Friday, July 29, 2016

2016 Tevis Cup: Part 1

July 28 2016
by Merri

This year's Tevis Cup was different from the beginning - it seemed quiet, less frantic… a bit subdued. Last year when we drove into Robie Equestrian park in the Tahoe National Forest - basecamp for the start of Tevis - with a horse trailer Wednesday evening (Steph and I were crewing for Nance Worman and the Levermann girls), we couldn't nab our usual place to park in the Back Forty, because everywhere was full of rigs.

This year, driving into Robie my car on Wednesday evening, I saw a whole two, count 'em, two parked trailers. In fact, I wondered briefly if I had arrived for the right weekend.

In the Back Forty I found who I was looking for, Suzy Hayes from Montana with her gorgeous 16.1-hand Anglo-Arabian gelding Greenbriar Al Jabar. I camped beside Suzy and her crew Lynn Lee and Ona Lawrence, because I knew I could bum hot water from them in the mornings for my coffee!

"Atlas" looked rather stunning, all big and white and flaunting rippling muscles when he walked. With a carefully orchestrated record of 33 finishes in 34 starts over 8 seasons, (all but 1 finish in the Top Ten) and 8 out of 9 100-mile completions, including a 9th in Tevis last year, Atlas and Suzy were fresh off a 2nd place finish in the Ft Howes 75 miler in June. The 13-year-old looked fit and ready.

Oh yeah, that 9th place finish in Tevis last year? The trail opened up beneath Atlas' feet before Red Star at 28 miles, and he fell down, cutting himself up, ripping a hind chestnut off, leaving himself all bloody and holding the hind leg up. He walked it off, and in fact did not appear lame at all. He stayed sound all day and went on to finish 9th. Never mind Suzy had broken a couple ribs. "He was sound so I wasn't going to pull!" she said, rather nonchalantly.

They came this year loaded for bear, though Suzy was realistic about winning Tevis. "I've never even thought about winning Tevis, though it'd be thrilling to win the Haggin Cup [Best Condition award]," she said. "I like to stay on the safe side of the 'red line.' We go do our thing, and it depends on what everybody else does. He's as fit as I can get him. I've got a good horse; we'll see if he's good enough. Now the luck kicks in. You'll see if you have good luck or bad luck."

Suzy has nearly 23,000 AERC miles, a horse in the Hall of Fame and Pard'ners Award (Kootenai Zizzero) and 5 Tevis buckles. She planned to ride with Tony Benedetti (8 Tevis buckles) and his 10-year-old gelding FV Abu Antezeyn.

Suzy Hayes' crew got an extra boost when former World Endurance Champion Becky Hart and World Endurance Champion Crew Judith Ogus showed up on Friday to help pack gear and head to Auburn in the evening, all the better to get an early and closer start in the race to set up a good crew spot at Robinson Flat, the first hour hold at 36 miles.

Very few people had pulled into Robie Park on Thursday, and not until around 10 AM on Friday did the trailers start rolling in. It seemed so subdued, and I wasn't the only one who noticed.

It had to be the glaring absence of a person who's been such an integral part of endurance riding and the whole Tevis ride experience since his first Tevis finish in 2007. Kevin Myers took his life less than a month earlier, leaving so many of us with desperately shattered souls in his wake. His absence left a huge, glaring hole many of us tried to fill with tears and hugs and good memories throughout the weekend. All of Kevin's friends - and he had so, so many - all rode emotional roller coasters of despair, and of joy in each other's company over the weekend.

3 Haggin Cup winners: Auli Farwa, Rusty Toth, Farrabba

Kevin's partner Rusty Toth would ride, for the first time, Kevin's horse Auli Farwa ("Far"), a 16-year-old bald-faced chestnut gelding with a record of 4080 miles in 67 finishes in 67 starts over 10 seasons. 13 of those were 100-mile completions; 6 of those were Tevis Cup finishes - 5 of them with Kevin.

Far won the Haggin Cup last year with Jenni Smith riding. All of this after the gelding tore a front fetlock open as a 7-year-old, partially severing his extensor tendon and leaving his endurance career looking iffy.

Jenni Smith would ride Kevin's horse Farraba ("Stoner"), a 16-year-old gelding with 3320 miles, 60 finishes in 63 starts, including 7 100-mile finishes in 7 starts. 5 of those were Tevis Cup finishes (4 with Rusty, 1 with Nick Huynh), and included the Haggin Cup award in 2012 with Rusty.

A number of horses in the ride would sport the logo IR4KM inked on their butts - "I Ride For Kevin Myers" - a beautiful tribute to this beautiful man that so many were carrying along in their heart over the weekend.

Crysta Turnage of Carson City, Nevada, would ride her 11-year-old gelding Dream Makker ("Digs") on his first 100-mile ride, in honor of Kevin, who gave the horse as a gift to Crysta back in 2010 after her horse Sinatra died of cancer. Crysta said weeks before the ride, "TEVIS. Sinatra was a *sound* horse. When we started in 2007 I knew if we didn't get behind on time, we would finish, and we did. Digs has never been a sound horse. His first ride was a RO-L pull and his record reflects that trend. I'm never confident he's going to finish a ride. And so I've been waffling, and debating.

"But I've decided. We are going to ride. We are going to ride for Kevin, and Lisa's horse Tux [who died marking the Tevis trail] and my own sweet Gunny. We are going to ride for those who will never have the chance to go down this magical trail again. And while our chance of finishing may be lesser than others, we have a CHANCE and I'm going to take it. Because you never know what life has in store. And I'm going to carry them all in my heart, and hopefully get them to Auburn."

