Friday, August 21, 2015

Once in a Blue Moon

Tevis, it is the endurance ride that many non-endurance riders and even non- horsey people know about. It is said to be the hardest 100 mile endurance ride in the US, the world even. The ride starts up by Lake Tahoe, through Squaw Valley and over Emigrant Pass, through the Granite Chief wilderness, winding down canyons and back up again. Along and across the American River and then up into Auburn. 100 miles in 24 hours.
There is usually a 50% or less completion rate.

In 2012 before the reins of the Spookaloosa were handed over to me completely, I went with my mentor Paula and her friend Rita to Tevis. I had done all of the ridden conditioning work with the mare Rita rode, and she completed. I was there as crew, I barely knew anything about endurance and crewing or what it is like to ride a horse a 100 miles. Rita completed on the mare I had conditioned and I came away with a a dream. But at that point I didn't have the horse. Quick had been in conditioning at that point with us for over a year, he had done a few rides in 2011, but the only ride we did in 2012 was the trail ride at Foothills. Enter the Spookaloosa, a very talented well built Appaloosa half- Arabian, who, like his nickname suggests, spooks. He had a knack for human lawn darts. I am still hearing stories of people who have come off of him! It didn't matter how good of a rider you were. You could create situations in which he would spook, such as having him lead going down the trail. Yet there were also situations where he was cooling out on a loose rein and next moment the rider was on the ground wondering what the heck had just happened.

So the next year we began our journey towards Tevis. Quick had already had over a year of long slow distance work. He went from barely being able to walk up the hill of the basic training ride to getting ready for his first 50 with me. There was nothing spectacular in our first two 50s. Since our goal was Tevis, Paula thought we were ready to attempt our first 100. The only thing that stopped us was a tack malfunction. We were pulled over half way. Our next ride was at 75 at Oregon 100.  We completed.

2014 started a bit differently. We did our first 50 of the season and then went on to top ten our next 50. The next ride was ANCER. I learned much there, we placed second in ANCER and 17th overall in the ride. From there, we went on to complete our first 100 at Oregon 100. After our completion there we went onto win our first 50 at Foothills of the Cascades, which is a tough ride.

Our season got off to a rocky start this year, with issues that were out of my control. However we came on in full force at the Still Memorial 50 where we placed second coming in right behind the first place finisher. With that ride I made the decision that we were going to go to Tevis. I wanted another long distance ride before Tevis. There was an 80 at Sunriver. I did all of my conditioning for Tevis before Sunriver. We completed the 80 and Quick went on R n R. Just a few light rides between the two.
They look awesome printed!!

Another rider from our area decided to go to Tevis, she brought her Tennessee Walking horse mare Dazzle. Melinda was nice enough to allow us to come with her in her rig down to Tevis. My crew was Paula Rasler, Molly Farkas and Paul Lat.... I designed and sold t shirts as a fundraiser. I also used the design for my crew shirts.  I made the decision to use EasyBoot Glue ons for Tevis. EasyCare offered the services of their Elite Glueing team for glueing on the boots for the Tevis horses.

No Hands Bridge!

We drove down to Auburn the Tuesday before Tevis. Wednesday morning Melinda and I went for a ride to No Hands Bridge. Quick was ready to go. I wanted him to know the end of the trail. We would be riding this section in the dark. Wednesday afternoon we had an appointment with the Elite Glueing team for Quick's Easyboots. The guy that was going to work on Quick was introduced as the one who glued the boots on both the winner of last year's Tevis, French Open who we had followed at ANCER the year before and the Haggin Cup winner, MCM Last Dance who was ridden by Barrak Blakely who we regularly see at rides in the Northwest. In other words, we were in good hands. I had been doing my own trimming since May, it is a lot of pressure to trim a high performance horse instead of just trimming my pasture puff thoroughbred. I was given a lot of tips on how to improve what I was doing. A big thank you to Derik, Jermey and Garret for glueing on Quick's boots and for the tips to help improve my trimming.

Prepping Quick's back hooves for boots.

After we were all booted up we headed to Robie Park. This would give the horses a few days to acclimate to the elevation and rest before the ride. Camp was pretty sparse, only a few rigs. Thursday more people arrived along with vendors. We also had a few unexpected visitors! A momma bear and her two cubs! It was a bit unnerving to see them wandering around camp, they almost went right into one of our tents! We made sure everything was tucked away so that no bears could get in it.
Mama bear.

