My First Fifty

by Jackie Fenorali

It is still dark outside my trailer and I can hear ride camp stirring as the 75 and 100 milers get ready to start their race.  I’m glad I’ve got another hour in my cozy bed, even though I haven’t slept much during the night  with worry about the comfort of my horse as she endured a night of howling winds.  I just needed to saddle up to be ready to roll, so there is no sense in rushing to get up.


My horse and I have a job, long distance product testing for Stonewall Saddle Company.  My ride is a tough little mare, a naturally gaited Spanish Mustang, SMR Tia.  She is 7 years old now and never been shod.  Born and raised running free on the large Cayuse Ranch in WY, she has mustang tough feet.


We had arrived at the Get-R-Done ride camp in InyokernCAa few days early and sat in on a FEI training session.  After consulting with a cadre of top level riders and noting that the course was flat with good footing, my horse was fit and sound, I made the decision to bump up to the 51 mile distance from my intended limited distance ride.  Following the advice given at the clinic, I made a ride plan, adjusted my seat at the canter, practiced trot outs and pouring cooling buckets water over my horse.

A cool morning broke and found about 80 of us LD & 50 milers milling about under overcast skies as we waited for the starter to let us go.  There was lots of neighing and movement as we kept respectful distances between each other.  It was a controlled start and our large group strung out as we walked the first 800 yards and crossed a paved road.




I soon fell in with a small group that included the handsome and well behaved stallion.  He acted like a gentleman and did his best to ignore Tias attempts to sniff tail, and I stayed focused on keeping her off of his.  Finally fed up, I pushed her into a canter and we moved ahead of that group.


After about four miles, Tia quits trying to exit the trail stage left, but I keep my crop in my left hand nevertheless in case I need to wave a warning.  She also wants to go faster than I’ll let her, and I keep lightly correcting her speed as I try and stick to my ride plan of start slow and finish faster with a lot of horse left.

We are now moving easily and alone along the base of an ancient lava flow.  As a kid, traveling to winter ski resorts along I-395, I would gaze thru the car window at the rough lava ledge in the distance and parallel to our direction of travel, and wish we had the time to stop and view it up close and personal.  Now, I was awed by the shear size of it, much greater than in my childhood imagination.  Can I describe to you the joy I felt from riding a rocking horse canter for mile after mile, at the foot of this towering black, rugged ledge of ancient crumble?  No, I don’t think I can, but I’m sure some of you have felt it.  A smile permanently splits my face, and I whoop it up for the cameraman as we pass by.

At mile 8 I’m hot and remove my vest while on the move, managing to lash it to the saddle.

At the mile 10 turn-around there is hay and water.  Tia ignores the water, grabs a few bites of hay and lets me know she is ready to move on.

At mile 12 I fell off!  Tia came to a dead stop and I went over the handlebars, letting go of the reins midair.  I still don’t know what the scary object was, maybe a pale boulder amidst all the black?  She went galloping off across the open desert despite my sweet calls for her to come back.    I soon changed to cries of “HEY, HEY….catch my horse” and all riders within hearing or eyesight came to a stop.  We watched as one as Tia headed further away from us and towards her heritage on the wild open range.  For few seconds I lost sight of her, only seeing a fairly large burp of sand and dust where she had just been.  When she came back into sight, now several football fields away from my jogging form, she had turned, slowed, and headed back to the trail and fellow horse and rider teams.

“Yes, Yeah!  Thank goodness!  That could of been really bad,” I think as I huff and puff over to them.  “Thank you, thank you for catching her”, I gasp.   After assuring everyone that I was alright, and checking to see that Tia was unharmed, we continued on our way (Only later, after the race and back at camp, did I find out what really happened!).


At mile 25 I heard the screech owl before I saw him for the first of three times as we retraced portions of the trail.  He stood only about 4” tall with wings held rigid away from his tough guy torso.  He yelled and cursed in no uncertain terms, telling us to stay away from his burrow or else.  The last time I and 150 other riders passed him by, I think he was flagging a bit.  I was very proud of him.


At mile 42, my riding mentor, Sue Haveruk, warned me that the wall was coming up and we hit it at the start of a long, and I mean long, low grade climb up an alluvial plane.  The temperature rose, and our horses took one interminable step after another without seeming to get any closer to the end.


By mile 45 my riding tights were bunching and making me sore, and I started asking Sue to give me readouts from her GPS.  I’m pretty sure it was broken because it kept saying 6 miles to go for a really long time.


At mile 50 I could see ride camp below and a dogleg behind our current course of direction.  I could be heard muttering about ride management and wondering why they choose to torture us with an extra mile.  Then we started along a gentle down grade and the breeze freshened.  The horses must of picked up our excitement at nearing the end and they started to canter.  We came in at a gallop, whooping it up and high fives all around.


Having crossed the finish line, I headed back to ride camp, located a couple of blocks away from the vet area, intending to make use of the full hour allowed to take care of and pamper my hard working horse before presenting for final vet check.  I took this play from a lesson learned by theUSteam at the last World competition inMalaysia.  I practically skipped as I went about my husbandry duties and cleaned away the road grime.  I was pumped with pride and joy, as I alternately hugged and brushed by tough little horse.


“Oh my gosh!  How is your horse?” a friendly camp neighbor asks as soon as she sees me.  “I thought she might have been really hurt when she didn’t get up right away.”

“I’m sure she is a bit tired, but what do you mean ‘get up’?” I puzzled.

“When she was running away and fell in the mine pit.  I thought she might have been seriously hurt because she laid there for a few seconds before getting up,” she said.

This camp neighbor had been on the trail and watching from a different perspective than mine, and saw Tia go head over heals into a large mine pit as she was galloping away after pitching me off.  That must have been the large burp of sand and dust that I saw!

“I hate to say it, but it was probably a good thing that your horse fell.  That is what convinced her to come back,” my neighbor nodded wisely.  “She is mustang tough, but it is a good thing you didn’t see it, because if you had seen her go down, you would have pulled her at the next vet check.”   I would have too.  It was dangerous to leave me, and I sure do hope she has learned her lesson!  Mine came next.

“Hey, you better get vetted in,” Sue says from the reclining lounge chair in the motorhome when I pop in for my own pit stop.

