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Tevis, From the Back of My Horse

Tevis, From the Back of My Horse

von: Sharma Lynn Gaponoff

Over the Rainbow Ranch Publications, 2015

ISBN: 9780986097904 , 197 Seiten

Format: ePUB

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Tevis, From the Back of My Horse


 

The Start and What It Took To Get There

It is five o’clock in the morning on July 24th and it is dark—so dark you can barely recognize who is out here, even those standing right next to you. I am astride Tahoe, milling around inside Pen 2 with 112 other excited horses and riders. Pen 1 is 100 yards up the road and contains the other 70 horses and their riders. Penny and Treasure, who are Tahoe’s and my endurance-riding partners, are beside us as we all wait for our release to start the 2010 Tevis Cup Ride.

There isn’t much conversation among the riders, just the comforting squeak of leather as we all get adjusted in our saddles, the clink of curb chains when a horse tosses his head, bits being mouthed and chomped by horses who are using them like pacifiers. Occasionally someone will call out a name, trying to locate a riding partner or friend.

Although we are all feeling frisky in the cool, brisk air, most people sit quietly on their mounts or turn in circles for something to do as we wait for direction from the Ride officials. We try and emulate a sense of calm to our very fit, athletic mounts. They sense that something extraordinary is about to begin. Horses’ hooves stomp the ground. There is a lot of snorting and head tossing by horses reflecting their riders’ nervous energy. At precisely 5:15 a.m. Pen 1 opens and the 70 horses and riders in front of us head out onto the Trail. All of us in Pen 2 anxiously wait a few minutes more for the opening of our pen so we can head out also. You cannot help but feel the energy in the air sparking like lightning in the darkness. It is the start of the 55th running of the Tevis Cup Ride!

• • •

My journey to the 2010 Tevis Cup Ride began nearly 25 years ago. Reno1 and I had embarked on a successful endurance career spanning three years, from 1985 through 1988. But then my job responsibilities changed, requiring extensive travel and work on international projects, consuming nearly all of my time. As a sad result, endurance riding competition on Reno came to a halt. For the next 25 years Reno and I rode occasional trail rides and a bit of dressage. Obviously my Tevis dream required a change in life-style, so as I worked, I planned my financial future carefully, and held on to the dream as the years passed.

In 2002, I purchased Tahoe2, a two-year old Arabian gelding foaled on the ranch where I boarded Reno. Tahoe had been bred for endurance riding and I harbored the hope that he would be the one to help me meet the Tevis challenge.

With Tahoe in the wings, I continued to enjoy riding Reno—and bringing Tahoe along in his training. After my recovery from my accident with Tahoe, I resumed riding Reno, and worked Tahoe under the guidance of Bo, an extremely skilled professional trainer. Tahoe went to “school” for months during my recovery. After several months in Bo’s hands, my own confidence returned, with a deep respect for Tahoe’s power and his equine awareness and perception of the world, but also with renewed determination to build a strong partnership.

I was still traveling extensively for my job, which limited my time in the saddle. My accident, which was a near-death experience, had changed my outlook on life. I had learned the hard way that good health can disappear in an instant. I began daydreaming about retirement so decided it was time for me to move on to the next phase of my life. In 2008, the stars aligned and I was able to pull the plug from my working life and take early retirement from my travel- and stress-intensive career. I sold my house in the San Francisco Bay Area, took a gamble and moved to the Gold Country in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, not far from the Tevis Trail. This gave me access to hundreds of miles of trails and conditions similar to what I would encounter on the Tevis Ride. Now I had the time to ride and condition for this great test, and to discover if I did indeed have the right horse.

• • •

Five years after our accident, Tahoe had matured into a magnificent animal. Long months of patient sessions with a skilled trainer, plus my own investment of time, courage, determination, and loving care had produced an athlete that had all the components of an endurance horse. Did he have the heart? That remained to be seen…

For the next two years leading up to the 2010 Tevis Cup Ride, Tahoe and I trained diligently in endurance riding. We logged roughly 1,000 miles of conditioning including competitive endurance rides to prepare for the big day. We’d had thrills, spills and bumps along the way but it all seemed worth it now, as Tahoe and I, surrounded by other hardy (maybe crazy?) souls, were anxiously waiting to be released from Pen 2 to begin the Tevis. We were about to start one of the most difficult endurance rides in the world.