There was one horse I was interested in meeting, he was Quick's brother Crow Pony. They had lived together as youngsters, and it is my understanding that they were rather close. Crow Pony has the same knack for lawn darting riders as Quick does, but he was the braver of the two, who baby Quick hid behind. They hadn't seen each other in years. I wondered if they would remember each other, or would Quick attach himself to Crow Pony durning the ride. I really had no intention of riding with anyone, To Finish is To Win, and to finish I needed to ride my own ride depending on what Quick needed at any given time.

Getting real

I rode Quick down the road to where the ride would start, it was marked off so we didn't go down the trail. He was a handful. He was ready to go. Instead of the horse who wouldn't go off on his own, he was charging down the trail. We vetted through. Friday seemed to both drag and speed by. Everything was set up, our crews were off to Auburn and they would meet us at Robinson Flats, while Molly and Paul would drive rigs down to Foresthill and meet us there.

Vetting in at Robie Park
Photo by Nicole Kinsey

There is no sleeping before a ride like this. I knew the trail would be difficult, there would be a lot of horses. I knew at that point that no matter what happened I was proud of Quick. He had come so far, i could barely recognize the horse he had become and I could barely remember the horse that he was. The change has been night and day, yes he can still spook and drop me in the dirt like it was nothing. But he also will not always spook, but think about the situation before reacting. He will go out in front. He will pass and leave horses. All things he could not do because he did not have hte confidence to do so. Now he does.

There are two pens diving the horses into pretty much the group that is trying to go fast and everyone else. Pen 1 has the top 25% of the fastest horses. There were big names like Heraldic who had won this race before, French Open who won it last year, The Fury who had won it the year I was here before. There were so many good horses and riders at this ride. And rightly so, it was the 60th anniversary. I was in Pen 2, while we had been doing well at rides, like I said, there were a lot of good horses here. The competition was fierce. The two pens were separated,  and we were supposed to mill about while we waited for the start. There were so many horses. Just shy of 200 started. So you figure 140ish horses milling about. Quick whinnied at someone, I thought it was perhaps Dazzle, but when I turned to look it was Crow POny behind us. Everyone was soon lost in the crowd, Pen 1 started down the road. We were bunching up. I wanted to get more towards the front of pen 2, not because I planned on going fast, but because I figured there would be smarter riders there. I didn't see Melinda and Dazzle at all once we got moving. I briefly saw Crow Pony on the other side of the road. I did hear a familiar voice, Celena Pentrak who is also from the Northwest. She usually rides her thoroughbred gelding Thunder.  While we were walked down I was talking with one gal who actually does eventing, and has gone to Rolex (which for those of you who do not know is the only 4* event in the US, so pretty much the eventing equivalent of Tevis perhaps?). She offered to talk about eventing if we rode together, and I hoped we would. However once we started to go, there was really no hope of staying with anyone.

A gravel road width of horses all converged into a single track trail. We were moving at a good pace, yet bunched on switchbacks. There was no stopping, the horses were hot and everyone was moving out. I don't remember much of this section, besides that it wound around and reminded me of the end of the Cole Loop on the Still Memorial ride. Quick was pulling like a freight train. Usually by this point in a ride we could swing out by ourselves. Somehow I had taken the horse who was terrified to be anywhere but right on the rump of the horse in front of him and made him into a horse that likes to go out front! The trail is basically downhill until it opens up into Squaw Valley and you climb about 2,000 feet in about 5 miles. I heard Celena behind me say something about walking up Squaw, and to let the people who want to wear their horses out by galloping it go. The horses are fresh, Squaw is only about 10 miles into the ride. The trail opened up onto a service road, I knew this had to be the road up Squaw valley. I had been told by others who had done this ride to walk and maybe a little trot up this road.
Ride photo by Bill Gore Photography
Does that trot look familiar? 