“I’m in no hurry,” I trill and head back out to walk Tia over to the water trough again and later the round pen for a roll in the sand.


“Shouldn’t you be vetted in by now?” said Sue’s husband, frowning at me.

“Nah, I got time,” I assured him but pulled out my rider card anyways just to check.


I screamed as I realized that I only had four minutes left to vet in before being disqualified.  I grabbed Tia’s lead rope, not bothering to take off her blanket, and started running towards the vet area lamenting its distance to ride camp.  Breathing heavily now, as I slogged thru deep sand on a narrow single track trail, I checked my watch.  Only two minutes left.  I grabbed a handful of mane and kicked it up a notch letting Tia pull me along.  We rounded the gate into the vet area going at a good clip with me waving my rider card overhead and yelling, “I need to vet in, I need to vet in!”


I thrust my card and lead rope at the handler and started to strip Tia’s blanket which had slipped and tangled from our hurried pace.  The vet moseyed over, checking his watch and called out “four thirty four” – one hour exactly from the time we crossed the line.  Whew!  Only then did it dawn on me, as he pulled out his stethoscope, that we also needed to pass the heart rate check of 64 bpm or less.


“Uhhh, I made a mistake on the time.  We ran all the way down here,” I panted over the words and explained with pleading eyes.  He did listen for the heartbeat for a good long time as I took deep breaths and sent calming thoughts to Tia.  “Sixty four,” he called out and I felt the tension leave me.  That’s it.  Tia passed the rest of the checks with flying colors and we official completed our first 50 mile ride.


I would of felt a real twit to have disqualified us after all that.  Instead I have a good Mustang Tuff and First 50 story to tell around the campfire, and next time, I’ll make sure I don’t succumb to road rattle and euphoria!


What is Distance Riding?


By Dodie Sable, for Sound Advocate

June 8, 2012

The sport of Distance Riding is becoming more popular as Baby Boomers mature and begin seeking other avenues to explore with their horse. It is trail riding at the extreme! A distance rider spends hours and miles in the saddle on trail (and yes, even in the ring) conditioning their equine partner, and themselves, in preparation of competing against other horse/rider partners at distances of 25 miles to 100 miles…all ridden in one day.

There are three main organizations which support, promote and track these competitions. We encourage all readers to visit these websites to learn more specifics of the sport and to find a competent mentor to assist in helping a new rider to get started in the sport.

American Endurance Ride Conference AERC – A National Organization to promote Endurance riding.

Federation Equestre International FEI – A Worldwide Organization to promote Endurance riding.

North American Trail Ride Conference NATRC – A National Organization to promote Competitive Trail Riding.

Today’s article will focus on Endurance. What is Endurance? It is the competing and completing of 50 or more miles in one day, at a ride sanctioned by AERC. It is managed by a ride staff which includes a ride manager, secretary, trail boss, several veterinarians, lay judges and tons of volunteers to assist riders and ride management.

A rider prepares their equine partner for a year or more to compete 50 miles. Two years to compete 75 miles. Three years to compete 100 miles. Not all, but most, serious endurance riders have a goal of doing their first 100 mile, one day ride. Many riders are content to only compete in 50 mile rides.

Rides are held all across America. Trail systems for these rides are held on state lands, national forest parks, and private landowner properties.

The main goal of this sport is complete the 50 miles with a sound horse. Vet checks are set up throughout the ride and horses are checked for metabolic changes, gait changes, attitude changes and are Passed or Failed by a qualified veterinarian to continue. The motto of AERC is “TO FINISH IS TO WIN”. Although each ride will have a “winner”, the first horse to complete and vetted sound to continue, everyone that completes the ride is a winner.

Basically, and again we encourage all readers interested in the sport to visit the above websites for more information, the rides go as follows.

50 miles – 2 or 3 vet checks during the ride and a final finish line vet check. A rider has 12 hours to complete the 50 miles. This time includes the vet holds, which are usually 40 minutes each.

75 miles – 3 or 4 vet checks during the ride and a final finish line vet check. A rider has 18 hours to complete the 75 miles. This time includes the vet holds, which are usually 40 minutes each, and the stop-n-gos, which are usually 10 minutes each.

100 miles – 4 or 5 vet checks during the ride and a final finish line vet check. A rider has 24 hours to complete the 100 miles. . This time includes the vet holds, which are usually 40 minutes each, and the stop-n-gos, which are usually 10 minutes each.

Endurance is timed and the first 10 riders that complete are all vetted with a pointing system. The highest completion is called the Best Condition (BC) rider for that ride. All riders completing earn points in their weight division as well as miles for the ride. AERC has year end awards in many categories utilizing these points and completed miles.

A shorter version of endurance is found at all the rides, called a Limited Distance. The trail distance is usually between 25 and 30 miles. Same Endurance rules apply as the longer distances, but this is not considered Endurance. These rides are for those riders that are just starting out, horses that are new to the sport, or for riders that simply enjoy to competition of timed trail riding but do not want to do the longer distances. Many rider/equine partners compete only the limited distance and they have a grand time!

Gaited horses do very well in this sport and FOSH is now opening up a Distance program. We encourage you to visit the FOSH website to view the Rules and Regulations of participating in the Distance program.

Tevis on a Paso Fino

Tevis on a Paso Fino


Melissa Margetts 

In order to even begin to understand the true accomplishment of a Paso Fino completing Tevis, one has to know more about the ride itself. The Tevis Cup 100 mile endurance ride is considered the most difficult, dangerous and technically challenging endurance ride in the world. In it’s 54 year history, less than 50% of the riders willing to take up the challenge are ever able to complete the race and most are eliminated due to lameness, dehydration, metabolic imbalances caused by the altitude of the Sierra Nevada Mountains or the stifeling 100+ degree heat in the canyons.

You have 24 hours in which to complete the ride on a trail that is treacherous, narrow, dusty, rocky with slippery granite and sheer drop offs into the abyss, through dust and mud sucking bogs and leads into and out of 3,000 ft deep canyons that are swealtering hot like Hades. Oh, and did I mention the blinding, choking dust?

