This weekend, I had the opportunity to ride my Shagya-Arabian stallion, *Hadban USA, aka Reno, on both of our first attempts at Tevis, the tough 100 mile one-day ride in California, to our first completion, and this is our story.
All I could think about at the start was how surprised I was at how calm everything was. It was dark, and we couldn’t see much of anything, and the horses in the warm up pens were just calmly walking with plenty of space between them. There was no whinnying, no drama, no chaos. The controlled walk for a half mile to the start was also completely calm – no drama, no shenanigans, no jigging. Once we made it to the start line, there was a 7 minute wait for the trail to open. 185 Tevis-fit horses standing still at the start of a ride, calmly. It was strange, unexpected, so quiet, and such a relief.
When the trail opened, we took off at a nice trot and found a good place in the crowd that matched the speed we wanted to go. I hoped that Reno could really see where he was going, because I sure couldn’t. The trail seemed like a good trail to ride in the dark, but who knows, I couldn’t see it. It was relatively wide and seemed to have good footing, and as I was thinking about the trail, we somehow already had gone several miles and made it to the highway crossing. As soon as we got on the single track trail after the highway crossing, the ride instantly turned into the Prater Mountain ride with the single track switchbacks. All I could think was that what I was riding didn’t match what I thought the trail would be based on terrain/elevation map in the Tevis magazine. We were going fast, Reno’s heartrate was higher than I like it to be (I ride with a heart rate monitor), and on any other ride I would have slowed down so I could lower his heart rate, but I was in a sea of 185 horses, all going fast, all feeling fresh, and I would have had to fight him to slow him down which would have only frustrated him rather than relax him. I thought to myself that I need to spend more time training with his heart rate in the red zone. So I monitored him and kept him steady but did not allow him to go any faster. If others wanted to pass, I gladly let them by. As I kept wondering where all these hills came from, because the terrain map looked downhill and flat in the magazine, I’d observe the actual footing, which was sometimes good and frequently rocky. There were some sections of big, chunky, gravelly rock, and I thought, “are we really trotting over this?” I didn’t pad my horse’s feet because I hadn’t ever padded his feet and I wasn’t about to do something new before a ride, but as I’m literally trotting over this rock, I doubted my judgement. Maybe I should have tried padding him.
By this time, we were coming up on the ski hill and could see the ski lifts of Squaw Valley and the trail transitioned to a gravel road that went uphill, and more uphill, and more uphill. We trotted some and walked a lot, as did most of the horses. There were some horses that cantered, and I thought that I’d see them being pulled later. The view on this section of the trail was incredible. Again I compared the trail I was riding to what I had expected based on the trail map, and again it was off. I had expected a drastic uphill, but this was more of a meandering uphill, not really that bad. Not long after that, we made it to High Camp where Reno promptly drank 10 gallons of water – he literally drank two five gallon buckets. This made me very happy. Then we moved out on the next section of trail which was supposed to be a steep climb. Maybe it was, but all I remember is one minute we were at High Camp drinking water, and the next minute we were at the top looking at the Watson Monument.
The next short section was beautiful. Great footing, easy downhill the backside of the mountain, green, clear, mountain vistas – gorgeous. Then we entered Granite Chief wilderness. The view here was equally beautiful, but the footing was not. It has serious rock – like sharp boulders with mud. Some you can step over, some you have to walk on, and some you hope don’t cut you or your horse. We were in a great group of horses and riders who all wanted to walk it, which was perfect. I thought about the front runners of the ride, who complete in about half the time as the rest of us. How in the world do they ride this ride fast? I have no idea.
Then we somehow made it to Lyon Ridge. I wasn’t really sure where the ridge was, as it all seemed like the same trail. This was a trot-by into a water stop, where Reno again drank 10 gallons of water, literally two five gallon buckets. I felt great, and we took off on the next section. This section seemed almost all uphill to Cougar Rock. I again thought about how I didn’t expect this much climbing early on in the ride, but at the same time thought, “well, this is Tevis, I did expect a difficult ride,” but I couldn’t understand why what I was riding didn’t seem to align with the trail map. But we kept going. I happened to be riding behind a couple of mules whose riders were in jeans and cowboy boots. Every now and then I’d see them get off and walk, so I thought I better do the same, because they must know what they’re doing, so I did. We made it to Cougar Rock. I took one look at the rock and agreed with my previous plan to take the bypass. There was no way I wanted to go over that rock when there was a perfectly good trail available as an alternate. I’ve heard people say the bypass is worse than the Rock, but the bypass was totally fine. So maybe Cougar Rock is also totally fine.
