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Tevis cup gallops into Auburn

Autumn start is unprecedented for 100-mile endurance ride
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Tevis Cup riders may be from different walks of life, but they share a common addiction. They live for seeing the Sierra whiz by them on horseback, leaving billowing dust clouds in their wake, while forging an unforgettable bond with a natural athlete. The 100-mile endurance horse ride, from Tahoe to Auburn, features some of the most unforgiving terrain, yet continues to call to them year after year. Riders, like endurance trainer Janine Esler, of Granite Bay, continue to test themselves, and their horse, for 24-hours, against the elements. The reward? A silver buckle — and a challenge that never seems to get old. Esler said Tevis continues to thrill her, even nearly a decade after her first ride. “I thought it was the most frightful thing I had ever done, but addicting. I finished smack on 24 hours. I didn’t have a second to spare,” Esler said. “Since then I have completed seven buckles and a very close completion. I call it my elusive eighth buckle.” During that race Esler’s horse got stuck in a thorny berry bush about half a mile before the finish. A testament, she said to the unpredictability of the race. Last year, Esler finished fourth on Cool resident Diana Lundy’s horse, C.R. Sampson. “He was the first horse to start dead last and place in the top 10,” Esler said. “We kind of made a little bit of history there.” This year’s race, scheduled for Oct. 8, should be even more unpredictable than usual, according to Esler. Unusually heavy snow-melt, caused race organizers to push the race back from its original date in July. The unprecedented move means riders will be traveling in darkness for an extra couple of hours, and experience cooler temperatures. Esler said she isn’t sure the pros of an autumn race will outweigh the cons. “The light isn’t going to be out until approximately 7:30 (a.m.). We will be at High Camp before we see any light. I personally am very unexcited about it. It presents things that could be extremely dangerous to your horse. An extreme challenge will be the cold,” Esler said. “We are starting approximately in the teens, normally we start in the 50s. When horses are cold, they are far more reactive.” She said the cooler temperatures should make for a pleasant ride going down the Canyon from Foresthill, but will certainly be different than the hot, dusty conditions the ride is renowned for. Esler said having a successful finish starts months before race day. “It’s such a challenge. It keeps you from getting bored. There is so much that leads up to it — getting there is half the battle, Esler said. “One- hundred of the toughest miles on the planet will bring out any type of soreness or any type of slight injury.” That’s why it is crucial to strike a balance between training a horse enough to brave the trails, without overdoing it, Esler said. She also makes it a point to get off her horse often and run, to give him a break. If a horse demonstrates any change in gate or appearance of injury they are pulled from the competition, according to Tevis volunteer Elizabeth Speth. Speth and her husband, who is a doctor, are also endurance riders. Although they haven’t completed a Tevis themselves yet, the Speths volunteer at Mile 86. He makes sure riders are healthy, while she helps with the horses. Speth said she has a few more 50-milers to go before she’ll be Tevis ready. “I have always wanted to finish Tevis by moonlight in the wee hours of the morning,” Speth said. “It really has to be a passion for you.” Many riders come into Mile 86 nauseous from riding in the dark, while animals are sometimes dehydrated or exhausted. The Speths were first on the scene when veteran rider and Tevis Cup board member Roger Yohe went over a cliff during the race in 2009. They waited with Yohe for over four hours, as emergency crews worked to get to him. Yohe, a retired school administrator, was eventually taken to the hospital by helicopter. Despite his close call in the past, Yohe is going for his 1,000 mile buckle on Morab horse Red Sans Legend. He moved to Georgetown just to be closer to the Western States Trail. “I would say endurance riding becomes an addiction and a lifestyle,” Yohe said. “Sometimes you think, ‘I gave my entire life to this’ — but this is my life. I love to do it.” Western States Trails Foundation president Kathie Perry, of Auburn, won the Tevis Cup in 1978. She worked in banking for race founder Wendall Robie. Last year, Perry earned her 20th buckle. She came full-circle in one particular feat, crossing Cougar Rock. After her first year completing Tevis, Perry said organizers built a way around the massive rock. Most people opt to take the roundabout route now. Seeing it on her 20th ride gave her a little unplanned inspiration. “I said, ‘It’s my 20th buckle, we have to go over that rock.’ By golly I did it my first year and I did it my 20th,” Perry said. Perry and Yohe agree that the cooler temperatures this year could shave a couple hours off of finish times. Other than that, they aren’t sure how the race will be impacted overall. Perry said she is confident at least one thing will be the same at Tevis cup this year, “The challenge has never changed for me. It’s the same challenge I had 21 years ago,” Perry said. “My family is my love; endurance riding is my passion.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.