Quick had other ideas. We hit the road and it was all I could do to keep him from taking off at a hand gallop. I had trained him to attack hills, we had climbed hills all the time, and Quick thought this was a training hill. He was going with everyone who was taking off up the hill. I kept him to a trot and walked when we could and at times he would take off when a horse passed us and we did our best impression of a collected canter. I needed to hold him back, I wanted to make sure I had enough horse left for the next 90 miles. I waited at the water trough, I wanted to let some more of the people who were hauling up the hill go, and give Quick a rest. Celena and Pam, who were both at the 80 at Sunriver came up and I left behind them. We went up over Emigrant pass. As we went into the bogs Quick and I feel behind Celena's group. The bogs are not a place where you can make up time, you have to slow down and be careful going over the rocks and the wet places. Celena was trying to help a gal named Trina get through Tevis, this was her 6th attempt. In the middle of one of the bogs, there was a big rock. Trina went and I hung back with Quick until she was across then we picked our way over. They group started moving then stopped, leaving Quick stuck in the middle of the rock, he had no place to put his feet, and almost went down. Luckily the horse in front of us moved and he was able to scramble forward.
Blurry because of the plastic bag over the camera.

We made our way past Hodson's Cabin and then up towards the famous Cougar Rock. Celena asked me if I was going on the rock, I replied that I was going to decide when I got there. I have no need to go over it, but I figured that I would probably have to do what the horses in front of me did. I wasn't sure Quick would behave himself on the side of a cliff if he had to go while the other horse went over the rock or around it. Celena said they weren't going over the rock, and was going to convince me not to as well because why risk your horse to go over it at this point in the game. It was easy, I was cool with it. She asked as we came up to Cougar Rock if I was okay with not going over it. I replied that I was fine with it, that I only wanted one photo and that was Quick and I crossing under the finish flag in Auburn.

The country up there was beautiful. I didn't get very good photos because my phone was in a plastic bag, you know to keep it from getting ruined with all the water that I would be around all day. I decided that the next time I rode this ride I would wear a go pro. So I could capture the amazing sights I was seeing.
This doesn't do it any justice.

We were going at a good clip, Quick was still pulling. I figured it was probably a good thing, although I was done with having to hold him back. We got to Red Star. I have not done any vet checks like these, they called them gate and go. As soon as the horse pulses down you vet through as usual and then are ready to go. Most of the time you trot out and are free to go unless the vet calls you back. Quick took a while to pulse down. It didn't help that a horse went down not long after we got in. It rattled me. The volunteers were awesome and reminded me to breathe and relax, because he wasn't if I didn't relax. Once I was able to, Quick's heart rate dropped and we vetted through with only 5 minutes to spare. O.o
This is my favorite ride photo. The only photographer I saw
and hung back for, to give them something to photograph. 
Photo by Darin Pointer photography

I wanted to take it slow on the way to Robinson Flat. It was only a a few miles between Red Star and Robinson. I ended up riding with Lisa Preston and her lovely Akhal-teke Sporthorse mare. We talked about Akhal-tekes, and it turns out that she had looked at Diesel (my 6 yr old Akhal-teke Sporthorse) when he was younger! I really enjoyed riding with Lisa. We came up to a water set with a guy keeping watch. A few years ago when two friends of mine rode up to this water set, the tanks were empty. So the man there had been out there camping since the day before, just to make sure no one misused the water in these tanks.

We were getting closer and closer to Robinson Flats. I still wanted to walk in. Lisa went on and a couple other people caught us. I had gotten off and Quick was dragging me. I was a bit at the end of my rope, almost literally. More riders passed us. I stopped Quick and tried to get on. Twice. He took off before I could get my foot in the stirrup. More riders went past us. I had to get after him after the second time. It was enough to get his attention and I was able to get on. I was done, and I told him so. I was done fighting, holding him back. I had never had to rate him so much as I had up to this point. I wanted to make sure there was enough horse left in the gas tank for what was still to come. So off we went. Quick passed all of the horses that had passed us and we came in hot into Robinson.

Photo by Lucy Chaplin Trumbull

All the people cheering lifted my spirits a bit. Paula met us in the middle of the rode. I dropped my tack in the wheelbarrow and led Quick up towards the vet check. Robert Ribley was right behind us with Quick's brother Crow Pony. We sponged Quick off and then Paula took his pulse. 52. I shook my head. Perhaps I underestimated this pony. We vetted through right behind Crow Pony and began our hour hold.