Hardship not withstanding, riders from all over the world train and condition their horses for years in order to be prepared and put in their entry months in advance in the hopes that they will be lucky enough to have a spot among the maximum 210 riders that take up the challenge every year. International riders who are not able to passport their OWN horses over for the ride, may lease a Tevis worthy and conditioned horse for upwards of $6,500 for the 24 hours of the ride from some of the reputable breeders and trainers. All horses and riders are required to have completed hundreds of competitive miles at races of 50 miles or more that have been documented with AERC (American Endurance Ride Council) or FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale)

98% of the horses used in the sport of endurance are Arabians. The breed has thin skin which helps to dissipate the heat built up from exersion, larger nostrils and a large lung capacity. Most importantly though, they have a natural long extended stride that makes for efficiency of movement at speed. Arabians only come in grey, white, black, bay and chestnut. I ride a buckskin Paso Fino.

He is considered the “wrong breed” for this sport especially with his short four beat lateral gait. His gait is unbelievably comfortable but truly inefficient. It you were to count the foot falls, he would have gone AT LEAST 200 miles to the 100 miles that every Arab does.

“To finish is to win” is the motto in the endurance world and to that end,the Tevis Cup offeres no monetary prizes. It’s only prize is a much coveted silver belt buckle emblazoned with a pony express rider at a full gallop and the words: “100 miles…one day”. The buckle is given only to the riders that cross the finish line of this gruelling race and have proven their horse is “fit to continue”.

That criteria is focused on the HORSE. This ride is All about taking care of your horse and there are 18 veterinarians, and 30 veterinary assistants to assure that happens. They don’t care if the rider is dead in the saddle and held in place with duct tape and bungee cords as long as that HORSE is “fit to continue”.

That assurance starts off the day before the ride at the initial “Vet in” exam of the horse. This thorough exam is repeated at several vet checks along the ride course as well as at the finish line, where blood can randomly be drawn from any horse to assure no sport enhancing drugs have been given or masking agents that might hide soreness. This is like the World Cup or the Olympics and these horses ARE elite athletes.

How thorough ARE the veterinary exams? Well I have NEVER had such a “going over” as my horse has in a 24 hour period of time. They check his heart rate to make sure it is no higher than 60 bpm, they check his gums for capillary refill, they check his resperation, they look his whole body over to make sure there are no rubs or sores developing from his tack, they have me trot him out to check for lamenes and then they RE-check his heart rate, they will even check “where the sun don’t shine” to asseses his anal tone if he’s just a little off. Only AFTER he passes ALL of the criterea is he deemed “fit to conitnue” and can ride on for the next leg of the ride. All that information is recorded on a vet card and handed back to the rider who will carry it with them to the next vet check.

I ride with a heart rate monitor attached to my horse’s girth which transmits his heart rate to my watch every three second so I can ensure I am riding him at an aerobic pace.You are trotting (or in my case “gaiting”) for the entire 100 miles and there is VERY little walking anywhere. Another way to give both you and your horse enough energy to get through the whole ride and a better chance of finishing, is to get off of the horse whenever you can cover ground on foot just as fast as he can with you on his back. To that end, I ran on foot down all of the steep canyons, leading him over the rocks, down down down.

Going back UP the 33, steep, narrow switch-backs leading up out of the first canyon where the temperature reaches 100+ degrees, I “tail-up”. This means I hold onto his tail and one rein (the honor system) and let him pull me up on foot instead of making him carry me.

Once out of the canyons you are dripping with sweat, stink like a goat and covered with dust. There, at the top,are some of the more than 750 volunteers who help at this ride and they are offering hay and carrots to your horse and precious, sweet, wet, cold, watermellon chunks to you. They help sponge water over your horse to cool him while he ravenously munches on hay and guzzles water.

More vet checks. Along the entire Tevis trail and at every vet check and stop, there is always water and food for your horse. None of the stops are longer than a few minutes though. But there are TWO vet checks where you are REQUIRED to stay and rest for one hour before you continue on. It is at these vet checks where your “crew” can get to you and help cool down your horse and supply you with anything you might posibly need.

Your “crew” is like a “pit crew” at Nascar. When you arrive at the vet check at dusk, they untack your horse, rinse his legs, throw on a fresh dry saddle pad, re-tack him, offer him buckets of grain, hay, carrots, apples and electrolytes. They supply YOU with a chair to sit in, food for yourself and a change of clothes and socks after your long sweaty climb out of the canyons. And if you’re REAL lucky like I was this year, my crew even provided me with two solar bags of hot water for an impromptu 2 minute shower! HEAVEN!

They make sure you have a warm fleece to wear as they attach glowbars to the breastcollar of your horse for the next stage of the ride which will be ridden, AT SPEED, on very narrow trails with sheer drop-offs, in TOTAL DARKNESS. Headlamps and flashlights are too disorienting to the horse so it is in this phase of the ride that you experience the true trust and bond that is required by horse and rider. If you had never really trusted your horse completely before, it is NOW that many riders get that lump in their throat and tears in their eyes as they LEARN to trust their horse and when you fully DO,… you can’t help but cry with the emotion of that barrier crossed.You have really taken a leap of faith.

One misstep and horse and rider can plummet, cartwheeling over a cliff. It DOES happen and it DID happened in front of us in 2007 when one horse/rider team fell off the cliff. It was an accident that had a relative happy ending as the horse had minor cuts, though the rider was perched precariously on a cliff for hours with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a bruised liver while awaiting rescue and a helicopter ride out.

This year there was an accident without the happy ending. A horse fell off of the switchbacks coming out of the canyons. While carwheeling down, the mare broke a leg and hit her head on a rock and died. The rider was uninjured.A tragedy that left all of us in tears.

There is no doubt that as you are flying down the trail in the darkness, your heart is in your throat as the miles tick by. The trail seems endless as hour after hour you keep riding, Then suddenly, as you come out of the tree canopy, there is a full moon to greet you and down below you, there is the American River with a mysterious eery green runway through it!

Only one day a year, just for the Tevis Cup, the dam closes and the river is lowered to make it safer for the riders to swim their horses across the river without getting swept downstream in the swift current. The volunteers have taken green glowbars and tied them to ropes and sunk them in the water creating a glowing green “runway” where it is safest to swim your horse across.

