Endurance Riding

Dec 04 2014

End of Season Notes

Published by under Endurance Riding

Click The Title Of The Post To Comment And Don't Forget To "Subscribe to Endurance Riding" To Stay Updated On My Journey Towards The Tevis Cup!


It is difficult to describe the feelings I am feeling right now. There are many who, looking in from the outside, did not see the effort, the trials, the tears, the doubts, and the great fear that I have experienced in the last few years. And there are many more who know little of my life before Asali, for before her, I was a girl searching for a direction, but constantly losing my way. JayaMae is not my given name, you know. It is a name I gave myself. It has great personal meaning and I adopted it at a time when I wanted to leave behind a very painful past and take on a metamorphosis. I shed my skin, picked myself up, and moved my family 500 miles away, to begin a new life. That is when, quite by accident, I found Asali. What I have discovered in the last few years since we have entered into a partnership and taken on a sport I never thought I would endure – endurance – is that I am the same girl, in the same brown skin, that I was years ago. The only difference is that I have found a strength within myself I did not know I had before. I have learned to believe in myself.

 

Endurance is a sport that stretches beyond just knowing how to ride. It requires a true partnership with an animal ten times your own size. It is a sport that challenges your very core — physically, mentally, and emotionally. Endurance taught me to overcome the elements of the backcountry, to learn to be alone and comfortable in silence, to trust my mount and to trust myself. It taught me to take things as they come, that the best fun in the sport is when, despite a fall or a runaway horse or getting lost on the trail, you can smile through it all and keep riding anyway. The rides we did not complete forced me to reevaluate my training, my riding ability, and my horse’s ability. It was each non-completion that taught me that change is okay. And it was in those failures that I was hit with something very valuable, in the name of humility. Every ride, even those that are successful, somehow humbles me, for it is more than my own talents that get us to the finish line.

 

This last month has been especially meaningful to me. Jakob and I attended the Lake Sonoma 50 mile endurance ride on November 1st. Jakob rode his horse, Beauty, and I rode Nicole Chappell’s horse, Savannah Knight, a gorgeous part-Friesian mare. Since I met Nicole, a well-known and very successful endurance rider, at the Tevis educational ride a couple years ago, she has been someone I have looked up to, taken advice from, and watched for on the trail. When she offered her horse to me for Lake Sonoma, it was a touching compliment, and while I was nervous about managing someone else’s horse, Savannah and I successfully completed the ride. It was Savannah’s third 50-miler, and I hit my 1,000th endurance mile with her. It was a fun ride, being out there with my son on a beautiful day, and I gained a lot of confidence riding a horse I knew next to nothing about. Nicole had said something vital to me just days before I picked Savannah up for the endurance ride. You know how to ride. Those simple words made me realize I just needed to trust myself. Often times, the only thing that holds us back is our own self-doubt.

 

This past weekend, Jakob and I attended the 3-day Gold Rush Shuffle Pioneer Ride. Although I took a rider option at mile 27 on Zaza the first day, Jakob successfully completed 55 miles with Beauty. And then he went on to finish Days 2 and 3, with me and Asali. Jakob, my 12-year-old son, rode his mare all 3 days, completing more than 150 miles. He was one of only a small few who completed all 155 miles on the same mount. And he did it on a rescue horse, an Appendix mare who stands at almost 16 hands tall. Jakob smiled through the mud and the rain, slowed down when he needed to, dismounted and walked to give Beauty a break on Day 3, and he galloped on a loose rein, allowing Beauty the freedom to run when she asked him to let her fly.

 

Jakob is the only equestrian to have competed on Beauty, and he put most of her conditioning miles on her himself. There were times I doubted that Beauty would ever make it past a limited distance ride, but Jakob never doubted her. He believed in her and he believed in himself. Witnessing their partnership, trust, and hard work brought tears to my eyes as they crossed the finish line on Sunday. Jakob and Beauty are now in West Region Standings for the Junior Division. Asali, my little Missouri Fox Trotter mare, and I are in standings as well, in the Lightweight Division, after completing three 100-mile rides this year. We finished this season far surpassing my original goal and I learned more from my own horse, my son, and his horse than I ever thought possible.

 

As we move into the next ride season, this little grasshopper (as one of my many mentors fondly calls me), has just a few small words of wisdom for anyone who has a dream:

 

  • Believe in Yourself. Self-doubt will destroy you faster than anything else, but when you simply believe, you are one step closer to reaching your goal.

 

  • With a Lot of Hard Work and Determination, Anything is Possible. I mean that. Four years ago, the 100-Mile Tevis Cup ride seemed like such a HUGE feat. And here I was, trying to complete it on a non-Arab, knowing very little about the sport of endurance. But I kept riding. I competed. I trained. I read. I researched. I trained. I trained. I trained. I failed at my first attempt. I reevaluated. I trained. I trained. I trained. I pictured crossing that finish line. I played it out in my mind over and over again. I trained. I tried again. We finished.

 

  • Be Patient. Everything takes time. Rejoice in the small victories and recognize how each one is getting you closer to your ultimate goal.

 

  • Attitude is Everything. Don’t fall victim to fears. Laugh at your failures and keep going. Those who refuse to give up eventually see success. After all, when you’re at the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.

 

  • Enjoy the Journey. Because when you’ve reached your goal, you’ll realize it isn’t over yet. And you may just travel beyond your wildest dreams…

Nov 22 2014

The Tevis Cup

Published by under Endurance Riding

Click The Title Of The Post To Comment And Don't Forget To "Subscribe to Endurance Riding" To Stay Updated On My Journey Towards The Tevis Cup!


Last night, I received a text message from one of the juniors who crewed for me at Tevis. It read: “I know it’s not Thanksgiving yet, but I am very thankful to have you in my life. I know it was meant to be when we parked next to each other at Whiskeytown Chaser that day. You’re so brave and inspiring, and motivated my mom and me to believe in ourselves enough to attempt Tevis! I consider you and your family as family. I could go on, but I hope you know you’re an amazing friend.” She also wrote: “I’m so happy I got to crew for you at Tevis. That was one of the best life experiences so far.”