Crow Pony and Quick at Robinson Flats

Quick ate, he usually doesn't eat well until towards the end of the ride. He had also been drinking well, which at the last ride he didn't do until after 50 miles. I think electrolyting him before we left in the morning was a good idea. I hadn't done that before, I usually give it to him in his breakfast. So in the future, I will electrolyte him with a syringe instead of in his chow.

Photo by Nicole Kinsey

They pulled bloodwork at Robinson Flat and ran a few quick tests on it. It was supposed to be done by the time you were ready to leave after your hold. The tests indicated whether or not your horse had a good chance at finishing, they had been doing these tests for a few years and based on the data collected and the horses that completed the ride, they were able to determine if your horse was already less likely to complete. If the bloodwork came back good, you got a green card and were free to continue on. If you got a red card you had to go back and discuss with the vet how your horse was doing to continue on. Quick got his green card and a go ahead to continue.

Paula at this point, was pretty much convinced that we would complete. I honestly don't think she had any doubt in us from the beginning. When I told her that Quick was still pulling coming into Robinson, she thought it was a good thing. I actually figured it was too, but that doesn't mean I enjoyed riding it in the slightest. We tacked Quick back up and off I went. We were behind The Ribleys but Quick took charge of the situation and since this road looked striking similar to the gravel logging roads that he trains on, he decided it was time to go. We trotted right on past the Ribleys and a couple other people. Quick wasn't happy until he was in the front of the group. I was once again riding with Lisa. We walked for a moment or so, Lisa joking called 'I didn't know Quick could walk!' And right at that moment Quick picked up a trot and off we went again. We played leap frog with another gal. She would get in front and then Quick would take the lead. She led as the canyon started, winding our way down the hill. She had ridden the educational ride and knew the trail a bit. She led us to Last Chance. Right before there was a water set (at least I *think* this is where it was at) with a sign that said no sponging. There was barely any water in the far tank which was in the shade and about a quarter of a tank in the other. I guess they needed water police there too.

After Last Chance you get into the first canyon, or as I nicknamed it, the canyon from hell. The footing is rather rocky and all you can do is walk, remember not to look down because it is pretty much a straight drop and if you go over you are going to recreate the scene from Man From Snowy River... The horse in the lead hesitated at a few turns and the gal got off. The horse was still going slow and I asked to pass at the next corner. This part was no problem for Quick. He picked his way down with purpose. At the bottom there is a river and the rebuilt famous Swinging Bridge. We went down to the river and Quick drank and I sponged him. He also really hammed it up for the photographer there! As we were getting ready to leave there was someone coming down the little river trail. Quick was ready to move on and so I decided to just cross the river. Hey I had already missed one of the famous portions of the ride (Cougar Rock) missing the bridge didn't seem like an issue. The river was up to Quick's belly but he had no problems going through it. 
And here we were, at the base of the canyon from hell. 

Lisa and I had talked about tailing versus riding up the canyons. She is a runner and was going to at least attempt to tail as much as she could. I was going to ride it, for two reasons. Paula has always said we train for the canyons.  And I do not run or hike or anything like that. Sorry Quick. The footing was just as rocky going up as it was coming down. There was no place to make time. Quick was ready. He tackled the trail with a powerful walk. Up and up and around switchbacks and up and up and around.... About two thirds of the way up I came up on the eventer I had met that morning. Her horse was struggling a bit with the climb. I passed her when it was safe and she asked if we were almost to the top. I didn't know but hoped so. Quick continued on, not quite marching as well as he had at the bottom but not lacking any forward momentum. It was like this trail never ended. I would look up and we seemed no closer to the top. Up and up and up... We were probably three quarters of the way up when Quick said he needed a break. He stopped and it was pretty easy to tell what he was thinking, something along the lines of 'holy cow, will this canyon ever end?!' I had a water bottle designated for water just for Quick and I poured some over his neck and we started off again. He paused two more times and I got off the last time and got his neck really well with water on both sides, I had gotten into a second water bottle which had just plain drinking water for me. I walked a few feet leading Quick then quickly decided that was not for me and hopped back on. Quick could outwalk me even dragging his feet.  I let Quick take his time as long as we kept moving. I figured it was best to go at our own pace, even if we had to pause was better than getting passed by someone who was going faster. The canyon just kept going and going. I don't remember if I caught up to someone before Devil's Thumb or not. It was a relief to get there. I wanted to wait longer and give Quick a good rest, but of course when he was done he was done and ready to move on. It was only a mile and a half to The next vet check, and of course I wanted to walk. We came up on a little chestnut mare ridden by a young cowboy. I remember seeing her going up Squaw, tossing her head and trying to buck and take off with him. He was only riding her in a rope halter. We trotted and walked into the next vet check.