Then it’s another climb up the very last canyon, across “No Hands Bridge”, through the pitch blackness of what’s called the “Black Hole of Calcutta”. Ahead, at last, are the tell-tale lights of Auburn that say your journey is almost over. Up ahead is the finish line and a well deserved trough of water for your horse.

You are greeted by your crew and friends,and well wishers determined to be there for the first rider to cross the finish line as well as the last…especially the last. After a FINAL vet check and a victory lap around the stadium of the fairgrounds, you know you will be receiving that coveted belt buckle. But now is the time for the most special prize of being able to throw your arms around your horses neck, bury your face in his mane and crying, knowing that the two of you have accomplished something very special and that you both took care of each other. All that time, all that conditioning, all that preparing, worrying, anticipation.

EVERYONE has their own story that brought them to the Tevis starting line. Everyone has their favorite parts of the trail, their scariest, their moments of epiphany and bonding.

Soooo, How did I get to the Tevis starting line with a Paso Fino and how were we able to cross that finish line that no one thought we would see?

For thirty years, I was the Founder and Director of the Rocky Mountain Ark Wildlife Center in Telluride, CO. We had 183 permanent resident non releasable animals of 73 different Colorado native species and would receive hundreds of animals in a season for rehabilitation and release back into the wild. We took care of everything from cougars and bears to hummingbirds and porcupines. We had environmental education programs several days a week and offered 4th year veterinary students summer externships for credit. I had been going mach five with my hair on fire for three decades. Yes, I also had horses but they were just lawn ornaments that I rarely had time to ride.

Tevis was on my “bucket List” long before the movie by that name. I am currently in my second remission from Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. I was first diagnosed in 1992. NON Hodgkins Lymphoma is a far more difficult type of cancer than Hodgkins to overcome. Upon diagnosis, I created my “list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see.”

Riding Tevis was on that list. I had several rounds of chemo and went into remission. But Damn,I was

re- diagnosed in 1997 at my 5 year check and “It was baaack.” In the meantime my “list” had just sat in the drawer. More rounds of chemo and radiation. I got down to 94 pounds.

Thankfully I went back into remission again. I have been cancer free since, but have not gone unchallenged by medical and personal issues.

I retired from a career I loved, turned 50 and got a divorce all in one year and it was very traumatic. I took out my long dormant “bucket list” and decided that instead of it being the toughest year of my life, it would be my very BEST year ever! And on the top of that list was still to ride the Tevis.

So I started doing my first endurance rides and getting my required mileage under my belt in order to get my entry in. Alas, I only had a Paso Fino, not an Arab, and everyone was saying he was the “wrong breed” to be really SERIOUS about the sport. SO WHAT! It was just another challenge to deal with.

Cabo (Tomarias Juan Luis) was a “give away” horse. He had been an arena horse and was very high strung and competitive. If you squeezed him even slightly, you were suddenly riding a rocket and he could leave you on the ground in his dust. If you sat back slightly, he’d stop on a dime sending you flying over his neck. He was a walking bag of brio.

The owner had wanted him as a trail horse that could be ridden by any of his guests regardless of their riding ability. He wanted a bullet proof horse. Cabo, instead, was a huge liability and possible lawsuit waiting to happen.

He was “gifted” to me. The minute I rode him for the first time, I realized he just wanted to go & go & go & go and he needed a JOB. At first, riding him was like riding a raw exposed nerve. He quivered and was nervous and flighty. It took two years and hundreds of hours and a couple thousand miles for us to bond and trust each other.

He is no longer the fearful nervous horse that he once was. Along the way we became a TEAM. Doing the Tevis solidified that trust and bond even more. He is my friend and my partner.

I am a rider who doesn’t like to mosey and neither does he. Soon there were no friends who would ride with us because of the distance and speed we were going. Cabo doesn’t seem to warm up till he’s about 30 miles into a ride!

After I retired and placed almost all of the Ark animals with other education programs and looked at Cabo out there in the field. I was looking at my Tevis horse. We trained and conditioned hard but we had some inherent advantages to counter and offset those not so desireable traights, like his inefficient gait.

First of all, we live at 9,600 ft. and ride at 10-12 & 13,000 ft in elevation so we already have a larger lung capacity. Our trails here in Telluride are rocky, steep and narrow. So we are already comfortable with the climbs and going at speed on narrow trails with drop offs don’t bother us.

Because Cabo lived in a pasture adjoining the mountain lion, bear, coyote and lynx pens, he has very few spooky “horse eater” fears on the trail. Tevis is considered a “downhill ride” with approximately, 18,000 ft of ascent and 23,000 ft of descent. And Cabo is a “downhill” horse!

It IS Cabo’s very short Paso Fino gait that makes him so sure footed and able to kick butt when going downhill. He DOESN’T have the hard foot impact while going down hills that an Arab has with their extended stride, so they need to slow down right where we can crank it up. We did have to add another “gait” to Corto and Largo, though.

It is a kind of fast “broken trot”. We use it on the flats as it is more efficient than the Largo and he was able to develop this by riding along so many Arabs.

Cabo has the typical small feet of a Paso Fino. On a practice ride on the Tevis trail above Squaw Valley months before the ride, Cabo was wearing the steel shoes that I had always put on him. It was our first time riding on flat granite and I was surprised how he slipped around on that slick surface. Slipping is something you DON’T want to do on the Tevis trail.

I discussed this with my farrier and we started using Equiflex shoes. These are a plastic shoe that is really light weight, has a pad and borium cleats; ridges that can fill with dirt as “dirt on dirt” is the best traction. They are nailed on but also a special adhesive is squeezed into the frog and over the nails on the outside. I only use them on the tough, rocky or slippery 100 mile rides as they are very expensive to put on (roughly 3 hours and $300) but they are bomb proof.

I have never lost a single one and can get 350 competitive miles out of one set. We are about to do Nationals on the same set that we used for Tevis. If you are curious about them, you can find out more by going to www.**

We completed the Tevis on our first attempt in 2007, 12 years after it went on my “to-do” list. Less than 20% of the riders have been able to complete on their first attempt. Some people try year after year to no avail and the buckle remains elusive.

Ignorance IS sometimes bliss, and thankfully I didn’t care to hear any of the reasons why we COULDN’T do endurance rides on a Paso Fino. So we didn’t start with 25 milers but just went straight to 50’s and 100’s and in 2006 we had accumulated enough mileage to put in our entry to Tevis for the next year.