 

I have flashbacks sometimes. And I never know when it’s going to happen. I could be driving on a long, windy road, seeing open fields on either side. I could be riding, on top of any one of my horses, through the woods, surrounded by the red barked manzanitas. Or I could just be sitting with my family, at dinner, and the silence of everyone eating quietly, or the chatter amongst the boys, will trigger my memory. Suddenly, I am transported within my mind to that moment of crossing the finish line. I am hand walking Asali; she’s by my side, under the lights of the stadium in Auburn. The cheers around me are muffled and I am walking as slow as possible, in hopes of stopping time. As soon as we cross under the banner, I stop, lay a kiss on Asali’s cheek, and in the distance, I spot a friend — a member of my endurance family, a woman who helped carry me and Asali across the finish line of our first 100 mile ride. My feet begin dancing, my entire body moving in pure merriment, and the tears begin to flow. I have just experienced the most amazing journey of my life, and in the last 24 hours, I have discovered more about myself and my partner, the beautiful mare who shared the journey with me, who carried me just because I asked.

 

To those that have never experienced the Tevis Cup, it is a journey that is difficult to describe. For me, it was a journey that spanned more than 3 years of preparation. I had to come to terms with the fact that I would be riding outside the comfort of my fenced arena and the well-known trails near my house, which I could ride almost blind-folded. I had to overcome the fear of knowing that I would be out in the back country, on unknown trail, for miles and miles, with no cell phone service, no access to the comforts of home, and for many miles, I would be alone, with just my equine mount, and I would need to be competent enough to make sound decisions that would keep both myself and my mare safe. I knew I would be riding on somewhat treacherous terrain, and some of that trail would be covered in the blackness of night. I had to learn to trust not only my horse, but myself.

 

Asali and I set out on August 9th, just before dawn, headed towards Robinson Flat, on the first 36 miles of the famous Western States Trail. We rode alone, through the Granite Chief Wilderness area of Tahoe. It was some of the most gorgeous country I had ever seen — the stillness of every shade of green spanned generations in front of us, behind us, and around us, losing itself in a sky of blue I could almost reach out and grab. Two loose horses and a couple of riders falling from their mounts shook me up a bit, but I continued on, enjoying my ride. Right before Cougar Rock, a gust of wind sent a tree cracking, bursting into flames as its great trunk hit the ground. I was riding with a gentleman and his mare at the time. Both horses stopped dead in their tracks, but no one spooked. We carried on.

 

Cougar Rock stopped my heart. We had ridden it without incident the year before, but the sheer size and steepness of the rough gray-white granite had me forgetting to breathe again this year. Still, I signaled Asali to move forward. She lunged, hesitated, I encouraged, and up we went, my heart pounding and my hands shaking. At the top, I felt a thrill — the kind of adrenaline that you can feel pumping through each vein. Suddenly, I became more aware of my aliveness than ever before. I took a deep breath in, filling my lungs with a chill, and I was higher than I’ve ever been on any manmade drug.

 

Cougar Rock 2

Diana Hiiesalu ~ Gore/Baylor Photography

 

We made it to Robinson Flat. My crew greeted me with smiles and cheers, a welcoming sight. We vetted, rested, ate, and drank. With each tick of the clock during our hour-hold, I became more and more anxious about the three canyons ahead of us, in the hottest part of the day. My husband had encouraging words for me, however, and so, I looked at him and said, “I’m going to put my big girl panties on.” And so I did.

 

Asali and I made it through the first canyon, the one that had kicked our bums the year before. I did most of it on foot. And this year, Asali let me tail. We reached the top and her heart rate was 44, proving her fitness. We vetted through, once again, and I mounted, once again, and we carried on.

 

We hit El Dorado Canyon, my shoes filled with river water from crossing Devil’s Thumb on foot. I was not chilled, however, but rejuvenated. We were heading towards Foresthill, further than we had made it on our first Tevis Cup attempt. At the Chicken Hawk vet check, I stuffed brownies and every other sugar filled treat in my mouth. I high-fived some familiar faces, remounted, and once again, we were on our way. As we climbed out of Volcano Canyon and up Bath Road in the little town of Foresthill, I began feeling emotional.

 

The sun was setting as I vetted Asali at Foresthill, and once again, she had great vet scores. We were fit to continue. I handed my vet card to a crew member, and the tears came, in gobs and gobs that stung my face, altered my voice, and almost blinded me. I sat down as Asali ate at the horse trailer and cried into the sandwich my dad handed me. The junior members on my crew taped glow bars to Asali’s breast collar and placed a head lamp on my helmet. I continued to cry, saying simply, “I love my horse.” It was in that moment, when we passed the vet check at Foresthill, that I knew we were going to finish. My little mare, a Missouri Fox Trotter, the underdog, was a Tevis horse.

 

Riding at night was a thrill. It was pitch black under the tree cover and each green glow stick that marked the trail cast an eerie hue. At one point, a rider became disoriented in the canyon, pulling her horse off the trail and down the mountain. That was when Asali and I took the lead. I led a group of more than a dozen riders through that first night canyon. I rode on a loose rein, letting Asali choose the way, knowing she knew where her feet were. She picked up her pace, and I let her go, never thinking to slow her down.

 

We reached the river crossing in good time. I threw Asali’s rump rug over her hindquarters, and as we approached the water, a volunteer put her hand on my thigh. She said something about admiring us all, being in awe of our horses, and of course, a good luck was somewhere in her words. As I rode away, I wished I had grabbed her hand and squeezed it. Her words had touched me deeply, but in the excitement of it all — the volunteers cheering, the music blaring, the glow sticks strung in the water, drifting slowly side to side by the light of the moon – I was frozen in that moment. That river crossing, in the dead of night, with the water reaching up to the horse’s belly, was my favorite part of Tevis. You are so close to the finish line, you can taste that buckle in the water, as you lift your feet to stay dry.

 

Six miles from the finish, at the Lower Quarry vet check, I left with a huge smile across my face, as once again, tears flowed down. Asali and I rode the entire last six miles alone. When the trees parted and I could see the moon, in all its fullness, I tipped my face to the sky in gratitude.