And you definitely ride the Tevis Cup, “really ride” as Wendell Robie, the Tevis Ride founder is quoted, because this Ride cannot be completed in the required time at the walk. As much as trail conditions allow, you need to travel at a “race pace” trot, moving as fast as is safely possible. However, during these 100 miles, you often must slow your pace to climb up steep mountains, step cautiously down ravines, twist and turn through switchbacks, or walk patiently if you get stuck single-file behind a string of other horses and riders who may or may not be keeping the same pace. At the back of a string, dust fills the air cloaking all of us in a red, iron-rich patina. For the majority of the Tevis riders, ten hours or more are done in complete darkness. With no sunlight to steer by, each footfall must carefully be made by your equine partner in order to keep you both from a disastrous misstep. Every stop you make during the competition—some mandated by the event managers for the safety of horse and rider, others chosen by you, to rest your horse or yourself when needed—means that you must make up the time in order to stay on track. Miles will be spent crawling up jagged peaks at a snail’s pace, and other times trotting down narrow trails, trying to keep momentum from carrying you over an edge.

To train for the Tevis, I had a three-pronged strategy that would take two years to complete:

  1. Take advantage of the many 50-mile AERC-sanctioned endurance rides that are offered seasonally in various California and Nevada venues within easy trailering distance from my ranch.
  2. In between endurance rides, improve fitness by doing intensive self-directed trail conditioning rides.
  3. Practice on the Tevis Trail itself as much as possible.

I entered at least one AERC-sanctioned ride a month during the ride season. These spectacular rides took us from the deserts of Western Nevada to the alpine forests on both the Eastern and Western Sierra Nevada Mountains, to the Coast Ranges of Northern California, to ancient volcanic mountains and valleys of Northeastern California, and everything in between.

In addition to endurance rides, Tahoe and I rode trail-conditioning rides as often as possible with my endurance-riding partner Penny and her horse Treasure. Penny is an expert rider with over 2500 competitive endurance miles under her belt. She also knew the trails in the Gold Country better than anyone I had met thus far. Since I was new to the area, it was great to have such a knowledgeable and willing partner and guide as a new friend. In addition to trail conditioning, we would do as many competitive endurance rides together as possible. More importantly, Penny and I had the same Tevis goal: successful completion within the time allotted and ending up with fit, willing equine partners who would be happy to carry on. It felt natural to form a partnership, so Penny and Treasure became Tevis partners to Tahoe and me—and thus an integral part of my story.

Tahoe and I practiced on the Tevis Trail as much as possible. We did the California Loop trail, from Foresthill to the finish line six times, including once in the dark prior to the Tevis. The California Loop trail covers the last 36 miles of the Tevis Cup Ride and is generally accessible to anyone year round.

My training went well. In Tahoe’s first endurance season (2008–2009) we completed all six AERC-sanctioned 50-mile endurance rides we had entered and ended the season with a Top 10 finish. (To have a Top 10 finish, a horse must complete the Ride and be judged “fit to continue” and be among the first ten horse/rider teams to cross the finish line.) In his second season, Tahoe had three Top 10 finishes, completing six out of seven 50-mile rides. We were on track for both of us to be at peak condition for the start of the Tevis.

• • •

With two years of horse-and-rider conditioning under my belt, it was time to work on the logistics of the Tevis Ride. On July 1st of 2010, three weeks before the Ride, I began the meticulous process of packing—getting the horse trailer and campervan ready, plus organizing all of the tack and gear needed for Tahoe and me. I wrote and rewrote list after list—they could be found all over the house and barn. Every time I thought of something I needed, I wrote it down.

The deep canyons on the Tevis Trail can potentially heat up to 100°–110°F during the day, so I needed appropriate gear to help Tahoe and me stay comfortable in the face of such oppressive heat. Tahoe and I struggled with heat during a two-day 100-mile ride in June of our Tevis year. On the second day of the ride, Tahoe apparently overheated and began panting, which horses generally do not do. I was afraid he was going to invert. “Inverting” is a condition that occurs when a horse’s respiration rate is more rapid than his heart rate. I had learned 25+ years ago when doing endurance rides...