Against the odds and those betting against us, we crossed the finish line in 80th place with only 15 minutes left on the time clock and with all A’s & B’s on Cabos vet card. He was the very first Paso Fino in 54 years, and in the history of the ride, to have ever been able to do so. He did AT LEAST 200 miles for the 100 miles that everyone else did with his short four beat lateral gait. But I didn’t have to post for 100 miles and didn’t need a mounting block at mile post 80!

There were hundreds of dollars bet AGAINST us in 2007.   People thought we wouldn’t make it into the very first vet check at Tevis. The pot got bigger and bigger as they were tracking us through each vet check we passed. I was told that the fellow betting FOR us won over $6,000 when we crossed the finish line.

Last year our entry went in again but the ride was cancelled due to the fires in California. THIS year, we had another opportunity to prove that our completion was NOT a fluke or a stroke of luck.

We completed the ride again and this time in 38th place, shaving more than two hours off our last time and with all A’s on Cabos vet card. He seemed stronger than our first time Tevis, even though I am slightly heavier.

There was no doubt that he remembered the trail and I now, had the confidence and trust to let him fly where he wanted to and never held him back.

There are no longer the skeptical looks when people see this Paso Fino at endurance rides. Instead there is an interest and curiosity about the breed and a tinge of respect and envy from even the most hard nosed Arabian lovers as we glide smoothly along the trails while they are posting through leg burning, jaring and back pounding mile after mile.

That wonderful buckskin Paso Fino has developed a loyal fan club in the endurance world as he has been proving that there are other places besides the arena where this breed can shine. We are scheduled to ride in the National Championship 100 miler at Greenville, CA. in September. If he completes there, he will be the first Paso Fino to have done so. He was also the first to have completed the Big Horn 100 and the Main Divide 100. BUT….The Grand Daddy of them all is the Tevis. Damn, I love that horse!

“John Henry did it. I was just along for the ride”!

“John Henry did it. I was just along for the ride”!

by Bruce Weary


I am writing this little memoir at the flattering request of an embarrassing number of good people who, for some reason, have taken an inordinate interest in my horse and our completion of the Tevis this last Saturday (and a good part of Sunday). There is so much to tell, that I just couldn’t seem to boil it down to one title, as it is really a story of the wonders of the ride itself, as well as the horse that carried me through it. I will have to write in installments, as I want to do this ride justice but also don’t wish to bore anyone. So if I ramble on too much, I hope someone will be kind-hearted enough to tell me to please shut up!

Many people know that this was my seventh attempt at Tevis, and though it honestly never occurred to me to quit trying or to be embarrassed about my past failures, I was painfully aware of the disappointment and vicarious suffering endured by my wife and the many friends who have pulled for me over the years. It was really for these people, more than myself, that I wanted to finish this time, and why we trained and prepared so fully over the last year. I felt it was the least John Henry and I could do in return for the friendships and support we had enjoyed all along.

Inspiration is where you find it, and I found it in some unusual places:

Winston Churchill’s shortest and most famous speech, “Never give up. Never, never, give up.” The 2004 Tevis video. The match race in “Seabiscuit.” The immortal words of that 21st century philosopher, Rocky Balboa, who said, “It’s not about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.” I know, it’s cheesy, but it worked for me.

As far as inspirational people, there were many, some of whom certainly deserve to be mentioned here. First and foremost, my wife, Dayna. She is not only the love of my life and my very best friend, she has offered the greatest support and the harshest critical insight when I needed both. She has foregone her love affair with the Tevis trail for several years so that I might keep trying. She is known in familiar circles as the “Crewing Queen,” a title that is extremely well deserved. Though she owns a 50th anniversary buckle, she has more Tevis dreams of her own, one of which is to wear a 1,000 mile buckle someday.

Thank you, honey. I could not have achieved this goal, nor the life I have, without you. I love you.

Then there are people like Barbara White, who has become our friend, confidante, advisor and co-captain in getting Dayna’s horse, Crickett, to the Tevis finish line twice. Barbara earned her record 28th and 29th buckle on Crickett, and we think it only fair that the least she can do now is put him through college before returning him to us. 🙂

Thank you, Barbara, for wanting this as badly as we did. Barbara’s mother, Julie Suhr, is an inspiration to so many, including Dayna and I, and I guess one can have no stronger mojo working in your favor at Tevis, than to have Julie pulling so hard for us. (NB. Julie Suhr has written several books on endurance riding as well as articles on the Training of the Peruvian Trail Horse. She is 76 years young and rode her first Tevis over 30 yrs. ago)

They say that in order to finish Tevis, you must make peace with the “Tevis Gods.” I think the Gods knew that if we didn’t finish, they would be hearing from Julie Suhr, and it wasn’t going to be pretty, so they left us alone on ride day.

Julie’s husband, Bob, though usually content to quietly reside in the background while everything Tevis swirls around him, is a man I would very much like to resemble when I grow up. He is remarkably funny, principled, an accomplished endurance rider, and openly adores his bride. Any man would do well to emulate him. Thank you, Bob and Julie.

Without a doubt, the most important figure as far as actually helping me to effectively prepare John Henry for what he would face on the Tevis trail, thus assuring our success, is Michele Roush, DVM. She agreed to be my coach very early on in our training. She is extremely knowledgeable, detail oriented, and thorough. I learned more from her about how to condition a horse than I had learned in 25 years of endurance riding experience. Michele, we simply would not have finished had it not been for your coaching, insight, strategies and steerage on ride day. Though I was often not the best student, we nailed the final exam! Thank you so much for your friendship, patience and guidance.

Other notable people include Dick Dawson, Dr. Susan Garlinghouse, Karen Chaton, Bruce Anderson, Dr. David Nicholson, Ron Barrett, Jeanetta Sturgeon and a host of others who, at one time or another, added inspiration or a piece to the puzzle. I hope you all know who you are. Thank you.

Though I had ridden Arabs for most of the 25 years I have been doing endurance riding, about six years ago, I became curious about gaited horses and began experimenting with them. I have had several in that time, and had some success, especially with a Foxtrotter mare, named Sugar. She and I failed at Tevis in 2007, and shortly thereafter I moved her on to a nice lady who trail rides, and began looking for my next candidate.