Digs was a 4-year-old when Crysta got him, and the pair have come a long way, working through broken bones (Crysta) and inconsistent lamenesses (Digs), while performing in endurance, cattle sorting, and the Rosebowl Parade.

Colorado's Garrett and Lisa Ford were returning to ride The Fury and GE Cyclone. Kevin was a close friend of the Fords, and an integral part of Garrett's EasyCare company and family. Garrett, with 8 Tevis buckles, had ridden The Fury to 4 Top Ten Tevis finishes, winning in 2012, and winning the Haggin Cup in 2010. Fury's just a magnificent animal and he knows it!

Lisa, with 3 Tevis buckles, had ridden Cyclone to two Top Ten Tevis finishes, and one wrenching pull at the finish line.

Utah's Christoph Schork, the new 300 Win man, was riding GE Pistol Annie, a mare with a 25 for 25 record (16 of those wins) and a Tevis Cup finish with Christoph last year.

Absent from the top riders were last year's Tevis Cup winner, Potato Richardson and SMR Filouette, and previous Tevis Cup winner (2006, 2010) and Haggin Cup winner (2006) Heraldic, who was pulled last year. However, Heraldic's owner John Crandell brought LR Bold Cody back again; he was pulled last year with Marcia Hefker; Aussie Julie White would be riding Cody this year.

Florida's Heather and Jeremy Reynolds, responsible for 5 Tevis Cup wins and 3 Haggin Cup wins between the two of them, were returning on horses doing their first 100-mile rides, RB Code (Heather) and Danire (Jeremy). Heather would be escorting Elaine Lemieux on the Reynolds' mare CH Formal Affair, on Elaine and "Benz"'s first 100 mile ride. No better escort than a 5-Tevis-buckle/20,000 AERC miles/top international competitor companion than Heather!

Southern California Mother-son duo Karen and John Donley were back, hoping to finish together for the first time; Karen had finished 4 Tevis cups aboard Royal Patron, and John had finished one aboard My Mamselle - but never in the same race. It was John's first time in Tevis as a senior rider.

The Blakeley family, from Terrebonne, Oregon, returned hoping to finish all 4 together: mom Gabriela (4 finishes), dad Wasch (1 finish) and juniors Barrak (2 finishes, Haggin Cup 2014 with MCM Last Dance) and Sanoma (1 finish) - but never all at the same time.

Chris Martin's gelding Monk was returning after an 8th place finish last year with Lindsay Graham Fisher. Among other outstanding accomplishments, Monk and Lindsay won the 2009 AERC 100-mile National Championship; competed on the USA team at the 2010 World Equestrian Games Endurance Championship in Kentucky; finished the Presidents Cup in Abu Dhabi in early 2012; and they were trying out for a spot on the USA team for the World Endurance Championship in Great Britain in 2012, when Monk injured a front tendon. After a successful stem cell treatment and over 3 years of rest and rehab, the 14-year-old gelding returned to competition in 2015, completing all 7 of his rides, finishing 8th in Tevis with Lindsay, and winning the Virginia City 100 (though rider John Stevens was disqualified). Monk looked to be in top form, skinny as always but fit and sleek.

Lisa Schneider, a 5-time Tevis finisher from Agoura, California, would be riding the somewhat famous Tennessee Walker John Henry in Tevis this year. Owner Dr Susan Garlinghouse had been so busy at work the last few months that she didn't feel she could give the horse the most perfect chance of completing from her end - and with Tevis, you always want to pave the way as best as you can, before Tevis Luck jumps in to have a say.

John Henry and Susan have quite the fan club following. It's no wonder. After giving previous owner Bruce Weary his first Tevis buckle in 2009, John Henry carried subsequent owner Susan to 3 Tevis Cup finishes. He doesn't much look like his fellow sleek, slim Arabian competitors. As Bruce says, "He is a roundish, gluttonous, opinionated, good hearted human being who looks like a horse." One more Tevis completion would make John Henry the only gaited horse to have finished Tevis five times.


 A first time Tevis rider was Japan's Kyoko Fukumori. I became acquainted with Kyoko through international endurance rides, and remember her best for her ride in the 2012 World Endurance Championship in England. She didn't finish, but her ecstatic smile on course was evidence of the unbridled joy she had riding in the event. On Saturday she'd be riding the 13-year-old mare Rushcreek Shawna, owned by Shawn and Lisa Bowling. It would be the first Tevis for both, and Kyoko was obviously thrilled to be there.

Friday's vetting in, which started at noon and ran till 6 PM, seemed rather tranquil, with horses trickling in throughout the afternoon as the horse trailers finally started arriving.

It's always enjoyable to watch Tevis horses vetting in for the ride. They're simply eye candy. They're the most fit, trim, athletic, collectively best-looking horses at endurance events anywhere in the world. Not too fat nor thin, lively but not out of control, and mostly well-behaved - which is not always the case at major endurance races around the world. Tevis riders should be and are rightly proud of their horses.

Some horses would just catch your eye, or pull a gasp from your throat with their trot outs or their looks.

Garrett Ford's The Fury is gasp-worthy mover.

Golden Knight (2 Tevis completions), a Friesian cross owned by Nicole Chappell, is beautiful.

This white mule of Abigail Madden, UCD Actions Shinanigan, was gorgeous in attempting their first Tevis.

John Stevens' gelding Rabbalat was showing off a bit

Far just has 'that look'

Coming up: 2016 Tevis Cup: Part 2

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