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Perry: A testament to endurance

Now a grandmother, Auburn rider is aiming for her 20th Tevis buckle atop a new horse
By: Joshua Ansley Journal Sports Writer
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The dog may be man’s best friend. But look back at thousands of years of history and it is the horse that has been man’s most trusted ally. It was the horse that was used to cover large distances, transport goods, plow the soil, and wage war. Men and women have established relationships with the horse that is unmatched by any other animal. It is a relationship seething in loyalty, trust, and endurance. As the 55th annual Tevis Cup Endurance Ride gets underway Saturday that same long held trust between horse and rider will be pushed to extremes. The 100-mile ride from Truckee to Auburn on the Western States Trail is the hardest, longest, and oldest endurance ride in the world. To complete it once in a lifetime is a grand achievement. Veteran rider and 38-year Auburn resident Kathie Perry will be riding once again this year, and she knows a thing or two about putting her trust in the horse. This year Perry is looking to complete her 20th Tevis Cup ride. Her record tells of a phenomenal bond with her horses. She began competitively riding after her husband, Ernie Perry, and brother, Sam Arnold, got the urge back in 1969 to ride in the Virginia 100. Following the ride, which he was unable to finish, Arnold encouraged Perry to get into riding seriously. So she did, by riding in her first Tevis Cup in 1975. Arnold would go on to win the Tevis Cup in 1976. Just two years later, Perry and her horse, Prince Kuslaif, would win. She hasn’t won the Cup since, but she’s been a regular near the top of the finishers’ list. Despite her victory, Perry is adamant about the true nature and reason for competing in Tevis. According to her it is not a race. It is a ride. “It’s always been about finishing,” she said. “It’s never been about winning. You have to be able to finish it before you can win it.” With only about half the field finishing on average every year, just making it to the finish line in Auburn is an incredible accomplishment. “It’s not about speed,” Perry said. “It’s not a speed ride. It has to do with strong, well-conditioned horses, and excellent riders.” Perry’s word backs up her actions. Dr. Marcia Smith, a veterinarian at the Loomis Basin Veterinary Clinic, is a good friend. “One of the things that is difficult about the race is to stay within the capability of your horse in a given day and not get caught up in the competition,” Smith said. “One of the great things about Kathie is she always rides within the capability of the horse. She never gets caught up in the pace of the race. She sets her own pace based on the abilities of the horse.” That is high praise coming from Smith. She won the Tevis Cup in 1992, 1997, and 2001, with each win occurring on a different horse. Yet even in the midst of her own success, she admires the manner in which Perry rides. “She has been riding for a lot of years and is a very good rider. She is a great sports woman and wonderful horseman,” Smith said. But Perry’s success is more than just her talent. She has maintained the same routine for the last 30 years as she prepares her horses for the ride. For the first month she starts the horse out slowly with short walks and simple rides. Once the horse is ready she ends up riding about 600 miles over the course of eight months. Out of those 600 miles she rides two or three 50-mile rides straight through. By that time she has a good idea of how the horse will fare in Tevis. “The other three months I let the horse be a horse,” Perry said. This year is a little different for Perry. She will be riding a new horse, Rio. Although she rode Cagney the last four years, she is confident that Rio has what it takes. “I don’t see any reason why he can’t go the 100 miles this year,” Perry said. Nonetheless, Perry is still quick to point out the difficulty of riding a new horse. “It’s great to ride your own horse because of the trust between rider and horse,” she said. “With a new horse you just don’t know what he’s going to do. With Rio I’m not sure, but I am feeling good about him going into the ride,” she said. All but one horse that Perry’s owned has placed in the top 10 at one time or another. For Perry, the ride has served as more than just a one day event every year. She and her husband Ernie originally moved from the Bay Area to Auburn in 1972 solely because of the Tevis Cup Ride. Her dedication to the sport has been a major part of her life. She is almost speechless when considering all the people she has met over the years. “I have met so many wonderful people throughout the years,” she said. “I love seeing and being around the people involved in it.” She now serves as the vice president of the board of governors for the Western States Trail Foundation. She also has works part time saddle fitting at Christiansen’s, in downtown Loomis. “She is just a really stellar individual. She does a lot of volunteer work in the community,” Smith said. When she is not riding she can be found golfing, hiking, or spending time with her three grandchildren, Amber, Austin, and Brooklyn. Her two sons, James and Gregory, also did some endurance riding. Although it never caught on with Gregory, James completed the Tevis four times. While community and family are a major part of what really keeps the 67 year-old Perry going strong after all these years, it’s the ride itself that keeps her from hanging up the saddle. She truly loves every aspect of it. “It’s that thrill of being out there on the trail, the anticipation of the ride, and the large amount of preparation that goes into it,” Perry said. “There is going to be some very stiff competition this year. These are the cream of the crop riders and horses. The Tevis is the granddaddy of them all and probably the hardest of all. But ultimately, you’re competing against yourself.”