 

When we reached the turn that shot upwards and out of the canyon to the Auburn Overlook, the official finish line, I couldn’t keep quiet. The excitement that had been building over the last 24 hours reached my throat with a force I could not hold back. “HEEELLLLOOOOOOO, AUBURN!” I repeated it over and over again. We crossed underneath the colored lights, the arch that congratulated us, as my family and friends cheered and yelled along with me.

 

The moments between the Auburn Overlook and walking to the Fairgrounds, where we took our victory lap, are a complete blur. My body moved in slow motion, with my muscles working on a sort of autopilot. My family was with me, and all but three members of my crew (the others were waiting at the fairgrounds to take care of Asali) walked with me, but I do not remember what was said in that darkness. I do not remember what I was thinking or feeling. I don’t remember anything, until I made a conscience decision not to remount, but rather, hand walk my mare under the banner. At that moment, I wanted to savor the feeling, that feeling of accomplishment that comes only when you’ve overcome every doubt and fear you have ever had about yourself. I had been a girl who had grown up feeling as if I was good at a lot of things, but I was never great at anything. It was in that moment, as we stood under the finish line banner, together, the two of us, that I felt I was maybe, just maybe, finally great at something.

 


Madison blankets Asali in ride camp, a couple days before the start of Tevis.

Madison blankets Asali in ride camp, a couple days before the start of Tevis.

Ready to vet-in at Robie Equestrian Park!

Ready to vet-in at Robie Equestrian Park!

Just arrived at Robinson Flat!

Just arrived at Robinson Flat!

Ashley tightens my girth, before we head out of Robinson Flat.

Ashley tightens Asali’s girth, before we head out of Robinson Flat.

Leaving Robinson Flat - got my big girl panties on!

Leaving Robinson Flat – got my big girl panties on!

Crew waits at Foresthill.

Crew waits at Foresthill.

My son, Jakob, has encouraging words for Asali, before we leave Foresthill.

My son, Jakob, has encouraging words for Asali, before we leave Foresthill.

The Tevis moon, during our last six mile stretch. Moments after finishing, this moon became a spectacular Super Moon.

The Tevis moon, during our last six mile stretch. Moments after finishing, this moon became a spectacular Super Moon.

Does this need a caption?

Does this need a caption?

Hours after crossing the finish line, I received my legacy buckle from Barbara White.

Hours after crossing the finish line, I received my legacy buckle from Barbara White.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I would like to thank my amazing crew: my good, good friends Ashley Law & Heidi Martindale; Madison MacPhail, a very special junior rider & young woman I love; my husband & confidant, Gary Gregory; my son & inspiration, Jakob Gregory; and sweet Bella Martindale. You each helped me, in your own way, to get to the finish line, and fulfill a dream in a moment. Thank you.

And to my father, who cherishes his poster size photo of Asali and me climbing Cougar Rock: Thank you for supporting me financially, so that Tevis could become a reality. And thank you for always cheering me on, even though you worry about my safety at times.

And to my little D-man, my youngest son: Thanks for waking up to be at the finish line. Thank you for your jokes, encouraging words, and brilliant insight. I need you everyday.

And to Asali: the little Missouri Fox Trotter mare who stole my heart, keeps me sane, and broke a record with her 2014 Tevis Cup Finish. Thank you for the ride of my life.

A and me

Lisa Chadwick ~ Boots ‘N Bloomers Photography

Jul 13 2014

The Sport We Call Endurance

Published by under Endurance Riding

Click The Title Of The Post To Comment And Don't Forget To "Subscribe to Endurance Riding" To Stay Updated On My Journey Towards The Tevis Cup!


We are less than a month away from Tevis and my mind is filled with all kinds of thoughts. At night, I dream of crossing the finish line on my gallant mare, Asali, a horse I now know can do 100 miles.

I put together invitations for my crew to attend a pre-Tevis dinner and meeting. Inside, a quote by Julie Suhr reads, “I have never regretted a Tevis Cup start.” Julie continues by saying her best Tevis Ride was on a horse named Rumadi, on a day they did not finish. I was reminded of a ride, just a couple months ago, on my green-broke Arab, Dippi. It was our second attempt to finish our first limited distance ride together. Back in April, we had been pulled at Whiskeytown at the 12.5 mile mark when Dippi started cramping in the hind end. She recovered beautifully after some water and electrolytes, and I took her home for more training.

The weekend of Mother’s Day, we arrived at Cache Creek, ready to sponsor Jakob and his new horse, Zaza, feeling confident we wouldn’t let this 25 miles get to us. However, Dippi came up lame about 6 miles from the finish. I dismounted, and hand walked her in the entire way. As we came up over the ridge, it began raining on us. I stopped momentarily, took a deep breath, and was almost brought to tears by the beauty that spanned miles in front of us. I felt blessed to be alive, to be healthy enough to walk my injured horse however far I needed to, and to watch as my son completed his ride, demonstrating good judgment and horsemanship with his new mount. Another non-completion on our record, but a ride that left me with many more fond memories. A photo of Jakob and me, on Zaza and Dippi, from that exact ride, sits on my desk as I write.

Only two weeks later, I loaded Asali in the horse trailer and took her to Run for the Gold 50, our last ride before Tevis. We went alone, without Jakob, and we finished without incident. We had an enjoyable ride, riding almost the entire 50 miles with a woman named Laurie. The ride reminded me of our own training grounds at home and I spent a good deal of the ride on foot, not because I had to, but because I wanted to stay fit for Tevis. We returned home the day after the ride, and I spent the following month with Jakob, getting Beauty and Zaza ready for the Weaver Basin Express 50, as well as trail scouting and mapping for the endurance ride I’m managing in September.

