Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A 1000 Mile Adventure on a Horse Named Shatir

Shatir was a 14.2 hand Kellogg Crabbet bred Arab gelding that I bought from a backyard breeder in Templeton,CA in 1980 while I was attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, found from an ad in Trail Blazer Magazine.  I got him for only $800, but he was really spooky, hadn't ever seen suburbia, and was literally afraid of his own shadow.  It took me two years to get him riding smoothly through the neighborhoods without spooks, fits and starts to get to the trails.  I bought him expressly to ride on the Tevis and prepared him by riding a 25 LD and a lot of NATRC competitive trail rides before entering him on his first 50 on Mt. Diablo, which was in my backyard.  I completed several more 50's and entered him in the 1983 Tevis.  This turned out to be an El Nino year, and also the last time Wendell Robie showed up to give the ride briefing and hand out the buckles.

We assembled at Squaw Valley only to be told we would be loading up after the briefing and traveling to Soda Springs at a lower elevation for the ride start.  There was too much snow over the high country, and even Robinson Flat was still under a foot of snow in July.   The first one hour stop would be at French Meadows.  We were also told that the river crossing would be 5' deep, much to my dread.  Everything went smoothly all through the ride until I reached the much anticipated river crossing behind two other riders.   A couple of women on the opposite bank were waving lanterns yelling, "aim for us!"  The water was going by fast as the two riders ahead of me plunged in.  I followed behind, the water reaching to my thigh.  After a few steps we suddenly lost the bottom and Shatir and I started drifting backwards down the river, the other riders not noticing us floating away.   After about 20 feet of swimming we caught the bottom again and Shatir kept going towards the other side.  After emerging from the water we continued down the sandy trail and suddenly I felt myself getting lower and lower as Shatir, without breaking stride, had decided to roll in the sand.  He pretty well sandpapered one side of the saddle before I could get him back up, and we were about five shades darker with dirt at the end than when we had started.  A little while later I started seeing people on the side of the trail, but realized I was probably hallucinating.  I almost asked one how far to the next stop.  When we reached the stadium for our victory pass, Shatir suddenly realized he was at the end of our journey and neighed all the way around  the arena as if to say, "We made it!  Thank God, we made it!"

The next day when I went up to get my buckle from Wendell, he asked, "So, is this your first ride?" I replied yes, and he said, "Well, are you coming back next year?"  I hadn't even thought about it, still dazed and grateful for having finished my first ride, but I couldn't say anything but yes to Wendell!  Afterwards I started thinking that if I played my cards right, I could finish ten rides on Shatir before he got too old, and that became my goal.  The following year I starting finishing in the top ten on a few fifties, including a win, and decided to carry the weights for top ten that were required back then.  Partway down Devil's Thumb canyon, Shatir tripped and fell against the bank, sliding for several feet before standing back up again.  He kicked up so much dust I couldn't see what he had done to himself for a full minute.  He just had a few minor scrapes, so I pressed on.    My mom and sister were crewing for me at Devil's Thumb, back when crews were allowed all over the place, and my mom, seeing the scrapes, threatened to cut off the weights I had stitched to the cinch. He passed his vet check and we continued on.   We got to Michigan Bluff so fast I almost beat my crew.  They had gotten stuck in a ditch they backed into after making a wrong turn, got winched out by someone, and just made it just in time.   Crewing was much more of a road race back then.

