tossed the glove and bat into the closet, he had found another passion.

When it came to horseback riding, he was “all in.”

Middaugh has been “all in” enough to work his way up to Head Apprentice at Painted Bar Stables, and horseback riding has become a big part of his life. The aforementioned 30-mile race was completed with his friend Spock, an 11 year-old Appaloosa Mule, and the endurance event was Cody’s second.

When asked about the “residents” at Painted Bar Stables, Cody said, “There are 44 horses, a cow and a mule, and I generally ride the mule.” He added, “Spock came from a Florida auction, and mules are often brought in as companions for horses, some pull wagons and some are ridden.”

Cody and Spock are forging quite the friendship, and they have, to date, taken part in three shows and three races.

“Mules tend to be very sure-footed,” Middaugh offered, “and our 30-mile race took us about six and a half hours to complete.”

I wondered how horses and their human companions train for such events, Cody stated, “At Painted Bar, we’re lucky enough to have a large trail system bordering the property, and we have access to them. On weekends we do rides from 7 to 10 miles, and we navigate different trail obstacles.” He said that when the actual races are held, the health and safety of the horses is monitored very carefully and thoroughly. There are periodic checkpoints (every 15 miles) staffed by veterinarians, and that “if the horse doesn’t look right or feel right, the vets do a quick exam to make sure their heart rate is down and that they’re cool, calm and relaxed.”

As he speaks, Cody’s connection to the horses (and to Spock) is evident. He speaks of them as if their experience deeply matters, and he said, “A lot of the horses feel connected to their riders, and they will do more things for a rider if they are bonded. Trail horses are calm, and they do their job, and most of them will work with a lot of different riders.” However, he added, “It’s clear that some of them want ‘their human.’”

At the last event, held in Hector, there were 15 riders taking part in the 15 mile race, fifty-eight riders did the 30-mile race and 11 went 50 miles. I asked Cody if there were any longer races, and he went global with his answer. “The longest race in the world is the Mongol Derby, which covers 1,000 kilometers over 10 days,” Cody said. When asked if he ever knew anyone who had done that race, and whether he had any such aspirations, he replied, “I know two people who have done it, and no, I am not crazy enough to do that.”

Horses do factor into Middaugh’s plans however. He stated, “I have thought pretty far ahead, and I have decided to become a vet tech. I plan to keep horses in my life, for sure.”

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