I found a horse broker, Fred Mau, in New Mexico, and flew over to look at his herd. I sifted through several horses, and decided to take John Henry, an eight year old TWH, on a test ride. We went about 15 miles, and I noticed how sure-footed and good-minded he was, as well as smooth gaited. At one point we tied the horses to a tree so we could hike a short distance to see a unique waterfall. When we returned, Fred and I noticed that John Henry had come untied, but was standing stock still exactly where I had left him. “Oh yeah, he ground ties, too,” Fred said. A few minutes after we got back, I caught his pulse at 32. He impressed me enough to bring him home.

I spoke to JH’s original owner, who raised and trained him. He had been a working horse all his life, having done everything from carrying ten year old children to serving as a pack horse in the mountains on elk hunting trips, so he was used to hauling weight up and down hills. Being reasonably fit already, I took him on his first 50 miler two weeks later, which he finished easily, and nearly top tenned amongst some eighty horses.

Well…………that got the wheels turning. The more Dayna and I watched this horse, the more we were fascinated with him. He is the most “human” horse either of us has ever owned or been around. He “talks” (nickers) to any person he sees, and if you go away for 30 seconds and come back, he will greet you again as if you’d been away for a week.

He is demanding at feeding time, and will stand three legged, with one foot carefully placed in his hanging feeder until we arrive with his ration, then gently remove it and begin dining. He has an unrivaled appetite, drinks well, trailers and camps like a pro, and will even lie down when tied to the trailer and never disturb his surroundings. All well and good, but then that question to my wife popped out of my mouth, in a moment of weakness and fantasy, “Do you think he could finish Tevis?”

God bless Dayna, she usually lets me roll with my wild ideas until I either succeed or it’s clear I’m

going down in flames. “You’re going to need some help,” she said. “Call Michele Roush and see if you can get her to coach you,” she added. Knowing there would be groveling involved, I wrote Michele, who took pity on me, and agreed to offer her services in our quest for Tevis gold. She had already been coaching Dayna with her horse, Crickett, and has a supreme record both as a rider and a vet, so I know she was sticking her neck out a bit to work with an unproven gaited horse, and a rider who had stepped up to the plate and struck out six times previously at Tevis.

After John Henry had done a half a dozen 50’s Michele had us reduce our ride schedule, and be more selective in the type and difficulty of the rides we attended. We did more specific conditioning at home, and I think the turning point for John Henry took place at Mt Carmel. We decided to try to do all three days, and see if he stood up to the task. Barbara White rode with us on Dayna’s horse,Crickett, those three days, as she was preparing to ride him at Tevis herself.

Now, Barbara has been around a bit, and ridden and known some pretty good horses, so I felt she was a good sounding board, and could offer objective opinion about JH, if she rode along side him for three days. Needless to say, we were both astonished at what he accomplished that weekend. He not only kept up with Crickett, who is no slouch, but he got stronger and faster each day, and more amazingly, recovered at the same time Crickett did all weekend. We never had to wait for him. Of the 20 horses that did all three days, Crickett and John Henry finished 5th and 6th.

Okay, so now I’m getting a rash. The kind you get when you know you might just get to show up at Robie Park with a horse that has a chance. Michele designed a workout program to peak JH in the weeks prior to Tevis, and we also took him along with Crickett to the Tevis Educational ride, to show him the trail and see if he could handle carrying me out of those challenging canyons between Last Chance and Foresthill. Not only did he, but he led our group much of the way. He became the mascot, as several of the riders wanted to ride near or behind him due to his calm nature. They knew he wouldn’t kick, fidget,

or endanger the other horses when frequent stops on the trail were necessary.

Both horses handled the trail easily, and after that, Julie Suhr wrote and said, “Now put them both in bubble wrap, stick them in the freezer, and don’t let them out until Tevis.” Which we promptly did. I was always taught to respect my elders.

Finally, it came time for Dayna to take the horses and head to Robie Park. I stayed home to work and flew up a couple of days later, and arrived to see two well rested, well fed horses, waiting to venture off into the Sierras.

Barbara and I had a lovely pre-ride on Friday morning, just to get the kinks out and get a look at the first stretch of the trail. John Henry is a very good downhill horse, and he also needs about four miles to get his “machinery” warmed up, and to let his heart rate settle in at aerobic levels.

The Tevis trail offers the perfect start for him, as it is downhill for a little over six miles down to the Truckee River. Though Crickett and John Henry were very attached to each other as they rested at camp, they have no separation issues once the ride begins. Barbara headed toward the starting line, while I took John Henry off in the opposite direction, to let him warm up.

We planned to not ride together, as Crickett’s pace would be undoubtedly faster, and I wanted to keep JH at a pace that worked for him. The trail was in very good condition, and had been widened in many places, so there was really no risk of getting trapped behind other riders.

Michele Roush had carefully worked out a time schedule for us, which I tried to adhere to as closely as possible. John Henry was good about both passing other horses, and being passed without a fuss, as we made our way down to the river and up the other side toward High Camp. However, I had to stop to

pee once, and he did circles around me while he watched other horses passing us by. I hate that, and

it’s why I never wear my good shoes. 🙂

I kept a close eye on his heart rate as he powered up the service road through Squaw Valley, and I think we beat our time schedule to High Camp by a few minutes. One thing Michele grilled me on was to stay focused when I arrived at any stop. I would look for the water, feed, PR people, the vets, and then track my time so as not to squander time needlessly. This was crucial to getting through the day without running overtime, or feeling like I had to ride faster to make up for wasted time.

We had practiced our electrolyte protocols, as John Henry would need them replenished throughout the day if he was to continue feeling good and wanting to work. It worked like a charm, in fact, he basically became a freight train in the last third of the ride, at times running along in the dark, with his pulse around 118-120. He drank deeply all day and night, and had excellent hydration scores throughout the ride. Thank you, Michele!

We led a group of riders through the Granite Chief Wilderness, aka “the bogs” and his big walk and sure-footedness really came in handy in getting us through there in a timely fashion. We watered at Lyon Ridge, then made our way mostly alone to Cougar Rock (we went around, as I wasn’t risking a fall that could end our day) and Elephant Trunk, on the way to Red Star.