It is now one week post the Weaver Basin Express, and I am once again, left with a pride I can’t explain. The Weaver Basin Express 50 was held out in Weaverville, in the Trinity National Forest. It was a gorgeous ride, with the trail being almost entirely single track. But it was a hot and technical ride, and we experienced some challenges on the day of the ride. Jakob was my saving grace. He didn’t complain, and when I expressed my frustration with the heat, the trail sabotage that occurred, leaving us guessing on the ribbons, the lack of water, or the thrown boot, he continued to remind me that everything was going to be fine. He and Beauty kept pushing me and Zaza forward. And when we found the finish line, 10 minutes before ride cut-off time, I was brought to tears. Jakob turned around, asking, “Mom, are you okay?” I smiled, said yes, and hid my tears behind my sunglasses. Jakob was the only junior to finish the 50 that day. And he was the only junior, after finishing both days at Whiskeytown on Beauty, to receive the Shasta-Trinity Triple Crown Award. Furthermore, the two horses we chose to ride that day were the two we know don’t usually do well in the heat. But they proved us both wrong, finishing just fine in almost 100 degree weather. The Weaver Basin Express 50 was one of the toughest 50 mile rides I have ever done, but it is only with those rides that you receive the greatest sense of accomplishment at the end. Despite its challenges, Jakob and I plan on tackling it again in the future.

And here I am, just weeks away from Tevis, feeling blessed beyond words, for the life I’ve been given. For the rides we’ve finished, and those we haven’t, for the wind that calls us, the trees that surround us, the friends we’ve made out on the trail, in the middle of nowhere, for the family that supports us and listens intently to the stories we come home with, to the horses who give us the chance to fly… to the sport we call endurance…

 

May 30 2014

Night Before Run for the Gold: Thoughts in Ride Camp

Published by under Endurance Riding

Click The Title Of The Post To Comment And Don't Forget To "Subscribe to Endurance Riding" To Stay Updated On My Journey Towards The Tevis Cup!


It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited to come out and ride. I was excited to get back out on the trail with my proven endurance mare, and to be riding a real endurance ride again. But it felt a little odd to be leaving without Jakob. Sure, when I started in this sport, it was just me and Asali, but lately, Jakob has been going to more and more rides with me. I didn’t have my navigator with me on the 7 hour haul today. No one to change the radio stations, or watch the exit signs, or hand me snacks. And when I got to ride camp, I only had 4 hoof boots to put on, one mane to braid, and no one to pack the crew bag or make sure the best snacks were in my saddle bags.

Jakob has a very important job this weekend. He, as shortstop for the Paradise Yankees, will hopefully lead his team into the playoffs tomorrow. He is also looking after Beauty’s wound while I am gone, and making sure his horse gets her antibiotics twice a day. But I can’t help but miss him.

Motherhood has always been a joy for me, but it is also what saved me. I was young and reckless and destructive when I found out I was pregnant with Jakob thirteen years ago. Becoming a mother taught me not only how to love another human being, but how to love myself.

Last month when I took Jakob to the Whiskeytown Chaser, I was pulled at the 12 and a 1/2 mile mark. Four years ago, Whiskeytown had been my first completion with Asali, but it wouldn’t be my first with Dippi. I watched as Jakob rode out with a new sponsor – a woman who was a complete stranger to him. But he rode out there with confidence, knowing that while someone was riding with him, he was the sole caretaker for his horse, Beauty. Jakob went on to ride another 25 miles without me the following day and when I saw him and Beauty cross the finish line, I couldn’t have been happier or more proud. And I realized something in that moment — Jakob suddenly seemed older, more mature, his own person. It occurred to me that while Jakob was my son and would always be, he also was just simply Jakob — a young man, a talented horseman, a gifted athlete, someone I really want to get to know, not as my son, but as a person. Jakob is an individual who has a lot to teach me, as does his brother, Declan. Their eyes are more insightful, their hearts unbroken, their spirits vibrant, and when I enter their worlds unconfined by adult chaos, I feel more whole, much like I do when riding the wind on the back of a horse.

Julie Suhr was in ride camp the night before Run for the Gold. She signed a copy of her newest book for my son, Jakob. My conversation with her daughter, Barbara White, who had asked about Jakob and his horse, Beauty, was what prompted my thoughts before bed that night.

Julie Suhr was in ride camp the night before Run for the Gold. She signed a copy of her newest book for my son, Jakob. My conversation with her daughter, Barbara White, who had asked about Jakob and his horse, Beauty, was what prompted my thoughts before bed that night.

 

May 06 2014

Gold Rush Shuffle

Published by under Endurance Riding

Click The Title Of The Post To Comment And Don't Forget To "Subscribe to Endurance Riding" To Stay Updated On My Journey Towards The Tevis Cup!


There is something about crossing the finish line just as the sun is setting. Being blinded by the vibrant orange and red filling the sky, and then squinting as your eyes adjust to the dusk. Galloping across the field, just a 1/2 mile from your destination, the chill of night caressing your cheeks….

Just as the holiday season began last year, Jakob and I headed to the Gold Rush Shuffle near Camp Far West Lake outside of Wheatland. It was a fairly quick drive, and as we pulled into ride camp, the excitement began to build. Jakob and I had signed up for 2 days with our horses, Asali and Beauty. We were to ride the 30 on our first day, and the 50 following that. It was to be Jakob and Beauty’s second 50.

We had a fantastic ride on the first day! The horses did well and as always, I enjoyed the time I got to spend with my son on the trail. The following morning, Jakob and I headed out with well-rested, fresh horses. The sun was making its way high into the sky and its rays danced on the meadows in the front of us. The fields were green, not brown and dry as they are at summer’s end.

Not far into the ride, Asali jumped at the sound of the guns as we rode past the shooting range. At every pop, she became more and more nervous, and afraid I would become unseated, I dismounted and decided to hand walk her down the trail. She danced circles around me as we made our way forward. I did not remount until the bang of the guns hitting the air was a distant charm on the wind.

Jakob and I continued down the trail, talking and reminiscing around every corner. We shared jokes, frustrations, complaints, and laughs. We chatted about the day before and how we were excited to ride our favorite loop over again that day.

