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Tevis a trail for all ages

Junior champion readies for her biggest challenge
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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While most 17-year-olds are planning their weekends around trips to the mall or bumming around at a beach with friends, Rachel Shackelford will be out on a hot, dusty trail for a full day with only her horse Cody to keep her company. Rest assured, there is almost nowhere else the Auburn teenager would rather spend her Saturday. After posting impressive results at endurance rides all over the West over the past two years, Shackelford is ready to make her debut at the Western States Endurance Ride — the sport’s oldest and most prestigious event. “We’ve been having a lot of success,” said Shackelford, who will be a senior at Placer this fall after being home schooled through Horizon Charter School for the past several years. “I’ve tried to get into Tevis in the past, but my horse has turned up lame. This will definitely be my biggest challenge, but I’m on the trails almost every day. It will be a success for us to complete the ride.” In a sport dominated by middle-aged folks — many of whom have kids her age and older — Shackelford is a rapidly rising talent. Last month she won the NASTR (Nevada All-State Trail Riders) 75 in Dayton, Nev. Her time of 8 hours, 22 minutes edged former Tevis Cup champion Marcia Smith by two minutes. In April, Shackelford not only won the 70-mile American River Classic, she and her horse Cody were also awarded Best Condition. Shackelford was the American Endurance Ride Committee’s 2008 Pioneer Award winner in the junior division and also won the National Mileage Championship after riding 1,185 miles in AERC-sanctioned events. Shackelford said she rode nearly 2,000 miles last year altogether. In the Tevis Cup, she won’t be racing to the finish line. Junior riders must ride with a sponsor and remain within sight of their accompanying rider at all times. Jennifer Sheldon, who finished 16th at the 2007 Tevis Cup, will ride with Shackelford this year. “They can lead or follow,” said Mike Shackelford, Rachel’s father and a member of the Western States Trail Foundation Board of Governors. “If the sponsor’s horse goes lame they can get another sponsor, but the juniors aren’t racing. If their sponsor’s slow, they’re slow.” Shackelford isn’t just competing for herself. She’s hoping to become the first one in her family to complete Tevis. Mike — her coach and mentor — has attempted Tevis three times, but has never finished. Rachel is really looking forward to next year when she’ll be able to ride on her own, which her father said has always come naturally for her. “We got her a horse and she would just get on and go,” Mike said. “She entered the Twenty Mule Team 100 (in Ridgecrest) as a senior earlier this year and she got third. That was when I knew she had it. She’s won a couple other rides and she’s always wanted to do Tevis.” Shackelford will be joined by five other junior riders at the starting line Saturday. They all hope to have their names etched on the Scripps Cup for finishing the 100-mile ride in less than 24 hours. The young riders must show maturity beyond their years to make it through the grueling event. “The main challenge is just getting through the race,” Rachel said. “You’re asking yourself if your horse has enough to make it. It’s a vet check to vet check decision. You have to know the risks of going too fast or too slow.” Shackelford said she’s interested in a career in law enforcement after she graduates from Placer next spring. She’s thought about working as a mounted police officer or on a SWAT team, which might sound unusual for a teenage girl. But Shackelford’s hobby has helped her mature quickly and develop an eye toward the future. “My friends don’t really understand the commitment it takes,” Shackelford said. “I’m around a lot of adults when I ride and you have to grow up and mature faster. It’s hard to hang out with friends a lot when I’m training — they’re not really in tune.” Shackelford said she’s been running with Cody a lot lately, hoping to minimize the stress to her horse on race day. She has been riding Cody since her father bought the former racehorse several years ago. “We were doing jumpers and showing him and I could tell his heart wasn’t in it,” Shackelford said. “We started doing endurance together and ever since then, it’s always been endurance. You really have to trust your horse, especially at night. We have a bond that makes it a lot of fun. It makes it special.”