Friday, July 11, 2008

Smoky skies mean change of plans for endurance riders

Colusa County Sun Herald

Thursday, Jul 10 2008, 8:19 pm
By Richard Myers/Freedom News Service

The Grinch, blanketed in soot and smoke, stole Christmas from Jennifer Stalley.

Stalley her sister, Alyssa, were looking forward to participating in the 54th annual Tevis Cup, a 100-mile, 24-hour equestrian endurance ride slated for July 19.

“It’s like Christmas to me,” Jennifer said.

But, less than two hours after talking Wednesday about the upcoming event, Jennifer, 21, and Alyssa, 18, both from Williams, learned the ride had been canceled because of poor air quality caused by the rash of forest fires in Northern California.

“We were really excited after talking about it,” Jennifer said.

Canceling the Tevis Cup, however, might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, Alyssa admitted.

That’s because the Stalleys now have the opportunity to participate in a similar 100-mile, 24-hour endurance ride, the Bighorn 100 in Wyoming.

“It’s the same day as the Tevis Cup, so we’re never able to ride in it,” Alyssa said.

“We’re pretty excited about getting the chance to go to the Bighorn 100,” Jennifer added. “It sounds pretty challenging.”

Both of their parents have ridden in the Bighorn 100 and told their daughters about it.

“A lot of the ride is at the 10,000-foot elevation,” Chuck said, noting while there are some trees there also are a lot of open meadows.

Stalley added his wife, Pam, finished the Bighorn 100 first one year and also has a second- and a third-place finish to her credit.

While all four Stalleys have ridden in the Tevis Cup together, this was to have been the first year that the two sisters were going to participate without their parents.

“You have to be 18 before you can ride without an adult,” Alyssa said, adding she is disappointed she won’t get the opportunity this year.

But, the Stalleys are content knowing the ride was canceled for a good reason.

“(Ride director) Mike Pickett said the health and safety of the horses and riders take precedence over everything else,” Alyssa said.

Chuck Stalley, who is a member of the Tevis Cup Board of Governors, said the U.S. Forest Service had given ride officials an alternate route around a portion of the trail near Foresthill that was closed because of fire. But, because of the air quality, directors opted to cancel the ride now rather than wait until the last minute.

“I know of some riders from Florida who already left home and are headed here,” he said. “They planned to be on the road for a week.”

Canceling now also means riders can opt to participate in the Bighorn 100, he added. Usually, the Bighorn 100 is a much smaller race with perhaps 50 riders, as compared to the Tevis Cup, which has as many as 250 riders.

“The cool thing about the Bighorn 100 is that riders who successfully complete the event within 24 hours receive a belt buckle,” Alyssa said about the same “trophy” awarded to successful riders in the Tevis Cup.

Both Stalley sisters have earned four Tevis Cup belt buckles.

They inherited their love for horses from their parents. Their father, who loved running cross country, first began competing in ride-and-ties, Alyssa said, which involves two riders and one horse. One person goes out ahead on horseback, stops at some point, dismounts and ties the horse and then takes off running. The second person, who started out running, catches up to the tied horse and takes off on horseback. They keep alternating through the end of the race.

Chuck Stalley won several ride-and-tie events.

Pam Stalley, meanwhile, has earned 11 Tevis Cup belt buckles, finishing as high as sixth one year.

Besides participating in national events, the Stalleys also have ridden overseas. Alyssa said she and her sister served as grooms while their mother participated in an endurance race in the United Arab Emirates. Their father was the team captain. Pam Stalley also has ridden in France.

While the Stalley sisters are excited about the opportunity to ride in Wyoming, it could be quite an interesting trek. That’s because, unlike the Tevis Cup, they will be riding on an unfamiliar trail.

Since both events take place during daylight and night-time hours, riders have to rely a lot on their horses. In the Tevis Cup, Alyssa pointed out a portion of that ride traverses a narrow trail hundreds of feet above the American River Canyon.

Glow bars attached to the breastplates on the horses help light the trail for the riders, Alyssa said.

One year she thought the trail was clear so she kept urging her horse, Tiki, to start trotting. But he wouldn’t, she said, and pretty soon they encountered a very rocky section of trail.

“As soon as we were through the rocks, he took off trotting,” Alyssa said, adding, “horses can see a lot better at night than we can.”

Both girls said they love riding in the Tevis Cup each year because of the beautiful scenery.

“There’s a mystical, magical feeling about the Tevis Cup,” said Jennifer.

“There’s no other ride like it,” added Chuck Stalley, who has three Tevis Cup buckles.

Contact sports reporter Richard Myers at 749-4714 or

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