Things can get clogged up at Red Star, but this time the vets were working diligently to get people vetted and out quickly. We got in, pulsed down, ate for a couple of minutes, got vetted and out,

all in nine minutes!

Onward to Robinson, I was reminded that this section of the trail is *not* all downhill. I counted at least five climbing sections, and John Henry showed some signs of fatigue here. We were alone, and

he wanted to walk the uphills. We finally skated into Robinson around 11:20, about 20 minutes behind schedule.

Robinson Flat is always a bustling blur to get through, due to the amount of people, horses and vet lines, which were pretty long this year. We waited to be vetted for about 15 minutes, and John Henry had a 52/52 CRI here. He ate a smorgasboard of feed, took a nap (which always makes Julie happy) and we headed out on time toward the canyons that lie between Last Chance and Foresthill.

We had trained hard for these canyons, which have been a source of concern for me ever since I first attempted Tevis in 1994. If you don’t know what to expect, or you or your horse aren’t fit, they can be

overwhelming. We were blessed with cooler weather this year, but those canyons can be very warm and are always muggy, so, long ago I decided that I would be fit enough to tail him out in order to save more horse for later on.

I hiked steep hills for several months and used a home video workout program called “P90X,” to get in shape. (When I first used it, I thought it stood for “Puke 90 Times”) 🙂 These strategies worked, as I was able to tail him out of both canyons, and felt good afterward. My GPS and heart monitor showed that John Henry pulled me out of those canyons at 4 mph, with his heart rate not going over 120.

Dick Dawson told me when he saw us at Deadwood, that John Henry had that “look” that told him we would finish. Perfect time to hear that.

Many people have asked me at what point during the ride did I begin to feel like we were going to finish. My best answer is “at Foresthill.” Pulse criteria at Foresthill is 64, and after climbing out of Volcano Canyon and up Bath Road, John Henry presented at 56. I sought out one of my favorite vets, Jim Baldwin, to do our vet check, as he is very fair, and extremely fast at evaluating a horse.

Michele offered to trot him out for me so I could watch along with Dr Baldwin. He looked great, and Jim told me, “Let him rest and get some chow, and he should take you home. You have a lot of horse here.”

There was a crowd watching his vet check, and as the message rippled through that we would be going on, there was cheering and applause that gave me an adrenaline rush, and, I suspect John Henry, too.

Michele saved my bacon again, as during the hour hold she found that JH had sprung a shoe, and she took him to the farrier to have it removed, straightened and put back on while I was eating and taking care of me. There were tears and lumps in throats as my wife Dayna, Julie Suhr, my daughter

Elysse, and my crew all realized for the first time that unless I fell off, we were very likely to see Auburn before dawn.

With glowbars on JH’s breast collar lighting the way, and a crowd of well wishers sending us off from behind, we left Foresthill on time, right at 9:00. We were guided down Foresthill Road and through town by dozens of volunteers. Along the way, pockets of people were hootin’ and hollerin’ and carryin’ on to such an extent that it caused me to think to myself, “That’s okay. I remember my very first

beer, too.” 🙂

John Henry’s power walk helped us to slowly catch and pass a small group of riders that had gone out before us. One rider asked, “What kind of horse is that?” “A Walker,” I replied. “Apparently!” he said.

We headed onto the Cal-2 trail, and descended into increasing darkness that was softened somewhat

by the 3/4 moon that hung in the humid night air. The switchback turns on this section of the trail are very sharp, and though I had many times been told to simply trust my horse’s night vision, I didn’t hesitate to flick my flashlight on for an instant every now and then to make sure we were negotiating the turns safely.

Our group had a somewhat ghostly appearance as a line of glow bars floated three feet off the ground, and traveled single file ever downward to the American River below. John Henry led much of the way, as the riders behind liked being able to see his glowbars, and his gaiting helped us cover ground

faster than a walk, but not as fast as a trot, which some were reluctant to do in this much darkness.

I had seen this section in the daylight, and it is very precarious in places. Some who have seen it in the daylight, have refused to ride it at night. However, the darkness mercifully makes it very difficult to actually see the scary parts, so, we continued steadily on through the night toward our next goal–Francisco’s. Located some 17 miles from Foresthill, even though we kept moving constantly, it took our group four hours to reach Francisco’s, where we were greeted by reassuring bright lights and the

friendliest and most nurturing volunteers I had met all day. Francisco’s is historically famous for that.

John Henry was at 60 when we arrived, and he dragged me to the water and then some wet alfalfa, as he began putting himself together for the last stretch of trail. We vetted out without incident, and I lingered a few minutes and had a sandwich and a cup of coffee while JH chowed down some more.

We said goodbye to the volunteers and stepped back into the darkness on our way to the waters of the American River, now only some three miles away. As we approached the river’s edge, there were

several horses in front of us, and John Henry became unruly, fighting to get around them and into the water.

After a few expletives from me, I allowed him to crash into the water, forgetting to lift my feet and legs clear of the water’s surface. You know that deep breath you take when someone dumps ice down the back of your shirt? Yeah, that’s the one that hit me as my legs became instantly soaked in the chilly

but refreshing American River. John Henry had planted himself and began drinking like a Shriner at a NASCAR race.

We climbed out the other side, and from that point on, I had trouble rating John Henry. He knew the trail, as he had seen it on the Educational Ride, and apparently, his own personal homing device kicked in as he hammered his way down the trail on our way to the Lower Quarry vet check.

Some of the faster horses had left us at that point, as time was getting short, and most riders had concerns about making cutoff times. The overwhelmingly bright lights of Lower Quarry were soon in

view, and we made our way down the short, steep trail into the vet check which offered a smorgasboard of food, warm blankets, bleary-eyed but cheerful volunteers, and, of course, the vets.

After we vetted out, I checked the time, and saw that it was 3:20, and realized that we had better get moving, as we still had six miles of dark trail to negotiate. I later found out that my wife and crew were becoming increasingly nervous about my arriving on time, due to the late hour, and the time delay in the reports they were receiving as to our location.

