Everything Can Change in 24 Hours

A Story of Three Horses
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A Story of Three Horses

The twenty-four hours from Friday evening through Saturday evening this weekend saw me with three different horses for Tevis. It was a wild ride, before the truly wild ride.

On Friday Jennifer had a vet evaluate the mares and it was determined that Czoe was just not 100% - not good to go to a ride like Tevis. So Jenn called to let me know that evening – we had been somewhat prepared based on the issues Czoe has had over the last few months (see post). The primary point being that Jenn would now ride Stella and I would need to find another mount.

As some of you will recall, I’ve been getting Tosca fit with the vague intent that she would be the back-up horse in case something like this happened. So I immediately started thinking down that road.

My first call was to my vet (Tosca actually lives on his property), Dr. Cory Soltau. We discussed at length and – although he made a point to tell me that I wouldn’t be able to ride at the speed I did last year (this I knew :)) – Cory said he thought she could probably do it. I told him I would be out Saturday morning to take her for a long ride and we agreed to take an evaluative look at her afterward. There was still some concern about her lame pull at the Wild West ride three weeks prior, although she had showed sound when checked a couple of different times in the week immediately after the ride.

I also – kind of on a whim - sent an e-mail to my friend and fellow Tevis board marketing committee member, Garrett Ford. Garrett had told me when last we met that he actually had two fit horses and was trying to decide which he’d ride at Tevis. So I dropped him a note that if he still had two fit horses, I was now looking for something to ride and he could just throw them both in the trailer if he wanted to. It’s a huge thing, to ask someone if you can ride their horse. Let alone asking to ride it in the Tevis Cup. So I tried to leave him a barn-door-sized hole to escape through in my note.

Back to Tosca. I took my little mare out for a tough (and hot – it was about 97 degrees on Saturday) 20 mile ride in Morgan Territory open space. She was game and great for the entire ride, but I thought I detected some discomfort a couple of times on down hills. But then she would be okay and I couldn't decide if I was being paranoid. When we got back to the barn, I gave her a quick bath and then Cory took a look at her. I trotted her away from him and back in a straight line. When I came back to him he made a face. I asked “Left rear?” (the issue leg at Wild West) and he nodded. He said it wasn't terribly pronounced, but he saw something there. We put her on a circle and it was evident. Damn and double damn.

In the meantime, Garrett had responded that he was planning to ride his (Tevis Cup-winning) gelding, the Fury, and that he’d decided his young mare was just not ready for Tevis quite yet. Oh well. But he told me to hang on, that he might have another idea. So I hung on.

Cory and I discussed all of the potential causes of Tosca’s lameness and decided to take another look at her on Sunday. But I was bummed on many levels. I felt like I’d broken my horse, for a start. And I knew that she was probably my best chance at a mount for Tevis and that was looking more and more remote. I’d had one daydream of riding her under a full moon over No Hands Bridge and I saw that receding into a hopeless mist.

Then Saturday afternoon, Garrett copied me on an e-mail from Kevin Myers saying that – if I wanted him – I was welcome to ride Stoner. As Kevin and Rusty Toth’s back-up horse, Stoner was fit and ready to go.

Okay, yes, amazing. But wait! There’s more! Stoner (aka Farrabba) has a three for three record on Tevis and the last time (2012) he finished 4th and was awarded the Haggin Cup for best condition. Oh, and Kevin won the 100-mile national championship on him last fall. Yep, super-crazy amazing.

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Rusty Toth and Stoner (aka Farrabba) accepting the Haggin Cup in 2012

Rusty and Stoner riding into Michigan Bluff.

Rusty and Stoner riding into Michigan Bluff.

I had a brief phone conversation with Rusty to confirm details, but the upshot is that I have a (very nice) mount for Tevis again. Pinch me.

Meantime, back at the ranch…on Sunday we took a second look at Tosca and discovered a curb. Curb is a swelling on the back of the hock, just below the joint, that indicates soft tissue damage and/or inflammation. My understanding is that she has the horse equivalent of plantar fasciitis. Good thing is we found the cause of her lameness, bad thing is it could indicate for as much as a six month layoff. Argh. I was definitely looking forward to a fall full of rides on my little mare and – poof! - that went with the crossing-No-Hands-by-moonlight picture right down the drain. Add an abiding sense of responsibility and it was a pretty depressing prognosis.

If you juxtapose that against the opportunity to ride a supremely nice piece of horseflesh in arguably the most difficult endurance race in the world, you’ll see I had a bit of a seesaw emotional ride this weekend.

This all should make for some potentially interesting blog entries – doing such a tough race on a horse I will have very little (we’ll do one or two pre-rides) experience on. Stoner’s fitness level – as second fiddle to Rusty and Kevin’s primary Tevis horses – is lower than what would be necessary to finish as well as I did last year on Stella. But he’s a proven competitor and horses are amazing athletes so there’s a good chance he and I can do pretty well if we hit it off and cover those 100 miles like a well-oiled machine.

I’m really excited and not in small part because excellent horsemen like Kevin and Rusty – and Garrett for that matter – have trusted me with a very nice pony. The whole thing made me reflect that, of the eight horses I've attempted Tevis on, not a single one has been mine. A series of wonderfully generous, brilliant horsepeople have entrusted me with their valuable and beloved beasts for this crazy ride. Kind of makes a rider feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

More to come…