Next we were off to Red Star. I don’t really remember this section of trail or the one to Robinson Flat. Somewhere in there was a bit of dirt road, reminiscent of Klickitat Trek, and some ridgeline trail reminiscent of Renegade Rendezvous. I do remember that the trail prior to Robinson had quite a bit of climbing. Again I thought that the trail map looked like an easy, gradual uphill, which was not what I felt like I was riding. Along this section of trail I stopped about three times to check Reno’s feet for rocks because I had not padded them, and the trail has the perfect size rock to get stuck in shoes. Somewhere in here was the section of trail called Elephant Trunk, which I had heard might be scary, but that section of trail was literally only about two horse lengths. By the time I recognized where we were, we were already through it – the pictures looked way worse than the trail really is.
The Red Star Gate and Go vet area operated like a well-oiled machine. We were funneled right in, handed our timer card, shown where the sponge water, mash and hay were, had a pulser roaming around who almost immediately pulsed us in, showed us to the vet where there was no line, we vetted in great, trotted sound, and we were off. I didn’t have to find anything. The volunteers sought us out and showed us where everything was and what to do. It was amazing.
When we arrived at Robinson Flat, I thought, “are we here already?” The line of crew along the road was amazingly long. My crew found us before I found them and swarmed us. They had Reno’s mash and sponge water, though Reno had other thoughts about the sponging and drank the sponge water. He happily ate the mash while we all walked toward the pulsers and vet area. The crew pulled tack and sponged while we walked. When we got to the water troughs, he drank, while we pulsed him, and he was down, so we walked to the vets. I had a passing thought in the back of my mind that this is the vet check with normally the highest number of pulls, but at the same time I thought Reno felt great, so I was relatively confident, but I also know how sometimes things happen between the end of a ride and the 5 minutes to the vet. There was no line and I was promptly greeted by Dr. Foss. I was so happy to him. I just lit up with happiness. Seeing him at this point in the day just made my day, and I told him so. It is so nice to see familiar faces along this trail, particularly ones who have vetted your horse at previous rides in the season. Reno looked great. He had a 48/48 CRI and trotted sound. We made our way out of the vets to our crew area where Reno ate and ate and ate some more. My crew very kindly offered me a towel for my face. I must have looked like a dust monster!
When our time was up, I mounted back up and took off at a trot and a little bit of canter…again uphill. I thought the trail was supposed to be downhill at this point. Looking at the trail map, it’s quite downhill. After the uphill, I swear it was mostly flat, with a little bit of gradual down. By this point, I gave up on trying to reconcile what I was riding with the trail map. All I know is this section of trail was easy. We got to Dusty Corners without a hitch. Along the way I ran into one of my previous horses with his new owner. It was so much fun to ride with them for a while. We mostly trotted and cantered some. There was a lot of hard packed road here, but there aren’t a lot of places on the trail to make time, so we took advantage of it. The Dusty Corners water stop was also a well-oiled machine. In and out without a hitch, Reno got some water, carrots, sponging, and I had some watermelon and off we went to Last Chance.
The Last Chance vet check had sliced carrots for the horses. These are Reno’s favorite. He might be a big, strong stallion, but he likes his carrots cut up, and there was a whole feed pan full of them. He found them in an instant. After he pulsed down, I just looked at the volunteer and said that I didn’t have the heart to pull him away from it. She jumped all over the opportunity to help and said, “you don’t have to, I can.” She grabbed a handful out of the feed pan, handed Reno the handful and took the feed pan away and pointed me to the vets. I had heard the vets here are extra-discriminating because the horses are about to go into the canyons, so they want to be sure the horses they are allowing on are ready. Again we vetted on through without a problem, and I thought, “here we go.”
We were headed into the first canyon. I had heard that the first canyon is so steep that horses can’t really go any faster with their riders on them than with the rider on foot, so I got off and ran in front. There were sections of ok and sections of deep, loose dirt with rocks, and sections with rock slabs. I thought that being on foot was a good call. We made it to the bottom without much of a problem, and I looked at the river. I had received conflicting guidance about going in versus not because you had to climb down into it off the trail and then climb back up onto the trail when you’re done. That takes time. But I looked at the river again, thought about the climb we had coming up, and I decided, “we’re going in!” Reno was happy. He drank. I cooled him in it. I walked in and cooled myself off. After about 5 minutes, back up to the trail we went, I mounted back up and we crossed the swinging bridge – totally uneventful. The trail up is an ass-kicker. It goes up and up and up and up and up, and UP. I rode for about a bit, and then Reno stopped. I had read that many horses need to stop to take a breather along the trail, so that’s what we did. He caught his breath and I’d ask him to go, and he would. After doing that about 4 times, I think he thought that this sucked big time, and he refused to move. I got off and walked and he followed. That sounds easy enough, but if you’ve never seen the trail, it’s a doozie of a trail. For fellow NW hikers, think Mailbox Peak. I had planned to run down and tail up, so thank goodness I had been training myself in preparation but note I had planned to tail up. There’s a big difference in the amount of effort required on the human’s part when tailing vs hiking. When tailing, the horse literally pulls you up. When you’re hiking, well, you know, you carry yourself. Reno was perfectly content to follow. He was also perfectly content to stop when his human needed a breather. A couple of times I’d get on with hopes that he’d carry me a bit more, but he kindly told me I was crazy, and that the only way he was going up this thing is if I did it with him. So I kept hiking. He was perfectly happy to climb as long as I climbed with him. We made it to Devil’s Thumb, and there was WATER and alfalfa, and popsicles for the riders. I stopped here long enough to pulse him down and then mostly walked to the Deadwood vetcheck. We trotted a little bit to make sure he still knew how to trot since he seemed to enjoy following me at the walk. We vetted through without a problem, just in time to do another canyon!