At Foresthill, a vet didn't like the way Shatir trotted out, but finally passed him, saying I needed to slow down because he thought he might be going lame in front.   Shatir was never much for the trot outs.  So when I got to a lot of downhill with the rider I was following, I decided not to keep the fast pace he was making and slowed down.   After awhile it got dark and I spent at least 2 hours riding alone in it, with no moon in sight, being way down in the middle fork canyon.  I had slowed to a walk and then my thighs started cramping up.  At this point I discovered that my vet card had bounced out of the pocket in my ride number bib, and wondered if I might get pulled like I had heard they did on fifties if they didn't have any information on your horse.  This was not the case on the Tevis, but I worried something awful, using up what energy I had left and then found myself fighting sleep.  I was in tears, all by myself out in the middle of nowhere, thinking this whole thing was a miserable idea.  I decided the way to stay awake was to start singing.  So I started singing every song I knew about the moon, willing it to rise where I could see it.  I sang Moondance, Moonshadow, etc., and when I ran out of moon songs I started singing Me and My Bobby McGee.  That's when a couple of riders finally caught up with me.  They probably thought I was losing my mind, not an uncommon thing in the latter parts of Tevis.

We finally reached Franciscos, and I tied Shatir to a bale of hay and took a tube of Bengay with me to the outhouse to rub it on my cramped thighs.  When I got back there were a couple of guys shining flashlights on him telling me they had gotten word that this horse might be in trouble.  I assured him he didn't seem lame to me and also apologized when I realized he had busted into a bag of crimped oats that was next to the hay.  He passed his vet check just fine, and  I continued on, finishing about 40th, well out of the top ten I was trying for.  The following year in '85 I decided to enter the Frontier program, where I had to ride without any crew assistance.  This turned out to be the last year this program was offered, which was kind of a shame because it turned out to be one of the smoothest, trouble free rides I ever did.  It really made a difference not having to worry about a crew, finding them at each stop, keeping them happy so they'd do it again next year, etc.  The best spot at every stop was reserved for the Frontier riders with hay and grain waiting.  It turned out to be a hot year, which was in my favor, Shatir being a hot weather horse.  It didn't seem to faze him, and I actually got through Franciscos in the daylight, finishing 12th and just 15 minutes out of top ten.  I got a buckle with Frontier Award engraved where Award normally is.

The following year we almost didn't make it up to Squaw Valley in time for check in after a mishap with the shop getting the truck wired correctly to tow the trailer.  Then we didn't wake up until 20 minutes before start time, and I whipped everything on and reached the starting line at the foot of the chairlifts just as they fired the starting gun.  Yes, starting gun.  When I tell people they used to do that, no one believes me.   The fact that we went straight up a mountain at the start made a big difference in controlling the horses.  I was so relieved to finally be on the trail after everything I'd been through to get there that I burst into tears as the gun fired, everybody whooped, and 250 horses surged forward up the mountain.  The ride went well all day and I found myself riding in the teens when I left Franciscos.  I made good time and got to the quarry check to learn that the rider in front of me had just been pulled, and I was in 10th place!  I was ecstatic, but worried about another rider that I knew was not far behind.  We crossed 49 at the upper quarry back then, and when I stopped at Paige Harper Spring to water Shatir, I could hear her catching up.  After letting him drink I took off at a trot and dropped down to No Hands Bridge where my crewperson Joan had decided to meet me.   She said, "Judy, here, have a banana!", and I said, "No!  Get out of the way, I'm in tenth place and another rider is hot on my tail!!"  I took off across No hands, noticing that part of the rails were missing due to the Coffer Dam flood, but didn't slow down.

Finally she caught up and passed me and we continued to trot all the way to the last stretch to the finish line.  I thought, maybe I can still make a move to pass her at some point, but she had more horse left than me and took off at a canter with me a few lengths behind as we crossed the finish line at the overlook.  After we got off she said, "It was really important to a lot of people that this horse top ten!"  I thought, well what am I, chopped liver?"  Then a couple of weeks later I learned that it was a stallion, a Bezatel son no less, so I didn't feel so bad.  In fact, I would've felt bad if I had beat him, since most likely his stud fee went up as a result.