Quick would hang if he was eating. I would let him eat, he would get to about 70 and wouldn't drop the rest of the way until I took the food away from him. I remember there were a lot of bees at this check. Honey bees. They didn't really worry me, since they are not evil on wings- yellow jackets. However I didn't want to be stung by one or have Quick stung. Quick chowed down on some cob. The volunteer asked if I was okay with that and I replied whatever he wants to eat. She found a mash for him instead. He ate out of both. Lisa came into the vet check after me. I let Quick eat for about 15 minutes than took him through the vet line. We vetted through and started off away from the bees. I was told the canyons after this one were not as steep, or as long.

I was riding with Lisa and was thinking to myself, wow the footing is much better here we should trot. Lisa said the same thing, so off we went. We trotted down as much as we could, having to walk at some places. We were passed by a gentleman who was going a bit faster downhill than we were. We followed him down a ways. Lisa told me that she had tailed for about a half hour in the last canyon. I was impressed, I did just a few feet and that was enough for me! Honestly I don't really remember much of this canyon. I know when we got to the bottom Quick was ready to go. We started up the canyon at a trot. We caught and passed the gentleman at one point and then came up on a gray horse, or did she pass us? I actually am not sure! Between the two horses, Quick and the gray Arab one would take charge and lead for a bit then the other would take charge. We went back and forth like this up the hill.

Coming into Michigan Bluff was a welcome relief. We let the horses drink and as we headed off one of the volunteers said that Chicken Hawk was just up the road. The two of us started up the road. As we were going we didn't see any ribbons or evidence of horses. We went up the road some more. We saw someone in a yellow vest, I thought it was a Tevis official so I hopped off and pulled Quicks bit. It wasn't. We had missed out turn. I hopped back on, just putting the reins on his halter and shoved the bit in my pack. We trotted down the road. A very kind man saw us, he must have been someone's crew and ran down the road with is to show us where we were supposed to have turned. We had lost about a half hour. Finally we saw horses and followed the correct road. I caught up with Lisa and she said she had almost done the same thing, but someone had called her back. We came into Chicken Hawk right behind the Ribleys. Quick ate and we vetted through. I didnt bother putting his bit back on. He wasn't a freight train anymore! We left Chicken Hawk right behind another spotted rump! Crow Pony! 

The trail wound around, and at every corner the line of horses came to a screetching halt walking around the corner. Quick and I were having the same thoughts; Really, we could take these turns on one hoof. The trail opened up and Robert must have had the same thought. Both Appaloosas went to the front of the group. We weaved in and out of the ruts in the road. I asked Quick to go on ahead, he didn't hesitate. I know at one point in his life passing he brother he grew up with would probably ly have been impossible. He didn't need another horse anymore, he is confident on his own. We trotted much of he downhill. Catching up to two people and passing them. We had to walk when the footing was worse, but still were making time. Many people have told me this is the hardest canyon. It has tons of rock, it is the hottest, and the horses are tired....

What canyon?!
Quick hit the uphill and danced up it. We did have to walk some corners, but he only got stronger, powering up it. I saw powerlines and knew we must be getting closer. The road here reminded me of the one at Sunriver, where we had to go under the powerlines. Quick must have been picking up on my excitement. He didn't slow at all. The gate with the people taking numbers at the bottom of Bath road was a welcomed sight. Here we were, Bath road leading up to Foresthill! We had made it this far!! There was a path on the side of the road, although Quick wanted to trot up the pavement. I kept him on the side. I didn't need him pounding his legs anymore than need be. 

Then it happened. The one spook of the entire ride. There were people walking down he road and I guess he was paying attention to them and didn't see the concrete rectangle on the side of the road. He hit the breaks and threw his feet out in the four directions and gave it the hairy eyeball. The people were shocked but I said don't worry he does this all the time. 

