“Reindeer are overrated. Santa should use endurance ponies.” Love, Mimi and Liberty
Merry Christmas from me and the mini-herd!
You know it’s a strange year when Tevis cancels. In all of the years since its inception, there have only been two major disruptions to the ride’s scheduled date — the 2008 cancellation due to massive wildfires, and the 2011 date change to October due to late-season snow. But 2020 has been the first time the Tevis Board of Governors has preemptively voted to cancel the ride, and well in advance of the scheduled date.
Given that I’ve made an annual pilgrimage to Auburn every summer since 2012 (and several other intermittent times prior to then), it feels very strange to not be there this year.
(The WSTF has creatively offered a “virtual Tevis” this year — 100 miles in 100 days, based on your miles submitted from training rides, competitions, and other horsey endeavors. Liberty and I are signed up, as our first major “goal” together. It kicks off Aug 1 — what was supposed to be Ride Day — and continues through Nov 9.)
As I write this now, it is the evening on Friday of what would have been the day before Tevis. The scenic drive across I-80 from Auburn to Truckee would have been completed, the temperatures dropping the further east we headed, the scenery changing from the Auburn foothills to the soaring alpine peaks of the Sierras. The long last stretch into Robie Park would have been made, with obligatory remarks among all in the vehicle of, “I always forget how long of a drive it is back here.” The vehicles would have received their first coating of Tevis dust.
A parking spot would have been found — most people have a “favorite” spot, and all of us are convinced that “our” spot is the “best” for various reasons.
Riders would have checked in, signed their waivers and paperwork, and picked up their rider packets. Horses would be vetted in, numbered, and gone out for a pre-ride to the start line, and perhaps the first couple miles of the trail. There was also likely some time slotted in there for perusing the vendor tents. (Pro Crew Tip: When your rider goes out for a pre-ride, that is a great time to sneak in a blitz round of shopping.)
Crew and rider will all be tending to some of the details around camp — making sure the crew bags are packed and that everything that needs to go to the Robinson Flat vet check is set aside, or packed in a secondary crew vehicle. Horses may be getting last-minute tending such as mane braiding, or making sure they’re eyeballs-deep in a bucket. Camp is being tidied up so there is minimal clean-up in the morning before leaving Robie Park. All afternoon long are chances to attend various pre-ride meetings (crew meeting, first-time rider meeting, junior rider meeting) although none of these are mandatory (unless you’re a junior rider/sponsor) until the main ride briefing later in the evening.
The ride offers the opportunity to purchase meal tickets to a pre-briefing dinner, but over the years, my core Tevis group has found that it is easier/less stressful/more predictable to put together our own meal ahead of time and eat dinner before briefing.
By 6pm, all horses will have been vetted, and ride briefing started at 6:45. For as much information as there is to be covered, much of it has been provided ahead of time via the e-packet emailed out to riders in the weeks preceding the ride, and the briefing serves to reiterate the most critical parts of that information, as well as any last-minute changes to be made. This meeting is mandatory for riders, and most crew members will also attend.
After the meeting adjourns, riders may linger for a few moments to briefly socialize, must most quickly disperse back to their trailers. Horses are taken out for a final walk for the evening. Tack is given a final once over, set-up and ready to go first thing in the morning.
Some crew leave out early in a separate crew car to spend the night back down the hill in Auburn or Foresthill, so as to be that much closer to Robinson Flat and avoid the log-jam of rush hour that is the great trailer exodus out of Robie Park in the morning.
The morning will roll around all too quickly, and most riders try to get to bed as early as possible. Pony noses are kissed goodnight, accompanied by a quick cuddle and gentle admonition to eat and drink well overnight, and rest up.
Finally, before bed, the full moon is glanced up at. Wishes are being made on it, and not on stars, tonight. Wishes from the riders that hope they’ll be seeing that moon again the following night, along the trail and all the way to the stadium in Auburn. Wishes from crew for a safe ride for their horse and ride, and that they’ll be watching the moon from the dark, quiet knoll next to the finish line as they wait for their rider to appear out of the darkness and sweep under the banner.
Good night Tevis riders, and Tevis crews. May we all be gathered back together under that Rider’s Moon in 2021. Best of luck to all participating in the virtual ride this year, and I will “see” you on the virtual trail.