The next year I crewed  instead of riding, having not gotten my entry in on time to make it off the huge waiting list.  That year, '87, they started 270 riders, the most ever.  It was my year to crew since one of my crew people was finally riding, as well as another friend. The next year in '88 I was again just out of the top ten.  Between No Hands and the finish, Naomi Tyler and the famous Mustang Lady caught up with me.  The only reason she wasn't further up was because she had gotten sick and her crew made her rest for an extra hour.  That year we were finishing back at Robie Point, and a few hundred feet before the finish line, Shatir suddenly recognized where he was and took off at a canter, with Mustang Lady falling in right behind.  We rounded a bend, got blinded by a spotlight, and hit the pavement at the cul-de-sac of Robie Point with people jumping out of the way before we could stop.  The lady manning the table yelled at us to "slow down or I'm not giving you your timecards!!"  It was kind of embarrassing, but we really couldn't see.  We were 15th and 16th and had finished at the stroke of midnight.   A couple of years later Naomi and Lady came back to place second.

1989 turned out to be our year.  I had lots of crew help.  I taught them some TTouch techniques I had learned at a Linda Tellington Jones clinic I had attended the year before, and Shatir got a lot of TLC at the stops.  Three of us riders teamed up and rode the whole California Loop to the finish together, finishing 8th, 9th and a 10th place finish for me and Shatir.  It was the fastest finish of all my rides, 15 hours and 17 minutes, finishing at 11:17, which is winning time some years!  The winner, Lari Shea, was still 2 hours ahead of us, a very fast year.  It was also the last time we started from Squaw Valley.   The next day I had to wait in the sun for a long time for my turn to trot out for best condition, being the last one in 10th place.  Shatir took the opportunity to fall asleep, and I wondered if I was going to be able to wake him up enough to do a decent trot out.  This was in the small arena next to McCann stadium since there was some kind of car racing going on there.  So right in front of the audience, who were close by, he decided to spread way out like he was going to pee, but as was his habit, took a very long time before anything happened.  I suddenly realized everyone was looking at Shatir instead of whatever horse was being shown because he looked like he was colicking and having gas pains or something!  Finally he peed, and everyone applauded.   I was so relieved he wasn't colicking in front if an audience no less!  He got a bigger applause for peeing than for his trot out!

1990 was an even better year.  It was our first time starting at Robie Park.  The trail had a few minor changes to allow for the extra eight miles to Squaw Valley.  The park was really dusty and we were already pretty dirty at the start.  We massed in a clearing and started down the trail with a lot of  high spirited horses with no mountain to slow them down.  It turned out to be a very hot one that year too, which was again in my favor.  I was carrying the weights again, and when we got to the bottom of El Dorado Canyon it was 122 degrees with 70% humidity, probably the worst conditions of all my finishes.  On top of that there was a surprise weigh station there for the first twenty riders or so because of the weight rule.  While the riders I was with were able to make the 165 lb. limit without their tack, I had to stop and strip everything off Shatir and clamber on the scale in stifling heat to make the required weight.

Despite the extreme conditions, the rest of the day went well and I found myself again teamed up with two other riders in the California Loop, and we finished 6th, 7th for Shatir and I, and 8th.  By 3:00 AM there were still less than 20 riders in, so they decided to extend the finishing time for the first time ever to 6:00 to avoid massive numbers of overtime riders.  The next day, among the top ten trotting out for best condition, only three of us trotted out well, a lot of horses were very stiff due to the taxing conditions the previous day. Shatir got one of the biggest applauses, and I was very nervous at awards knowing he was in contention.  It ended out going to the horse who finished right in front of me, Harry, who had just had a down payment put on him by Marcia Smith, pending his finish.   That definitely clinched that deal.  I knew that what had mostly likely lost it for Shatir was a very sore spot where his cinch ring was, and from then on I kept it padded.