Up we went. Quick asked for a walk break, but I told him we were almost there. I knew Paula and Molly would be there. We would pull tack and there is always someone with a hose to cool the horses off! More people, and then there they were! We pulled tack and hosed Quick off. He was given a few carrots and then he decided it was time to go. Becky Baston was also there. We had met last year at ANCER. To be honest I knew I knew her but I didn't remember who she was until I was getting ready to leave Foresthill. Sorry Becky!

We took Quick up to the vet area. He was busy eating and was still hanging when the announcer said there was a big group of riders at the bottom of Bath road. No more food for Quick and he pulsed right down and we vetted through. 

Paul was the official cook for us and the Ribleys. He had chicken noodle soup ready for me. Quick chowed down. Melinda and Dazzle were there as well having had taken a nasty fall early in the ride. It had caught up with them after Robinson Flats and they didn't make time. Time seemed to fly by during our hour hold. Paula started tacking Quick up and he gave me a look that said "I thought we were done!"  The Ribleys had made it into Foresthill before I left. Quick was rather reluctant to leave. The sun was setting. 

Off we went. It was pretty much all downhill from here. We were over half way. There were still people cheering as we were heading out on the California Loop. I caught up to two gals on gray horses. One was the gal I had been following earlier! 

As we turned off the road and onto the trail the gal I had been following earlier took the lead, I had to pass the other gal because she wasn't going to keep up. Quick was all business again. I hadn't clicked my glow sticks on, it wasn't that dark yet. But I wished I had. I was following the same gray horse and another different gray. Seems like everyone was riding a gray Arab! 

This trail was really no different than any of the trails we had been on. A cliff on one side, winding around the side of a canyon. The only difference was it was getting dark and fast. Both gals requested no headlamps. At that point I didn't have a choice, I could hold Quick back and have him fight me and try to rush to catch up or I could follow them. It was a lesson in trust. Just the light of the glow sticks on the two horses in front of me. It took me a while to snap mine on, which was a welcome relief. 

I do trust Quick. I trust him a lot more than I have in the past, yet I have been lawn darted way to many times to really give him 100% of my trust in a situation that I really was nothing but a passenger. I couldn't see the footing, remind him to pick up his feet or steer him to a better spot or away from an edge that looked a little crumbly. I had to give him his head and trust him that we wouldn't end up recreating the scene from the Man From Snowy River going over the side of the hill. I gave him his head and reminded myself to breathe. We were not going super fast, but it felt that way. I remembered a blog I had read about the riders needing to feel in control. It was during this time that I was really thankful that I had waited until I was sure Quick was ready, mentally ready. He could have been physically ready for this long before but last year at Foothills I knew that he was no longer the horse he used to be. 

Cal 2 was a welcome relief. I said goodbye to the two gals and waited to follow the two people behind us. They were not going any slower really, walking some parts and trotting some parts. I also learned that most people do not mind a red colored light on your headlamp. It doesn't make people sick or blind the horses. My light had a red setting so that is what I used. I thought about my first 100 last year when Heather has gotten sick because of the shadows and lights. I would have to tell her about this. 

Oddly enough one of the two guys I followed out I had met at Sunriver! He is the one who had told me about the Sneakers, and sadly his horse had lost one and he had put an Easyboot on. He recognized us too, probably because of Quick's spots but who knows. Not many Appaloosas out there, just gray Arabs!

We were at a water set when two people caught us. They were both using headlamps. After we watered the horses we left and shortly after the guy realized his Easyboot had come off. I didn't have the size he needed and neither did the two gals with headlamps. The other guy did. He said we could go on ahead while he went about putting another boot on. 

I will be honest it was nice to follow the two gals with headlamps. I could see a bit better. I was still using my red light. The one gal was from the East Coast and the other was a junior from Australia. I pretty much followed them into Fransicos. I remember a lot of horses being there. Quick ate a whole pan of mash. I had been watching his heart rate on my monitor coming in and thought it might be acting up again. He was barely over 90 trotting and dropped like a rock as soon as we would walk. I let him eat, not having to worry about his pulse. Although as soon as we went over to the vet a horse left and his heart rate jumped up with excitement. I walked him away and then came back. He pulsed at 60. And we were ready to go again. 