I left Lower Quarry following Steve Hallmark, a local who knows the trail. It was very dark, and the glow bars had become few and far between. I would have been very reluctant to move along quickly along this section, as I had ridden it in the daytime, and I knew there were rocky sections that could be tricky.

I owe thanks to Steve, who somehow knew when we could trot and when we needed to walk. We marched toward Auburn, with the clock ticking down.

Finally, we reached the last single track that leads to the Auburn overlook. As I glanced over my left shoulder, I could see the lights of the finish line, and could hear the faint hum of the generators that gave them life. In just a few short seconds, we emerged out the darkness, arriving at 4:56, with just 19 minutes to spare.

We were met with applause, cheering, whistling, bright lights, and a very welcome water tank for John Henry. I sifted through the small but mighty crowd to find my wife, who was sobbing on her cell phone. Julie Suhr had waited at the finish line until around three in the morning, and finally had to retire, but not before admonishing Dayna to call her the moment we crossed the finish line.

I would love to hear a recording of that conversation. I asked Dayna later what was said, and she replied, “I don’t really know. We were both crying so much I couldn’t understand everything she said. She did say to go take care of you and John Henry.”

My wife knows that I am often unable to speak when I am emotional, so I grabbed her and hugged her for a very long time, as much to regain my composure as to thank her. “You finally did it!” she said. “John Henry did it. I was just along for the ride,” was my answer.

Michele Roush tracked JH’s pulse from the moment we arrived, and she quietly told me to follow her as she led him to the vetting area, and told me he was down and ready to present. The vet checked him over, pronounced him at 60 bpm, and asked for the trot out.

Michele trotted him out and before she could turn around and trot back, the vet turned to me, shook my hand and said: “Congratulations, you’re done.” I must have set a world record for hugging the greatest number of women in the shortest period of time after that.

We led JH to McCann Stadium, and though there were only about three people in the stands, we took our victory lap. John Henry gaited the entire way around, looking sharp and sound. We peeled his saddle off, and led him off to shack up with Crickett, and to get some much needed rest and chow.

Dayna had laid out about ten glasses and two bottles of Champagne for each of us to toast the night, which was quickly becoming day. A glowing satisfaction flowed over all of us, that persists, and likely will for some time.


Weary #176

arrived Red Star Ridge 10:16am, 28.50 mile, departed 10;24am, hold time approx. 8 min.

arrived Robinson Flat, 36 mile, 11:29am; departed at 12:34pm, hold time approx. 1 hour & 5 min.;

arrived Last Chance 2:44pm, 50 mile, departed 2:56pm, hold time approx. 12 minutes;

arrived Deadwood 4:24pm, 55 mile

arrived Foresthill 7:55pm, 68 mile, departed 8:57pm hold time approx. 1 hr. 2 min.;

arrived Cal-2 11:12pm, 79 mile; arrived Franciscos 12:59, 85 mile;

arrived River Crossing 2:10am 88 mile;

arrived Lower Quarry 3:20am, 94 mile;

FINISH LINE 4:56am 100 miles



in 24 hours from ROBIE PARK to AUBURN

August 1, 2009

 compiled by Julie T.


Natalie Moon and her father, Dean Moon, love the Rocky Mountain Horses. With Dean

competing since 1993, Natalie couldn’t help but get the Endurance Bug. She started at

12 or 13 as a youth competitor. This year, at 18, Natalie feels very secure out there racing her gaited horses.

Dean had bought Natalie’s mount, CHOCLATIER, as a yearling, and started him around

four. He was a very forward horse, not flighty but ready to go at all times. And this year, at 15, he was ready for the TEVIS.

The 18 month preparation time for this event began with about 15 pleasure rides, which

expanded quickly to 25. Natalie says he was terrific on the 50 milers so his first 100

was the Patriot’s Day Ride in Greenville, in the Northern Sierras; then, the Swanson Pacific 100, in the mountains around Santa Cruz.

Natalie feels that many gaited horses come down hill faster than nongaited horses. However, moving at a fast pace down hill increases the risk of injury to the horse. Since Tevis has many steep canyons and is mostly down hill, she says it is good to get off and run down with your horse. She does not advise tennis shoes because there seem to be more twisted ankles with them. She rides with Ariat higher ankle boots for greater support.

Extras which keep them safe on the trails are the addition of LMS GOLD beet pulp, her

BOZ SADDLE with tree flexing, and Natural Balance shoes with a pad.

“These people on the Tevis ride are AWESOME,” says Natalie. CHOCLATIER and she

rode back and forth with one group of 3 horses and another slower group of 4-5. The

support from the others was invaluable as her horse has a slight left eye problem.

Not only did the other horses help to keep his adrenaline flowing but they helped to

guide him when his vision was affected.

The California loop at night can get very dusty and when the group had taken off, vision

became difficult due to the incredible amount of dust. Natalie had to trust her horse a lot

when this happened.

Having completed 94 miles and with 6 miles left to go, Natalie found herself alone on

one of the most dangerous sections of trail. She started out on the last leg at 4:00 am.

But with 4 miles up hill left to Auburn, Natalie says, ” I could tell he was done.” So, she

put her horse first and CHOCLATIER was pulled at 4:34 am at the Lower Quarry.

They will try again next year.


Moon #126 (RMH)

DEPARTED ROBIE PARK 5:15am, arrived 10:17am, 28.50 mile;

departed Red Star Ridge 10:38am, vet check & hold time approx. 21 min.;

arrived Robinson Flat 11:42am, 36 mile;

departed at 12:51pm vet check & hold time approx. 1 hr. & 9 min.;

departed Dusty Corners 2:20 pm, 45 mile;

departed Last Chance 3:07pm, 50 mile; arrived Devil’s Thumb 4:34pm, 54 mile;

departed Deadwood 4:54pm, hold time approx. 20 min.;

departed Chicken Hawk 7:39pm, 64 mile; arrived Foresthill 8:22pm, 68 mile;

departed 9:25pm, approx. vet check & hold time 1 hr. 3 min.; arrived Cal-2 11:33pm, 79 mile; arrived Franciscos 1:26am, 85 mile; arrived River Crossing 2:37am, 88 mile; arrived Lower Quarry 3:43am, 94 mile;

departed 4:00am;

PULLED 4:34am Lower Quarry