In '91 I was up for the Pacific Time Zone Team at the North American Championships in Carson City, so the Tevis ended out being one of my qualifying rides.   I rode conservatively since the Championship was only about 6 weeks later and I wanted to give him plenty of time to recover from the effects of the Tevis.  I came in 17th on Tevis and that clinched my spot on the team.  Unfortunately, we got pulled from the Championship at 80 miles in 6th place, when Shatir got a cramp in his hind end.   This was in the days before I had discovered the benefits of massage.  I again had problems with cramping at the Race of Champions 100 in Colorado the following July, but managed to massage it out and pass my final vet check, winning the Solo Championship for first to finish with no crew.  My previous practice riding Tevis crew-less had served me well.

But a month later at Tevis my luck ran out.  That year, '92, was the year it rained in camp the day before the ride and we all started with wet, cold horses.  Lots of horses got pulled before they even reached Robinson flat due to cramping and tying up.  I had decided also that year to ride him bridle-less in a lariat rope neck ring that I had bought at a Linda Tellingtion Jones clinic, and even went over Cougar Rock with it.  At Robinson I trotted out and sure enough, Shatir was off in the hind end again and I was pulled for the first time.  But I was in good company, because it turned out that several past winners got pulled there too, including Becky Hart, Erin McChesney, and Hal Hall.  But Shatir had managed to finish 8 rides in a row without getting pulled, so I didn't have too much to feel bad about.  Ironically, I ended out getting my picture in Arabian Horse World that year in their Tevis article, riding in the neck ring, so at least there was that.  After that pull I started having him worked on regularly by an equine  massage therapist, and it gave him a new lease on life.

The '93 Tevis ended out being his best finish ever, and at age 18 no less.  At the start he decided to work his way all the way to the very front of the pack for about 20 minutes, just to have delusions of grandeur and feel like a bad ass, until he remembered how far he had to go and finally slowed down and let all the hot shoes pass.  He felt great all day, and as was his habit, rested well at both one hour stops, falling almost completely asleep after he was finished eating, even through being tacked up again, and I literally had to wake him up again by slapping him on the neck so we could leave.  I had caught up with Dolly DeCair on her stallion Amadeus at Deadwood about halfway through the ride, and rode the entire rest of the ride with her.  She told me how her other famous stallion Karahty had been being bred almost every day that month, and that poor Amadeus wasn't getting much action yet, so he was ready to jump anything.  That included Shatir it turned out, and I had to keep him away from Amadeus at all the vet stops so his pulse would come down!   We also almost got skunked down by the river after disturbing a skunk that ran away from us shooting a warning shot.  We finally crossed the finish line in 4th and 5th place, and I was beside myself.  I now had only one more ride to finish to get my coveted 1000 mile buckle.

My plan for '94 was to ride conservatively to ensure my completion, but Shatir had other ideas.  As usual, we worked our way up in placement as the ride wore on and I found myself in 9th place after the quarry stop.  The rider behind me was a South African Lady riding one of Potato's horses, and she had no lights or light sticks on her breast collar, and kept thanking me profusely for lighting her way with my light sticks.  We finished 9th and 10th and I had my 1000 mile buckle!  I was disappointed to find no buckle in my case though, but that was because it was the 40th anniversary year and they didn't want to make more than they needed.  It turned out to be a very unique buckle, as only about three of us have one.  Then I took four of my previous buckles and turned them in to trade for a sterling browband for Shatir that they made into a 1000 mile browband with Shatir's name on it.  He got to wear it in '05 when I brought him up to Robie Park to accompany the horse I had entered, a Tevis horse that was given to me but ended out not passing check in.  It was worth it anyway, because Shatir dragged us around camp showing off and posing for pictures at the site of his former glory, thoroughly enjoying all the attention.  He was 30 at the time.  He passed away in '11 at age 36 in his sleep in his stall, most likely from heart failure owing to the fact he had a pretty good heart murmur, not uncommon in old horses.   He had lived a long and full life and I still miss him.  I had him for 31 years and he was one of those once in a lifetime horses that I will never forget.

Shatir in retirement, getting his morning oatmeal from Peter

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