That favorite loop found us tired after a day of riding, but its trailhead and the cool evening approaching fed our worn bodies and perked our horses up. We enjoyed the views of the lake, camp in the distance, and the horizon ahead as we traversed the sandy trail. We played games as we rode, seeing who could spot the dots that marked our trail on the rocks ahead. Lime green dot after lime green dot painted on the boulders and we were one mile closer to the end.

When we left the sandy lake shore for a meadow, we picked up the pace. We ran through a herd of cows and then spotted a coyote crouching in the weeds. We spent a moment with our eyes fixed on that coyote before galloping off again towards the finish.

As we approached the finish line, darkness had hovered in and the vet check was lit up with portable electric lights. I looked over at Jakob as he searched for his vet card and I was filled with this immense pride. Here was my son, a young child, and his rescue horse, working together in harmony to carry each other through a day’s adventure, taking care of each other every step of the way. I realized then that it wasn’t just another ride we had ridden, but another treasured memory we had just made. And the next morning when we spent time playing by the lake with our horses and our dog, I knew these were memories that would last our lifetime.

Feb 27 2014

Twenty Mule Team 100

Published by under Endurance Riding

Click The Title Of The Post To Comment And Don't Forget To "Subscribe to Endurance Riding" To Stay Updated On My Journey Towards The Tevis Cup!


It has been four days since my horse Asali and I crossed the finish line of our first 100-mile endurance ride. The magnitude of that feat is finally settling with me. It has taken me a few days to wrap my mind around the 20-some odd hours I spent in the desert with my horse. I’ve had several congratulations followed by, “How was the ride???” All I could answer with was, “Good.” I did not know how to express what an unbelievable ride I had had. And even now, as I write, I am having trouble finding words — it was an unbelievable journey: unbelievably challenging, unbelievably joyful, unbelievably crazy, difficult, painful… I think I went through an entire spectrum of emotions that day.

The day before the ride, as I was out on a pre-ride, riding bareback, I was feeling pretty mellow and had little motivation. The surroundings of the desert were all the same – I was having trouble feeling like I was going to enjoy 100 miles of brown, green, dusty landscape. There wasn’t a single tree in sight. I missed my mountains, flowers, meadows, streams, and towering trees. But the next morning, I mounted and headed out. When I thought of riding 100 miles, I became so overwhelmed, I had to shut my mind off, and just think about the ride in increments — the goal was just to get from one checkpoint to the next.

We were barely 10 miles into the ride when I decided to dismount and find a bush to squat behind — that cup of black tea I had drank before the ride started had finally caught up with me. I’m not sure what happened next, but I remember seeing my horse galloping 90 miles an hour towards a group of horses up ahead. I thought she’d stop at the group, but she pressed forward and was suddenly out of sight in a vast horizon of desert. At first I was pissed – my horse just took off with my new iPhone, my GroPro video camera, and a slew of my other belongings, including all the food and water. But as time went by, I began to get more and more worried – I thought it’d take 3 days to track her in this desert, and then I had thoughts of finding her dead. Riders who passed me on the trail said they’d call for help and told me to wait at the highway crossing…

I don’t know how long I was sitting on the side of the road crying, feeling sorry for myself, before a couple of volunteers pulled up in their SUV. The first thing they said was, “They found your horse, the vet checked her out, and she’s fine.” The next thing I blurted out was, “Can I finish the ride then???” The volunteers smiled and said, “Yes.” I was driven to my horse, who had been found walking down the middle of the street that connected to the 395 highway. The volunteer who was waiting with my horse held her for me while I mounted, saying, “You’ve got a lot of horse here!” I nodded, and took off, backtracking to the trail, keeping a close eye out for the ribbons that would tell me we were on the right track. We had lost about an hour of time, so I kept moving forward, and eventually caught up to a group of four 100-mile riders who were taking it fairly slow. Asali and I trailed these riders into the first vet check and then into the second checkpoint.

At the second vet check, I saw my eight-year-old son, Declan, waiting at the end of the trail. As soon as he spotted me, he started jumping up and down, yelling, “Mommy!” His sweet little voice brought tears to my eyes. I was so relieved to see him and my dad, who had driven 3 hours from Los Angeles to crew for me. We had made it 35 miles, and I was starting to feel like we might just finish this race.

Declan high-fiving me into vet check 2.

Declan high-fiving me into vet check 2.

My amazing crew!

My amazing crew!

I headed back out with my party of four – Dave Rabe, Connie Creech, and two young gals, TJ and Carolyn. I spent many more hours eavesdropping on their conversations — listening intently to Dave and Connie share stories of the many, many miles they have. Hearing about their unorthodox training rides and TJ’s experiences in the military made me shake my head and laugh. I was with some interesting company, and I enjoyed every minute of it, plodding along on that desert trail.

The setting sun and resulting dusk found me heading into the fourth vet check. In the distance, I again caught a glimpse of my son and my dad, patiently waiting for me with a blanket for Asali and a hot dinner for me. An hour flew by as I took care of my horse, stuffed my own face with food, changed my clothes, and prepared for the night. I was ready to head out on time, but my party of four had suddenly become a party of three and the resulting three members were not ready to hit the trail again yet. As I stood there, debating whether to stay and wait or just head out alone, I felt the fatigue set in. I decided to take a look around camp for my friend Elizabeth Funderburk. She was riding her Tennessee Walker, Dixie. Asali and I had ridden with them at Hat Creek Hustle two years ago, and I knew Funder (as I call her) wasn’t far behind me. I found her, and her friend, Kaity Elliott, along with Kaity’s mom and sister who were crewing for them. Kaity and Funder were happy to have me ride with them into the night, and right before we headed out, Funder handed me three glow sticks and some tape and told me to light up Asali’s breast collar. I sent my dad and son back to their hotel and told them not to worry — Kaity’s family would take care of us.

Heading out after 65 miles!

Heading out after 65 miles!

The deep darkness and the cool night air hit me and Asali with excitement. She was a freight train heading out on that last loop and as I took the lead in front of Kaity and Funder, scanning the black horizon for glimpses of the dull green light that marked the trail, I found myself laughing out loud. We followed that trail, from glow stick to glow stick, like a game of hide and seek. At one point, I began heading directly towards the green light, forgetting that the glow sticks were not marked “A to B.” I pulled my horse off the trail that she was fighting me to stay on, and began leading her into an old mine. Kaity yelled at me from behind, and I was again reminded to trust my horse — she could see the trail. And she would stay on it. The glow sticks were just to let us know we were headed in the right direction.

