?Pre-riding the Tevis trail before you attempt the race has its pros and cons.? The trail itself is dangerous, so the more time you spend on it the greater the risk you face.? However, it certainly does the horses good to see the trail - they are able to get used to traveling on its narrow, tricky footing and they learn to recognize it and know where they are going when the moment arrives.
Recently we headed up the hill with three horses in tow to do a little pre-riding.? Jennifer Nice, who has generously lent me her usual mount Bear for the ride, also brought Stella (her Tevis horse this year) and Czoe - two seven-year-old mares.? Instead of the typical camping and sleeping in the trailer, we elected to stay at a bed and breakfast with access to the Tevis trail.? Pretty cush.
Getting to the B&B was adventure #1.? A dozen miles out of Foresthill, CA (which is by no means on the way to anywhere) we turned on an unmarked gravel road and trundled into the forest (imagine a beast of a pick-up truck and a really tall bumper-pull four-horse trailer).? The going was pretty easy until the last stretch where we crept down a steep hill and then back up again to the B&B.? Fortunately Jenn's truck pulled it off, but the rigs that pulled in later that day were pretty challenged.?
After stabling the horses we had a look around the Somewhere Over the Rainbow Lodge (http://www.somewhereovertherainbowlodge.com/). ?The view completely explained why someone would build a home so far from the rest of the world.? The accommodations were lovely and extremely comfortable and our hosts were gracious and excited to have us.? A pack of dogs included a pair that were acquired for their ability to face down bears - can't say that I found that terribly encouraging, but it is the Sierra.?
We saddled up and headed off to explore "Trail 6", which would ultimately connect us to the Western States Trail.? Later we learned that we were probably the first horses to use Trail 6 in five or so years - the forest service maintains it primarily for dirt motorcycles.? It was definitely challenging - more so than the Tevis canyon trail that it linked up to.? Our intrepid ponies handled it with ease, however.?
We met the Tevis trail at Devil's Thumb (/content/content/21236/tevistrail_lg.gif) ?- the top of the first of three canyons you traverse in the middle of the race.? From there we dropped into that first canyon (going the reverse of the race direction) and went over what is called the Swinging Bridge.?
The Swinging Bridge is a short suspension span that moves as you walk over it - really wags when you take a horse with you.? Bear was really funny about the bridge.? The first time I led him over (and, to be clear, he's been over it in the past) he was good until about 2/3 along - when it had really gained momentum and was oscillating in a vigorous manner - and then he shoved past me.? So the second time I held up my arms and kept saying "Stay back!" as we went [see picture below].? As we got closer to the end, the cadence of his footsteps kept increasing.? I'm not sure what was going on but he never actually touched me.? I definitely felt some warm breath on the back of my neck, though.??
After we crossed the bridge, we waded into the beautiful creek below and sponged off the horses.? Bear is usually a big fat baby about water ("AHHH!? My hooves will get wet!") but interestingly enough he's happy to wade into a big piece of it when he's hot and tired.? He was pretty cute about letting me get his head wet (try that with a hose), too. [See video link below - you can see Czoe's ears and Cris Jones on Stella as Jenn pans the camera to the bridge above us.]?
We rode the canyons for a couple of days, enjoying wonderful meals in the evenings, sitting outside and watching the sun set.? Cris Jones joined us for a day and rode Stella while Jenn rode Czoe and we got all three horses out.? Cris is a lot of fun to have along anytime, anywhere.? On the third day we decided to ride from Foresthill to the river crossing.? It was just Jenn and me, so we had an extra horse.? Czoe had already done two days on the trail and she is the least fit of the trio, so Jenn ponied her for part of the way.? But once we got into the single track trails we let her run loose behind us, just wearing her halter and splint boots.? She was really cute and we got to calling her Little Naked Horse.? We caught her up again when the trail widened and headed up the hill to the trailer and home.?
Overall the horses did really well, and we were very happy with their performance.? We covered about 14 miles the first day, close to 18 miles the second and another 18 or so on the last day - all of it on tough terrain with hardly any flat ground to cover.? The mares are still young and building their conditioning base but they kept up with the veteran Bear and we managed to ride at the same pace that other riders were doing on more accomplished horses.??
It was also a great test of all of our equipment.? Bear has a very round, short back and it's difficult to keep saddles centered on him.? I'm riding him in a treeless Barefoot saddle and, after working with it and trying a few different things, we've gotten it to the point where it travels very little side to side.? The horses both wear breast collars and Stella has a crupper to keep her saddle from sliding forward onto her neck (Bear's shoulders are so burly it's not an issue with him).? All of that has been adjusted to the optimal settings.??
And Jenn has her horses running in Easy Boots (rubber boots that are glued on the hoof), so we tried a few different ways of gluing and adding protection to the assembly.? More about that in a future post.
A lot was learned...Tevis is drawing closer...