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  1. firosiro

    firosiro Pen Pal - Newbie

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    HIGH IN THE WILD AND LONELY SIERRA Nevada mountains, close to the place where the Donner party infamously perished in the snow 15 years back, my alarm begins its persistent beeping at 3:45 a.m.. It needn't have bothered, I'm already awake, and have been on and off all night, beneath the ponderosa pines at my tent in Robie Park. Now, without getting out of my sleeping bag, as I struggle--it's cold at 7,200 feet on July 31--I will hear the camp beginning to stir to life. Two hundred and fifty endurance horses, 250 passengers in varying states of nervous tension, heaps of veterinarians, ride officials and lots of hundred rider support personnel ("team" in endurance language) are beginning the endless day that will become the 50th running of the Tevis Cup Western States Trail Ride, the earliest, most famous and most ambitious 100-mile horse race in the world.

    I Hope I am ready. I've a fantastic horse in Rett Butler, an 11-year-old, 15-hand, bay Arabian gelding. I have a coach, Tammy Robinson, from whom I purchased Rett in 2002. At age 62, I've ridden 14 races such as Californios and 2 Mule Team -- just a few months earlier, at California. So I am no stranger to mountainous, precipitous terrain; in fact, this is my second attempt at the Tevis, but as adherents of the sport like to state, they wouldn't call it "endurance" in case it were not tough (

    By 4:45 our group is mounted and going out toward the 5:15 a.m. begin. Envision 250 Arabians, in the dark, in the cold, jammed! I'm riding with Tammy (on Charutu), Tammy's husband, Charlie (riding Rett's full sister Lady), and Don Bowen (on Rett's half-brother Whyatt). Somewhere behind us at the beginning lineup is a legend of the sport making her 24th Tevis Cup effort on the younger, full sister Tarrah of Rett. (See "I Have Been Blessed" on page 63.)

    The Beginning of any endurance race is pandemonium, and this one is no different. Tammy's purpose for our group is to begin quickly enough to avoid becoming trapped behind countless riders, jammed in on the narrow, track. From midsummer dawn's gray half-light, dimmed by great swirls of thick dust consumed by hundreds of churning hooves, I pull on a bandana over my face. Some riders wear painter's masks, and within minutes of the start of the race, all of us are brown with dirt. Horses galloping with equanimity, but before me can be tolerated by Rett, Whyatt canters sideways in anxiety. Down and down we go, weaving in and around the narrow trail avoiding trees that threaten to eliminate riders' kneecaps. After about nine miles, we emerge to the respite of Squaw Valley. It's up, up, up through forests of huge pines, skirting the edge of this mountain high above the ski lodges till we emerge beneath the Squaw Valley ski lift.

    Now We climb using our horses' heart monitors to modulate the seriousness of the effort.

    We Correct our journey to the heart speed of the poorer horses in our small group, because Charutu is a heartbeat "monster," always about 20 to 30 beats per minute lower than ordinary horses. "He must have a huge heart like Secretariat's," speculates Tammy. She will not tell us exactly what Charutu's pulse is, in order not to discourage us.

    I See some heedless riding today, riders racing up this mountain as though they're on motorcycles rather than horses. My friend and riding companion from back East, Nancy Roeber-Moyer, calls this type of blind attack "the reddish haze" that overwhelms the clear thinking of several highly aggressive characters. The vet test--Robinson Flat at 36 miles--sees the elimination of many of these riders who are extravagant.

    Finally, Above the ski lift, we reach the summit. It's a feeling of scenic splendor, I am sure, if we would take a moment to enjoy it. We don't. We're going to plunge into an treacherous and unforgiving stretch of trail; it is my least-favorite section of the Tevis Cup: the Granite Chief Wilderness.

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    Have You ever walked onto a granite jetty thrusting clambering over shards and slabs of stone that was twisted and tilted, out along the Maine coast? If so, you have some idea about what this stretch of trail entails. I don't allow myself look down; should I do, I attempt to guide the path between the stones, which may only throw him of Rett. I stay back, look up, hang on and hope he remains on his feet. I hear clanging, scratching, clashing steel-clad hooves on stone.

    I Understand this without a doubt: Not one of all my countless friends and acquaintances in three-day eventing would ever think about taking their event horses over this 20-mile stretch of the Tevis Cup course that I've just negotiated--and we are not even a quarter of the way home! It's only going to get a whole lot tougher, since each mile upon mile that is tough looms, we are doing those miles on horses. This, I think, is exactly what gets the Tevis Cup so much more arduous than all the other endurance races I have done (some 38 within the past seven years). There is just one challenge piled upon another, no respite.

    A Great deal of endurance riding is just hanging in there. They tell you to ride "chunks" of this ride, from one vet check to another; it is too emotionally overwhelming to think, "I have 67 miles to proceed." It is simpler to think, "I have only got 13 miles to visit Michigan Bluff." That you may handle; the other is psychological overload. Or, it is possible to break it down into even smaller bite-size pieces. "I can trot 25 more openings to that broken tree stump--regardless of how far my knees are burning--then 50 more posts to the black rock." Then do it again. And again.