In the 27 years I’ve been riding, I have ridden dozens of horses. At one point, I even had a running list going, and I think I managed to remember the vast majority of them. But in all that time, only one of those horses has ever been mine. This fall will mark 24 years for me and Mimi, and what a ride it’s been. She has given me more than I could have ever asked for, is my heart and soul, and she was well-earned the right to gracefully retire, with her dignity, soundness, and spirit still intact. And as long as she still gets the first cookie handouts of the day, I don’t think she will object too strenuously over me bringing in a new pony.
Welcome home, Liberty.
If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, she will be a recognizable face. I first rode her back in 2013, and she was another “instant click” horse I bonded with the moment my butt hit the saddle. We’ve done four limited distance endurance rides together, have the most breathtakingly unimpressive, bordering-on-laughable record together (we are 1/4 on ride completions, thanks in large part to under-preparation and a pinch of bad luck), but every single time, I’ve had fun with her. And that’s what I’m after right now — fun, and the ability to ride without feeling a low-grade sense of guilt or anxiety over “why am I still asking my aging pony to tote me around.” She’s a fabulous trail horse, and although she’s 14 now, she has done so very little in life that she has virtually no wear and tear on her.
My goal is to start small, and with low expectations. I just want to see what she does with more regular conditioning, and if it’s a positive result…go from there. I believe she has the ability to be very versatile as well, so if she doesn’t absolutely love tearing up the endurance trail, I think we can find plenty of options to amuse ourselves with as alternates. In the meantime, she’s a quasi-project — she has a solid foundation of training and decent amount of life exposure and experiences, but she’s been sitting around for the past year+, so is a bit soft and fluffy. So while she’ll need some work to get back into fitness, she’s not a training project the same way a youngster would be (the kind who need ideally need 5-6 short, frequent training sessions/week, and that’s just not going to happen in my current reality). She’s also in “pasture condition” and has lived a lifestyle of 24/7 herd turnout with lots of movement and a very simple, grass-hay diet, so she doesn’t have a bunch of extra “fat pounds” to melt off.
When the topic of horse shopping comes up, and what to look for in an endurance horse, there’s all kinds of advice given about the conformation, the brains, size, temperament, age, training how they move/travel/hold a saddle, what to look for, what to avoid…everyone has their own personal preferences. The bit of advice that has been my favorite has been from Lucy: “They should make you laugh.”
Well, this mare makes me laugh. I’ve spent time around her in ride environments, as well as a casual camping weekend. I have seen just about every mood she has. I have shoved her off the deep end on numerous occasions and she has always risen to the task. It hasn’t always been pretty, but we’ve always gotten it done, for better or for worse. I’ve ridden her a collective 7 times to date, and I trust her completely. I enjoy spending time around her, and she’s a really fun ride. She’s also really smooth, and although I suspect she has a competitive streak that is not far below the surface (she is bred for endurance, after all, with a 100-mile-proven Shagya sire and a racebred [and raced] Arabian dam), she is easy to rate, has a very soft face, and doesn’t pull. She’s opinionated, affectionate, loves attention, and isn’t afraid to throw her feed pan at you to make her point.
As far as endurance goes, she definitely has some stuff in her favor, despite our “hot mess” of a record. She travels well, she camps well, she has EDPP down to a science (she is the embodiment of “hungry, hungry hippo” and drinks like a fish — the only horse I’ve ever ridden who stops 3 miles into a ride to drink — and cheerfully evacuates it out the back end with no hesitation as she trucks down the trail), she is mostly good on manners in-hand (probably needs a refresher on that, she can be pushy), can lead or follow in a group, will ride out by herself, is not particularly spooky and really not reactive, and doesn’t seem to ever get overly worried about life. Or if she is worried, it doesn’t put her off her feed (grab a bite, chew, scream for friend, go back to eating) or disrupt her. More, she does the disrupting, because she is loud and will loudly scream for her friends…but that’s all she does. She has really good metabolics (even under-conditioned, she pulses down really fast) and absolutely eats hills for breakfast and asks for seconds. She’s been barefoot her whole life, has grown up in the brutally rocky Arizona desert, and can go flying over 10+ miles of an endurance rock completely barefoot and not even hesitate once. Fortunately, as long as the size/style is right, she wears boots really well.
And some hills for Exhibit B.
I know she’s 14…but she wasn’t started until she was 6, has lived in a large pasture turnout setting her entire life, and hasn’t had hard enough work to put a ton of wear and tear on her. So we’ll see what happens. I have big dreams…but starting with low expectations.
— John Adams, 1826