It was a trip being out there riding for hours in the pitch black. There was no moon, but the stars were magnificent. They were so close I almost thought I could stretch out and brush the constellations with my fingertips. The glow sticks swayed from the bushes, like ghosts floating by, and shadows played tricks on my eyes. The longer we rode, the more my body started failing, but the excitement kept building, and at each step along the way, we kept each other going – the three of us and our new found friendship, and our three amazing horses. And seeing Kaity’s mother and sister greeting us with hot cocoa, blankets and mashes for the horses, and encouraging words, I knew we would finish.

When the finish line finally came into view, I looked at my watch. It read “2:22 am.” We had started out the day before, on 2/22, my husband’s birthday. I got the chills, and an overwhelming feeling of relief, joy, and pride filled my soul. I couldn’t laugh or cry or shout. I just stood there, smiled, and watched my horse pass the final vet check with flying colors. And today, I have a 100-mile horse on my hands. The day I brought Asali home 5 years ago… who would have thought? I am, now, four days post-ride, laughing and crying, all at the same time. Thanks for the unbelievable ride, Asali. I love you.

Twenty Mule Team 100 Ridgecrest, CA

Twenty Mule Team 100
Ridgecrest, CA

Nov 17 2013

30 Miles of Lake Sonoma

Published by under Endurance Riding

Click The Title Of The Post To Comment And Don't Forget To "Subscribe to Endurance Riding" To Stay Updated On My Journey Towards The Tevis Cup!


Lake Sonoma
By Jakob Gregory

My mom and I went to Lake Sonoma for an endurance ride. We rode thirty miles. The ride started at 8:30 in the morning. It was cold, so we wore our jackets. At the start of the ride, our horses were crazy. They just wanted to run! Asali, my mom’s horse, was trying to buck my mom off every time my mom tried to slow her down.

The first part of the ride was single track. There was a gorgeous view of the lake. Then the trail took us under a tunnel of Manzanita trees. About 8 miles into the ride, a photographer was on the trail taking pictures of riders. Two hours later, we got to the vet check for our hour break. It was 11:11. My horse was fine, but my mom’s horse was a little lame. After the vet re-checked Asali, the vet said she could keep going.

After our break, we went out on the trail for the last 12 miles. The trail was beautiful! There were trees that looked like they had hair. The last part of the trail was a HUGE hill we had to go up. My mom and I finished the ride. It was a lot of fun! I hope to go back next year.

 

Oct 31 2013

A Top Ten Finish

Published by under Endurance Riding

Click The Title Of The Post To Comment And Don't Forget To "Subscribe to Endurance Riding" To Stay Updated On My Journey Towards The Tevis Cup!


The Tevis Cup served as this turning point for me. I disappeared for awhile following the ride. I found myself lost in a lot of reflection. I did a lot of soul searching. What I thought would be the end of a two year journey became the rest of my life. That historic trail through the Sierra Nevadas left me asking myself a lot of questions, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before I returned to that trail that will forever call my name.

 

In the week following Tevis, I spent time with my friend Bren – just time. We sat around and talked, we napped on the couch, we ate, we went to the spa for massages, we did a little shopping, and we watched television. When I returned home, I decided to cut back my hours at work and officially become a part time nurse. I wanted time. Time to home school my boys the way I wanted, time to spend with family, time to write, time to ride, and time to finally start my own business teaching horsemanship.

 

In September, after our family lost our first beloved animal, a beagle named Ellie, my husband and I took the boys for a scenic drive up the 32 and found a place to camp for the night. A couple weeks later, I took the boys to Sequoia National Park. It was just me, Jakob, Declan, and the giant trees. We played a wicked game of Spades amongst the foothills of the park, with cards that displayed Ellie’s photograph. We endured a tough hike up to Marble Falls and back, and the three of us squeezed into a two person tent at night. I learned a lot about my boys in those two days, and they became more than just my sons, but my best friends.

 

In October, after finally getting Lightfoot Horse Farm in full swing, I returned to the sport I love – endurance. I entered Asali in the Quicksilver Fall Classic 50. The drive to the ride was brutal – long, hot, and stressful. I arrived at ride camp exhausted and hungry, doubting if we were ready for a 50 since we hadn’t done much riding since Tevis. But, after a pep talk from the ride manager, my friend Peggy, I decided to get myself some food and rest, and then just do it.

 

There were three things about the way we rode the Quicksilver Fall Classic that probably contributed to our Top Ten finish. One, I had decided to just simply get out there and ride; I didn’t let the stress of competition get to me, but instead decided to adopt a more carefree, relaxed attitude. Two, I knew I was riding Asali more balanced than usual — I could feel it, especially on that first loop. This was not something I was doing consciously; it was happening naturally and I knew it was because I had started riding English again, on my friend’s Arabian, Dippi, who had come to live with us after Tevis. Third, I was doing a much better job of pacing Asali – keeping her moving at a consistent pace. This I was doing consciously, but I had no idea we were in the Top Ten until we crossed the finish line.

 

The last few miles of the Quicksilver Fall Classic got to me mentally – it was hot, much hotter than anyone had expected. There was little shade and I had not properly electrolyted myself or my horse. The trail seemed to go on and on and when I finally saw camp in the distance, I did not feel that “high” I usually feel when approaching the finish line. It wasn’t until I was told I had come in in sixth place that I felt elated. But the elation quickly turned into concern when Asali didn’t pulse down right away. My friend, Sheila, jumped in to crew for me and together, the two of us sponged Asali over and over in the shade. The cool water finally brought her pulse down. I opted not to show for Best Condition, but we received our completion, our first Top Ten in a ride that had more than two dozen riders competing.