    What is Hurting me are my feet, my back from having them braced out in front for the trotting and especially my knees. There are a million stones, from little ones to rocks bigger than basketballs. There is an endurance saying that "one of them has your name on it." Rett has gone down hard on his knees and his nose a couple of times previously, so I know the significance of that saying. My trip can be ended by A rail in a heartbeat. I don't want Rett to somersault. I try to keep attentive; I don't want to get out of balance with him, and also the bodily and psychological toll increases with the hours.

    There's A toll on the horses, also, which is the main reason for vệt holds. The race has nine vet checks (such as the finish), bút two of them include a real essential remainder--a one-hour hold. The nine checks Each have a standard, a number of heartbeats per minute that prior to if he can last the veterinarians will seem to choose your horse needs to reach. Because the pulse of your horse is elevated from work to the road, this implies his heartbeat must come down. At the checks that require a rest, your one-hour hold time does not even start until you get to the criterion, a moment that's called "pulsing in."

    At That criterion, Robinson Flat is 60. To assist Rett get "down," Bry Cardello and Tina Fransioli, my crew from back East, then sponge his neck and chest with cold water. Then we go in the front of the vets. They listen to Rett's gut noises, press on his teeth to get capillary refill, do a skin-tenting pinch test for hydration, watch him trot for soundness and monitor a cardio-recovery index to make certain his pulse stays down, and isn't spiking (a sure indication of distress).

    Then I go sit in the shade, whilst Tina and Bry lure Rett having an equine smorgasbord, therefore he could refuel for the miles ahead.

    Canyons: Only Dangerous If You Crash

    About Halfway through the ride, we come to the infamous canyons, which are essentially huge bowls within the mountains carved out millions of years ago by glaciers. To this very day, the American River runs through those canyons.

    There Is legend and lore about the hazards of falling off the edges of these paths that skirt these precipitous canyons, and I could see why as we ride switchback after switchback into the guts of the mountainscape. It's true that there is constant danger, but without downplaying it, I would say that it's the identical hazard. If you crash, it is only dangerous. These horses do not need to wreck thân wé riders desire thêm to. Accidents happen, but very infrequently once in a while, it's accurate. How else to say it? Riding the canyons is dangerous. No, accidents do not occur. I could say exactly the same thing. "Yes, even a horse could
    flip past a fence and land on me. It hasn't happened yet." On the regions, I simply do not look down. I'm not in love with these either, although I'm not fearful of heights just like some people are! Check it:

    Clawing Out of the two canyons is the most physically gut-wrenching region of the ride. Is a water hold and a opportunity to let our horses rest and eat for a couple of minutes. Soon, we'll come to our next grip. (We've given our horses unrequired rests, also, at some of the other vet checks. The winning cyclists probably have not.)

    Making Haste Slowly

    Riding From the dark changes the whole equation. It's ever so much slower, as well as the rock with your title on it becomes invisible, but the timing is magical and peaceful, too. Unless I am lost or it's raining, I love riding at night. The huge white moon is just like a searchlight, this night. Far beneath, we catch a glimpse of the ribbon of river and peek. We can hear its constant roar now fainter, as the road drops or ascends.

    At The Francisco's vet check (mile 86), Rett pulses in at regular, 68, but then his pulse rate fails to keep dropping. It warms up and down--69, 69, 70, 73--but stays. He is also hungry. Let him eat, I choose to remain and wait until his heartbeat becomes into the 50s before heading on. I've gotten this far; I do not wish to jeopardize our chance of completing with a time. (It's a good time to recall the American Endurance Ride Conference motto: "To finish is to win.") Tammy and Don press on. I stay.


    In I head out and about hall an hour, the pulse of Rett is down, worried that he's so bonded to Charutu and Whyatt that he will whinny and worry with them. I fall in using Kelly Blue, whose horse, such as Rett, is OK although tired. Kelly tells me that the last two Tevis rides at each, she has gotten into the previous vet check, the Quarry at mile 94, and been pulled. We agree that we're going to ride smart and not suffer that fate. We walk or trot; "make haste slowly" would be our motto. We know the ride cutoff isn't until 5:15 a.m., and we're well within the time period.

    Tevis Cup vets are known to provide no quarter, nor should they. It is too unkind a race to let horses that are compromised carry on. Kelly and I are optimistic but afraid to voice it. There are. Hubris. The Greeks called it "pride followed by jealousy." This night, we aren't going to summon those lightning strokes!

    We Pulse in and jog through the vetting at the Quarry. Now it can be tasted by us. Six miles. We start one scale toward the fairgrounds Auburn and the end line and cross No Hands Bridge in the blinding moonlight. "Just around the corner" takes forever.