The two gals with the headlamps were not far ahead and we quickly caught up. I will be honest, we passed more people following them because no one wanted to be around headlamps! They said that in Australia everyone wears big bright ones, since they start the rides at midnight. And that they wear them on the East coast and in Europe. 

There were lights set up around the river crossing and glow sticks leading the way down. By this point the moon was out as the temperature had dropped. Glow sticks made a path through the river. Quick didn't hesitate. He went right in. He stuck his neck out and drank the whole way across. He drifted to the right, getting wet up to his belly and my boots. I laughed the whole way across. He was so focused on his job that he wouldn't stop.

There was only one vet check left between us and Auburn. We caught up to the gal I had been riding with before. The two I had been following tried without the headlamps, saying some people say it is 'magical' not to ride with one. The gal on the gray, who by this time I learned his name was Rambler, and I am sure she thought Quick's name was Spots! He usually has the nickname Mr. Spots or just Spots but the second half of this ride he had gotten the nickname Baby Spots. Not sure why, probably because I wasn't upset with him for pulling so hard anymore. I staid behind while Rambler and the other two swapped places back and forth coming into Lower Quarry. The gal on Rambler told me that when you see the cave you knew you were close. As we were trotting down I noticed a little something in Quick's step. It was barely there, and only when I switched diagonals then would go away. He has had that happen before when he has a gall somewhere. He isn't lame, I just had to check tack at Lower Quarry to look for rubs. 

Rambler's rider wasn't kidding about a cave. It was massive! And just down the hill was the lights from the Lower Quarry vet check. We came in and I let Quick chow down some more. A couple volunteers who had appies came over to talk to me. We didn't linger too long. We vetted through, he pulsed at 52. The vet said he was slightly off. Not enough to pull him but to take it easy, there was only 6 miles to Auburn. I checked for rubs and didn't find any. We were going to take it slow. We had come this far, we would ride into Auburn and I would be damned if I screwed up our chances of getting a completion or his future soundness. 

The junior had been pulled and her sponsor left ahead of us. Quick was game to catch her but he listened when I asked to stay at a walk. It was a power walk but a walk nonetheless. It was a gravel road, I knew the trail after No Hands and figured we would do some trotting there but we would walk the two miles to the bridge. I turned off my headlamp. We were out in the open, the moon was bright above us. It was magical. Another rider came up and passed us. We let her go. I was able to walk Quick on a loose rein. 

I couldn't believe it. We were heading to Auburn. We had set out on what we had come to do: cross the most difficult 100 miles from Lake Tahoe and now down to Auburn. We had less than 6 miles to go. It was just me and Quick, the little Spookaloosa. We crossed he highway and we knew where we were. We had ridden above No Hands with Melinda and Dazzle. Quick took off at a trot and I only slowed him down when we got to the switchbacks going downhill. We were almost there. 

I will never forget crossing No Hands. Time stood still. Quick's red tipped ears, one feather in his browband. The moon lighting out path and the sound of the river below. And here we were. At Tevis. It didn't seem real. 

The gal on Rambler caught us right after the bridge. We followed her walking and trotting in. Quick felt sound, no hint of whatever it had been. We caught the one gal who had passed us in the climb up to the Staging Area. It was nice to know where we were. 


There were lights over head and as we came up they called out our places as we gave them our numbers. 35, 36 and 37. 

37? No I must have heard wrong. A place like that is reserved for people who know what they are doing. 

The gal on Rambler wasn't feeling well and stopped to get off. I tried to wait for her, but Quick didn't want to dawdle as he had the whole ride. So we went. It still didn't feel real as we walked into the stadium. The gal in front of me went, and I tried to wait for the gal on Rambler but they told me to go. 

I walked Quick for two reasons, one I was waiting and two I didn't want him to take a lame step. Diana of American trail Gear had staid up to cheer for us. They had helped us get to ANCER last year and Quick's tack was made by them. As we neared the finish flag I saw the gal on Rambler come trotting up. I pulled up Quick, the announcer wanted us to go but I replied that she had finished ahead of us. Rambler trotted past and we trotted under the finish flag after him.