 

I left the Quicksilver Fall Classic the next morning and having to return to work that night, I wasn’t given the time to properly reflect on the experience. What I do know, however, is that I learned a lot about myself at that ride. I learned more about Asali. And although I pulled away from ride camp with feelings of exhaustion and dehydration, I suddenly had the urge to jump back into endurance competition with everything I had.

Jul 26 2013

Our First Tevis Cup

Published by under Endurance Riding,Featured

Click The Title Of The Post To Comment And Don't Forget To "Subscribe to Endurance Riding" To Stay Updated On My Journey Towards The Tevis Cup!


For two and a half years, my life has been consumed by the Tevis Cup. From our first 25 mile ride to the 75 miler we completed one month before Tevis, to the personal cross-training I’ve done, the time away from family and friends, the vacations missed because it interrupted our competition schedule, the money spent on tack, the best supplements and feed, the electrolytes, the expensive body work… from tears of disappointment to shouts of joy,  I thought our endurance journey would end on July 21st, 2013, as we crossed the finish line of the world’s most difficult endurance ride. What actually happened is that our journey has just begun. And when it will actually end, I have no idea. Something tells me this journey may last my lifetime…

 
On 5:15 am on July 20th, Asali and I headed out of Robie Park in Lake Tahoe. We rode out with Sam and his horse, Fire. I was feeling great that morning and Asali moved out like she was too. I remembered something Peggy, Sam’s wife, told me as we rode out: “Don’t forget to enjoy the view.” When we headed up to Squaw High Camp, I turned my head and looked back to see the sun rising over Lake Tahoe. The sight made me smile, even though the air was thin and my lungs could feel the elevation.

 

Squaw 1

 

Asali and I had never ridden through the Granite Chief Wilderness area and its technical difficulty surprised me. The rocks on the trail were overwhelming and we traversed through more than one bog, but we were thankful for all the water on the trail. Asali took a fall to her knees through a particularly wet, rocky area, but she recovered and we continued on.

 

When we approached Cougar Rock, the actual sight of the Rock left me momentarily hesitant. But, I stuck to my original decision and pushed Asali onward toward the summit of Cougar Rock (rather than taking the bypass trail around it). My heart pounded the entire time and I gritted my teeth, but we made it over and at the top, I waved back to the photographers who captured us on our journey toward Red Star Ridge.

 

Cougar Rock 1

Cougar Rock 2

 

At the vet check at Red Star Ridge, I came in stressed about the time. I had wanted to make it to Robinson Flat by 11 am, but knew, by my time into Red Star, that was going to be impossible. I’m not sure what slowed us down, but Asali couldn’t keep up with Fire after about 20 miles, so we hung back. A young volunteer approached me as we entered the vet check. She took my horse and began sponging and feeding her. When another volunteer checked Asali’s pulse, she was at 82, much higher than the 60 criteria. I began to cry, and then embarrassed by my tears, immediately apologized. The young girl helping me, however, gave me permission to cry, offering words of encouragement. She put Asali in the shade and I removed her tack. Asali continued to eat, acting like she was famished. It took her twenty minutes to pulse down, but once she did, she recovered well and passed the vet check. At 10:56 am, we were out on the trail again, with 7.5 miles to go to Robinson Flat.

 

The road to Robinson Flat was hot, dusty, and rocky, and while Asali moved out at first, she again slowed down on me and I was afraid we would not make the noon cut-off time. We weren’t moving any faster than what I could do on foot, so I dismounted and decided to jog her into Robinson Flat. I was about a ½ mile from the vet check when I began to feel weak from hunger. But I knew I couldn’t slow down. In fact, I had to pick up the pace. I kept telling myself, “one foot in front of the other and we’ll eventually be there.” The ¼ mile marker put me into a sobbing fit while I was running with my horse behind me. I glanced at my watch as spectators cheered me on, yelling that we could make it if we didn’t stop. I ran and ran and suddenly, at 11:59, I was at the in-timer and my crew was there to wipe away my tears, offer food and water, and care for Asali. The site of my crew was a relief and I was thankful they were there.

 

Sheri, one of my crew members, led Asali into the P&R (pulse and respirations) box. She was pulsed down, so we continued on to the vet. A woman I knew through email, Diana, was there, as secretary to the vet from Texas. She offered me a hug, her chair, and her water. Sheri vetted Asali for me and she passed with flying colors. The vet from Texas made me laugh and I left the vetting area feeling rejuvenated.

 

CREW PHOTO

 IMG_9085

 

The one-hour hold at Robinson Flat was just what we needed and when Asali and I began traveling down another long, hot, dusty road at 1:07, I was thinking, We’re in this. We’re doing it. A woman named Connie Creech, from Nevada, caught up to us and Asali trailed her horse for a long while. Connie and I ended up in a group of horses to Dusty Corners, where the volunteers had water and mashes for the horses and watermelon for us. We were careful not to waste too much time at Dusty Corners, and continued on to Pucker’s Point, a beautiful narrow trail, cut into the side of the mountain. We trotted around each corner of that single-track trail and once we actually reached Pucker’s Point, I had to catch my breath. I was staring out into a vast landscape of rock, mountains covered with trees. And when I looked down, there was nothing but miles and miles below. I couldn’t see to the bottom, so I looked up to the blue sky and felt like I was on top of the world.

 

Our group made it to Last Chance at 3:12, three minutes before cut-off. Again the volunteers were amazing, jumping in and catering to our horses and us. I lost my sunglasses at Last Chance, but before I rode out, a volunteer gave me a pair to wear, saying he’d get his daughter a new pair after the ride.