The second canyon was not at as bad as the first. The trail down was not a big deal, and the up part was easier as well (though NOT easy), but again, I got to enjoy hiking uphill with a perfectly good horse in tow. The riders who had seen me in the first canyon saw me on this one and just laughed, commenting at how well my horse has me trained. It’s true. As long as I participated in the hill climbing, he was good with it. If I didn’t participate, he was having nothing to do with it. I wasn’t really upset by it. After all, I had conditioned myself because I was planning to tail up them. I also wasn’t really upset by it because I had signed up for the ride. The horse hadn’t signed up. He could have flat out refused, but really all he was asking was that we do it together. So we did. We finally made it to the top, and I got back on and we trotted into Michigan Bluff where we were greeted with water tanks and mash for the horses and lemonade for the riders. It was wonderful.
Then off we went to Chicken Hawk. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s only about 1.5 miles to Chicken Hawk from Michigan Bluff….but mostly uphill. Yep, you guessed it. On my feet again. But we finally made it to Chicken Hawk. When we got there, he was already pulsed down (he better have been with all of the walking I was doing!!) I went immediately to the vets. The volunteers looked at me in disbelief and asked in exasperation, “you’re not going to stop at all at the water/food!?” I said, “he’s down. I’m going to the vets first.” And who did I see in the vet area? DR. FOSS! Again, such a welcome sight after those two canyons. I told him Reno hated the uphills. He just looked at me and said, “I don’t blame him.” I thought to myself, “?!?!?!?!?!” Reno had A gut sounds which always makes Dr. Foss happy, so off we went.
The third canyon went about like the second. I had had visions of trotting up Bath Road into Foresthill showing off to the crowd. Instead, I was leading my horse up the long-ass road in front of the crowd. Oh well. My crew found me, pulled tack, offered Reno water and mash, hosed him down, and walked on in to Foresthill. He was down when we got there, so to the vets we went. He vetted on through and off to our hold where he ate constantly. I showered, changed clothes, and wondered if I’d finish the ride in time if I had to walk all of the uphills on the last stretch.
By now it was dark, and we had 32 miles left to do in the dark. I left with a group and was able to trot along behind. It was great. Our leader seemed to know the trail, so we just followed. Reno was fueled up from the Foresthill stop and was getting his second wind. He was happy to keep moving, even trotting up the uphills. We made it to Cal2 which seemed like a Christmas stop. There were green glow sticks everywhere – kind of magical, really. Off we went to Francisco’s. Along the way we passed three horses that had fallen off of the trail. Two made it back up onto the trail, and one was still off. I couldn’t imagine what they and their riders must have been feeling. We made it to Francisco’s, which was packed. I hadn’t seen that many horses all in one stop all day long. I had to wait in a long line for the vet. Reno looked great and the vets complimented him and me. I let Reno eat mash for 5 minutes and then off we went to the river.
The trail to the river crossing is only 3 miles away from Francisco’s, but it seemed to take forever and a day to get there. We finally made it, and the crossing was very uneventful. The river was very low. At this point, the trail was so incredibly dark. We made our way through to the Lower Quarry. This stop was a little intimidating to me because it’s the last vet check before the finish line. I didn’t want to be pulled so close to the finish. When we arrived, he was down, so straight to the vets we went. Again he vetted through and looked great. We ate a little and then mounted up for the last stretch. The first two miles out of the Quarry is pretty flat. We mostly trotted making good time. The last 4 miles into the finish are mostly uphill. I was worried that I’d have to do it on foot. Luckily, Reno was feeling good and carried me most of the way. There were only two places where he wanted a partner. We made it to the finish, and my crew was waiting for me! I couldn’t believe we had ridden the entire Tevis trail, but I couldn’t celebrate yet, because we still needed to pass the completion vet exam at the stadium. We walked down to the stadium, rode our victory lap around the stadium, then pulled tack and presented to the vets. Fingers crossed, we trotted out and back, and Reno looked great! What a relief. We had just completed the Tevis Cup on our first attempt! I am so lucky to have such a great horse, and such a great crew to get me through this tough ride.