Photo by Diana Seager

Molly and Paula were there waiting for is. I got off and gave Quick a hug. They had been worried about me. Apparently I had dropped off the webcast at the River Crossing! They also wanted to know why I had walked Quick and I told them. We stripped tack and let him drink. He was pulsed down and off we went to the vet check. One final time. 

I remember hearing that if your horse is a little off to trot fast, and I believe I heard that from two different vets. The vet we got was the same one who had vetted us in at Robie Park she was from Australia. Quick and I had been practicing our trot outs. Usually I have to drag him or swat at his rump with my reins and we end up with a trot out that wouldn't pass a sobriety test. I wasn't even thinking when I picked up the rein and swatted at his rump to get him moving. We trotted out and back. She had seen it, and said that I did a very good job of hiding it. I asked if it was enough to pull us and she said no, we got our competition. I thanked her and we walked out. 37th place. 

As we were walking back to gather Quick's stuff I noticed blood on his left front. It had been a rub under his splint boot! It wasn't bad. But I was relieved that it was in fact a rub. 

We put Quick up, letting him eat and took him back in an hour for his post ride check. The vet wanted to know if he was acting normal and eating, drinking etc. that was when John Henry slipped and went down. People were screaming for a vet. Everyone was relieved when he got back on his feet. We took Quick back up to his stall. He was right next to Dazzle. We had been up for more than 24 hours at that point. I was ushered off to shower and then sleep. 

I woke up at 8:30 because I just had to go check on Quick. I trudged up the hill to his stall, he was napping but looked great. I found Paul and he got me breakfast. I was having trouble functioning and was told to go back to bed. I slept until the awards ceremony.

Paula and Molly pulled me aside. They both have had a lot of faith in me and the Spookaloosa. There never seemed to be a doubt in their minds that we wouldn't complete. They both know that money is always tight for me. I had been saving all year for Tevis and I was still penny pinching. I hadn't paid for a buckle, I figured I may need to $200 if worst case Quick needed treatment. And I was also content with the Ramen noddle diet for the next month so I could purchase it afterwards.

Remember I said they had a lot of faith in me, they told me that they had bought the buckle for me back in June.   Of course I teared up. This whole experience still didn't seem real. Not only did Quick and I complete but we finished 37th. I thought we would finish in the 50s or lower. Isn't this where people who have tons of experience and know what they are doing finish? 

We all sat down for the awards dinner. It still didn't feel real. They called out the names of the finishers. 90 had completed. 198 starters. Only a 45% completion rate. And Quick was one of the 45% who finished.  They called me up. A flower, handshake, certificate and a buckle. Jeff Herten congratulated me for riding an Appy. He and Redman had been pulled but had completed the ride last year. We had thought Redman would be the Appy to beat. But we were wrong, it was Quick and his brother. Out of the four appies who started they were the only two who completed. Something good in that Spookaloosa blood, if you can stick them that is. 

Here it is, in all of its glory. 

Quick was still dragging me around a day after the ride. He looked good, bright eyed and eating everything in sight!

The next day Quick was still dragging me around.

For a while I wasn't sure that Quick and I would reach this point. I didn't know if he had entered the land of no return. I didn't know if I could help him. I don't always consider myself a good rider, I have much yet to learn. But then I remember that "The horse is the best judge of a good rider, not the viewer. If the horse has a good opinion of the rider they give to the guide, if not they will resist." Nuno Olivera. Quick has come so far, little by little. I am glad I didn't attempt Tevis before he was mentally ready, when he could barely be out alone on the trail. I would have had no business being out there. I wondered what I was getting myself into coming to this ride. But as Quick and I left Robinson I knew that we were ready to tackle this challenge. 

"Boldness comes from confidence, confidence comes from success, so it's the trainers job to create lots of success." 
- Jack LeGoff

I have known Quick was a horse of a lifetime for some time now. I think it was being 45 minutes in the lead at Foothills, and then again in the moonlight crossing No Hands Bridge. I am lucky to be the one riding this little Spookaloosa. 

His name is Viva Sozar. Viva meaning 'long live' in Italian. And Sozar meaning 'flame' in Persian. Perhaps it is a fitting name for a horse that has the flame of an endurance horse. 

A week after Tevis

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful. Inspiring story. Thanks so much for taking the time to publish it.