    Suddenly My watch begins to beep. It's my 3:45 alarm from yesterday morning. We climb the past form, and Kelly shouts into the darkness, "Whoohee!" An answering yell from somewhere up above. We are there. Lights. People.

    We Emerge from the dense blackness of the forest, visit the glow of lights in the fairground and hear people clapping and cheering at our arrival. Even at 4 a.m., there is a little welcoming audience. We walk across a street and down the slope to go into the lit oval. Rett comes alive as his lap of honour trots around the track, completely sound, ears pricked. I dismount and lead him into the final vet check.

    Dr. Ray Randle sets his stethoscope to his shirt pocket finishes his examination, smiles and puts his hand out. "Congratulations," he states.

    We've Done it, the anniversary of the Tevis Cup, although it will not really sink in for some days. As l put little Rett to bed in his stall after all of his gallant efforts over these past 23 hours, I recall once again Tammy's statement about world-class endurance horses: "It is like riding a miracle."

    RELATED ARTICLE: I've been blessed.

    Eighty-year-old Julie Suhr has finished the Tevis Cup 22 times and has the unique distinction of winning the Haggin Cup (for best-conditioned horse) three times with the identical horse, her beloved Gazal. She came close this past year to finishing her Tevis, but needed to terminate her ride due to vertigo, or disorientation, from the darkness, not. Here is part of what Julie wrote to her mare's breeder (and Denny's coach),Tammy Robinson, after the race.

    "As I think back on the weekend, so I understand that I overcome on that trail also this was the first time it beat me, and I am OK with this. As I sat at Robie Point (where the ride used to end) with Tarrah, I was all alone sitting on the hard granite rock and she was confronting me. I stroked her nose and tickling her lip and curling her forelock in my fingers and telling her she was a girl. The moon was setting and there was also the slight glow of a new sunrise to the east. It was very emotional. So I didn't I don't like to cry, but yelling because I've been so blessed, although would not have been out of grief. I was given by this giving
    creature what will be my last ride that was great. When my trail companion Lori Stewart (a two-time Tevis winner) left me to move on to the finish, I was sure Tarrah would pull on the reins and try to go, also, but she appeared as content as I was, and I knew then that all was right with the world."

    I Started competing in 1954 at age 12 and rode my initial 100-miler (the Green Mountain Horse Association's Vermont three-day endurance journey) in 1956. As an international three-day rider, a team gold medal was won by me in 1974. Did I get involved in endurance again, not until I was in my late 50s--and it was just like opening a window. I began to realize the extent to which horses could be tougher than I'd believed!

    We've Read about pioneers who needed to ride 70 miles for assistance once the shuttle train was in issue of riders pushing through a blizzard to get home, and we can't understand the experience. But when I had been out there scaling mountains I realized that people actually lived out there and rode over that country in an age when they were alone. These riders didn't have cell phones and there was no helicopter to haul out them whenever they got hurt. It had been hard. Breed and they needed to select . I mean, imagine some older for trapper in 1820 trying to escape from hostile Indians on a horse with a pretty mind ... and bad legs. Or think about the cowboys who rounded up herds of unbranded Texas longhorns in the years following the Civil War, if they had a horse rock-tough enough to work from the heat and about the hardpan footing. They wouldn't have gotten much with a few of the Quarter Horses of today, with toothpick legs, their bulbous bodies and small feet.

    My Endurance experience made me reflect a little more than 100 years back, at the time, when horses were expected to do tasks that required durability. They have been essential for commerce (hauling loads), warfare (as cavalry mounts or for moving artillery) and private transportation. In such capacities, they needed to be able to wake up and move, day after day. There were no equine sports-medicine veterinarians to help owners "manage" horses with chronic soundness difficulties. As an instance, if the small driving mare, which he relied on to make his rounds of the nation doctor, could not hold up under work, he would get a different one. Did not get swallowed. The standards of today emphasize aesthetics rather than the ability to stay sound.

    To Me personally, endurance racing is just one of the last vestiges of this demanding, regular routine expected of horses ... and people. You feel sort of lost, and physical toughness is required by the game in riders, but is the mental toughness required to hang in there when it is midnight and pouring rain and you know that you have 26 kilometers to go. Good endurance riders learn how to make it through that situation and come out the other side. They combine empathy for what is going on with their horses and how much they could ask without asking and toughness.

    That's I'd recommend that they do a little riding, too to become better horsemen. Just to know what's possible. --Denny Emerson

    For More info about the Tevis Cup Western States Trail Ride, visit

    Denny While campaigning Rett, in eventing Emerson continues to compete Butler in endurance. "It's difficult to do two sports which are so distinct. My tack boxes are full of completely different stuff!" He is this year Driving Loftus Fox two Prelim horses and Jetting West, and expects to Qualify for the USA East team competing at the endurance with Rett Championship at Fair Hill International. Denny and May Emerson's Tamarack Hill Farm is based in Strafford, Vt., and Southern Pines, N.C.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2017
  2. Steve S

    Steve S Pen Pro - Senior Member Super Moderator

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