 

We headed out of Last Chance alone and as we approached Devil’s Thumb Canyon, I thought, We’re still in this. I dismounted when the narrow trail became precarious and began jogging Asali down into the canyon. At the bottom, I led her to the river where a group of riders were cooling themselves and their horses. I let them go on ahead and got in the back of the line out of the canyon. I mounted and asked Asali to carry me up the canyon, but we didn’t get very far before I realized I was asking too much. I could tell she was tired and hot. I, however, felt great. I had been keeping myself hydrated and my cooling vest was helping me to manage the heat. I had no reason to ask my horse to carry me up the canyon. I had done it on foot during our training ride, and I knew I could do it again. I began tailing up Devil’s Thumb, but at one point, Asali actually stopped and tried turning around on the narrow, steep trail. I looked at her and said, “Ain’t nothin’ down there, Mama. All the food and water is at the top.” I got in front of her, grabbed the reins, and began leading her up the steep climb – a gain of 2500 feet in a mile and a half. I knew we had 42 switchbacks before the top and when I looked down at my watch, I knew we weren’t going to make it to Deadwood by the 5 pm cut-off time. I saw a rider below, also leading her horse up the canyon. I waited for her and together, we arrived at Deadwood and were both pulled for being overtime.

 

I thought I’d be devastated if I didn’t finish. But I didn’t shed a tear. Asali vetted fine at Deadwood and I knew if I had pushed her any more than I did, she probably would have been pulled for a metabolic issue. I finished with a sound and metabolically stable horse. I discovered the one thing I had anxiety about – the heat – didn’t get to me. I felt blessed that I was strong enough to climb out of that canyon on foot when my horse could no longer carry me. I did not obsess over the “what ifs” because I knew there wasn’t anything I would have done differently. We had a fantastic ride and gave it a hell of a try. And while waiting at Deadwood for a trailer ride to meet my crew in Foresthill, I enjoyed the company of Connie Creech (10 time buckle winner) and Pat Chappell (20 time buckle winner). I was sitting under the shade of a tall tree, leaning up against its massive trunk, using a few loose flakes of hay as a cushion, listening to the stories of those two amazing women. I felt I could have fallen asleep right there, in the comfort and protection of the forest. I was content as Asali stood next to Pat, eating a flake of alfalfa and sticking her head in a bag of carrots every now and then.

 

On the trailer ride back to Foresthill with our volunteer horse transporter, John, Connie and I listened to all the communication coming across John’s ham radio. We heard a lot over that ham radio – horses who had been pulled and were waiting for transport, riders who were accounted for and still in the race. We heard a rider was being treated for dehydration, and we learned the drag riders were still out there on the section of trail we had just finished. We shared our sadness over the horse who had died that morning going over Cougar Rock. It was surreal sitting in the back of John’s truck on the ride back to meet my crew. I was filled with a lot of respect for all the people who come together every year to put on this ride, this ride we call the Tevis. I felt honored to have been at the starting line that morning, even though our journey came to an end before Auburn. I was suddenly filled with this knowledge that I had been a part of something truly great, and it was then that I knew I was a part of the Tevis family and I knew this one Tevis wasn’t it.  I knew I’d be back.

 

The morning after the ride, my son Jakob said, “I wish you would have finished.” I replied, “That would have been cool. But you have to know when you start a ride like the Tevis, you may not finish. You just gotta start and see how far the trail takes you and enjoy the ride, however long it may be.”

 

So, would my story be more inspirational if I had actually finished and gotten that buckle? To some, yes. Asali and I had a following that reached into the 100s. Many were rooting for us because we were the underdog – Asali is not an Arab, but a Missouri Fox Trotter. Others were rooting for us because I was riding for charity. And others wanted to see me finish for my friend, Bren, the one I was riding for, who is currently fighting stage 4 breast cancer. But, even though we didn’t get that buckle, I left feeling like a winner. The overwhelming amount of messages I received from friends, family, coworkers, and complete strangers touched me deeply. I left Tevis with more than one newfound friend. I saw humanity at its best and enjoyed some of the most beautiful country in the world, from no better place but than on top of my horse. I returned home with a sound and healthy partner, knowing we have the ability to try it again. And when I opened my account to see the final amount we had raised for charity, I saw a 3 with 3 zeros behind it and I was pleased.

 

I had a successful first Tevis and to me, it will only be all that much sweeter when I actually do cross that finish line. And so my journey begins…

Jul 17 2013

THANK YOU!

Published by under Endurance Riding

Click The Title Of The Post To Comment And Don't Forget To "Subscribe to Endurance Riding" To Stay Updated On My Journey Towards The Tevis Cup!


**AS OF AUGUST 20th, 2013: We have raised $3,047.51! The check is in the mail for The Olmalaika Home in Kenya.**

Tomorrow, I leave for Robie Park… I can’t believe after more than 2 years, Tevis 2013 is upon us! I am both excited and nervous and overwhelmed with all the packing I have to do today. I want to be there already, relaxing in ride camp before the big day… We ride at dawn on Saturday!!!

Before I leave for Tevis, I wanted to post a list of our donors thus far… to date, we’ve raised $2,259.14! Next week, while I’m recovering from the ride, I will be spending some time with my girlfriend, Bren. I will present her with a check, that she will then forward to the girls’ home in Kenya.

Thank you to:

Sharon Wimberg & Robert Weldin

Heidi Martindale

Judy Holinsworth

Vernon Olson

Jamie Parfrey

Steven Kandola

Randy Collins

Lynne Glazer

Shirley Delsart

Pauline Johnson

Julie Ivany

Jasey D. Kruger

Carol Bailey

Rhonda Guilford

Toni Saari

Patti Bergstrom

Billy, Meena, Sonia, & Amrit Ahluwalia

Lisa Erdmann

Kathryn MacPhail

Suzanne Lewis

Barbara White

Jason Vasquez

Myka McPeek

Sheila Kumar

Janice Stiles

Diana Hiiesalu

Irene Wong-Chi

Ann Byrns

Patricia Bodi

Vaughn & Bren Lee

Gary & JayaMae Gregory

Karrie Holm

Coni Stephenson

Avtar Ahluwalia

In addition, I wanted to also thank my sponsors, who are featured on the back of the very cool crew shirts Tracy from Paradise Screen Print made us:

Crew Shirt

And of course, my very awesome crew:

CREW

Lastly, a very special thank you to Juniper Rose, the reporter who covered my story and put it on the front page of the Chico Enterprise Record:

Chico ER

The full story can be read here: http://www.chicoer.com/news/ci_23661615/endurance-ride-test-woman-mdash-cause

 

« Prev - Next »