Friday, July 6, 2018
Tevis season is near… the details that make my heart skip a little as I read about them.
Why on earth does this equine sport in its extreme forms appeal to some of us. I can’t explain it logically, but we are all created unique from one another, and for some the call to attempt something so challenging… with another living creature with its own personality and opinions- the partnership involved in that and the long hours on the trail- often alone- to get to the starting line…
I’ve had people suggest it’s about a competitive nature- but they misunderstand me and many of the friends I respect in the sport (yes there are unfortunate exceptions) – to us endurance is about me being better than I was yesterday.
We don’t much care about ribbons and trophies** (there aren’t any) or notoriety (this sport doesn’t provide much of an audience) or cash prizes (do some equine sports still do that?!). The motto of the governing organization AERC is “To finish is to win” and in fact sometimes the best prize of the race is the turtle (I’ve collected a few of these) for the rider who completed the ride and came in last.
**nothing against ribbons and trophies or cash prizes! And of course all competitive equine sports require discipline, skill and a relationship especially to get to the highest levels!
I recently went to hear a knowledgeable vet talk to new riders and Lani remarked:
in this sport I can’t remember who came in first last year at the Old Dominion 100, can’t tell you who was top 10 at Tevis… but I can tell you who finished 100 miles healthy and sound on a 21 year old mare, and who has been riding the same horse for 10 years without injury, and who is competing strong with a horse that is not genetically bred to make the sport easy (most non-Arabs), who has faced big challenges and overcome… those are then riders and horses we remember!
It’s captured me. It’s captured my imagination. The journey to get there has made me better.
This sport is not for the faint of heart. It’s called endurance I think now, not because it takes endurance to finish a ride- the longer I compete the more I understand: it takes endurance to get to base camp!
Once you arrive it’s one of the few sports that won’t even let you compete with out a veterinarian’s approval. And you can ride 25, 50, 100 miles in your division, come the the end and have your horse come up slightly lame, have a hind end cramp, not recover to a resting heart rate in time, or be 2 minutes past the allowed time, and not be rewarded your completion of the miles.
You have to be good. You can’t get away with much if you want to succeed over the years.
You don’t have to ride well to start- but you will damage your horse if you continue to ride badly over the thousands of miles training and competing… you have to have a well fitting saddle, a good hoof program, the right nutrition, must understand things like electrolytes and mineral loss in sweat, must be able to mitigate stress in trailering and camping in unfamiliar locations, must be mentally prepared to ride alone or in an unknown group of horses who may be sane and lovely or completely schitzoid and half out of control, must be ready to cross any kind of ditch or bridge or high river, move through any terrain from sucking mud to ridge line rocks (on the same day), meet various animals from wild turkeys to cows… even lamas or sheep and goats from time to time… I’ve encountered joggers, fisherman, hunters, cars, bikes, kayaks and seguays (thank you Biltmore); you will need to ride in the dark either for a few miles at the end of a long 50 or all through the night for a 100, and through it all watch for trail ribbons- stick with the right color for the loop you’re on, and try not to get lost in the great wilderness these rides cover.
You cannot really prepare for everything you’ll encounter. This is one reason your relationship with your horse is possibly even more vital in endurance than other disciplines where you can know more what to expect and find more consistency. I also find some people really like knowing what to expect and planing and preparing! This sport is hard on those people.
Talk about cross training!
It’s drawn my attention to a fundamental difference I’ve begun to notice in people around me. I have a view of things that if it doesn’t cost you something, if you don’t have to work for it it is not as special. (This does not include gifts! I have some very very special gifts in my life that I treasure though they came only from the love and generosity of the giver)
I’ve always wanted to experience the almost impossible. I want to explore the limits of what I’m capable of and see if the limits can go just a little farther. I want to do the things most people are just not willing to put the effort in to experience. I want to solve the puzzle and find a way to make the unlikely happen.
When I did marathon training in Northern California I ran a beautiful trail along a reservoir that had only one entrance that went for miles. On long run days I might run 10 or more miles, and gradually I would leave the families out for a walk and the casual joggers behind and eventually I’d be completely alone on trail fewer and fewer people would see. I remember one day reflecting on the reward for working so much in my running was to get to beautiful parts of the trail into the park that not many see and the gift of being in my own world out there gave me a lot of satisfaction.
Recently I’ve discovered that not everyone looks at life this way. Some people feel that if things don’t come basically easily then maybe you are on the wrong path. That things shouldn’t ‘be so hard’. While at first I thought this seemed like laziness or lack of drive- I came to realize that these other folks see it like trying to force a square peg into a round hole and that is an exercise in stupidity. Truly.
There are merits to both ways of understanding the world and it’s one thing to work hard for something and quite another to force something that shouldn’t be.
This balance is observable in endurance as people try to determine if their horse is truly a terrible fit for the sport and not likely to succeed verses the horse that needs more training and support to do well. Someone like me is more likely to continue longer than useful in coming to the realization that it’s a truly bad fit, yet someone with the opposite view very well could give up too soon on a horse that with the right help could be a successful endurance mount (for example).
No matter what, to do this sport well a solid relationship with your horse is key. And no matter what relationships take work.
Horses don’t lie- this is a lot to ask of them, they are amazingly capable creatures who will stun you to tears with their physical ability when trained well and their massive hearts to do their job for you.
My journey into the rabbit hole of endurance has made me better with my horses, it’s made me better a better writer, it’s made me better with my friends, it’s made me better with my family. Yes, over time, I think it’s even made me a better wife.
I leave you with a blog repost to the inspiration for my entry. It is written by Elizabeth Speth Mostly Beautiful Things- Tevis Volunteer. Here is a quote from the blog that stirred my heart as she shared real experiences she has gone through volunteering for the famous Western States Tevis Cup: