This story is reprinted with permission by Heidi Dahms
Managing Editor, Prescott Valley Tribune
Prescott Valley, AZ
Last year rider John DiPietra and his horse lost a nose-to-nose race to the finish line in Dewey`s Man Against Horse Race. This year he won. Kim Abbott wasn`t in the top ten, but she finished Saturday`s race on a healthy horse, and for her and 15 year-old Arabian stallion "Fire Ari," it was one of the mini-dramas within the 15th annual race. As Abbott neared the finish line in the 50-mile division of the race, tired, athletically lean horses snoozed or grazed next to trailers, campers and tents at the Man Against Horse campsite just south of Highway 89A on Fain Road. A few diehard fans and race officials waited for the final runners and riders. Everyone watched a helicoptor land near the highway to air-evac one rider whose horse stumbled on Mingus Mountain and rolled over the top of her, possibly fracturing her pelvis. Earlier that morning, another rider fell from her horse at the start of the 25-mile division, fracturing her ankle and skull, even though she wore a protective helmet. As in any sport, the riders know injuries are possible. They take precautions, and move on. But injuries do "On a good day, I`m an intermediate (rider). On a bad day, I hang on and pray," said Sharon Satterwhite, a rider who was in eighth place until her horse lost a shoe on the trail. It was Abbott and Fire Ari who trailed the evacuated rider`s slightly lame horse as they crossed the finish line. Abbott and her friend and riding partner, Phoenix veterinarian Rick Poteste, walked the horse for the last seven miles of the race so he wouldn`t injure himself further. "We were coming down the mountain, and someone asked us if we knew where the injured rider was. I carried in the medical bag and Rick carried in the stretcher," Abbott said. The injured woman`s husband asked the two to bring her horse in. Endurance riders just help out, she said, even in a race. Fire Ari, a grandson of the famous Arabian stallion Bask, is small-built, lean and athletic. He doesn`t look mean, but he has a sort of no nonsense get-up-and-go intensity about him, even after trekking 50 miles up Mingus Mountain and back in less than 10 hours. Abbott found the intense little stallion in a 16x16-foot pen in Phoenix. She made a deal with his owner to take him and breed him to her friend`s daughter`s mare. The owner warned her that no one could ride Fire, he bucked them all off. When she fell in love with the little Arabian and approached the owner to sell him, the man made her sign a release. "...so I wouldn`t sue him when (Fire) killed me," Abbott said with disbelief. Fire has never bucked with Abbott, she said. Instead, she fed him lots of carrots, bonded with him, and gave him a job to do. He returns the favor with a lot of heart and surprisingly good manners, evidenced by his apparent disregard for the horse tethered to him for the last seven miles of Saturday`s race. Abbott rode one 50-mile race with Fire, and then put the biggest challenge of his life to the little horse - she would attempt the Tevis Cup, the annual 100-mile mother-of-all-endurance-rides that spans a rugged portion of the Western States Trail from Salt Lake City, Utah to Sacramento, Calif. Two hundred and nineteen riders started. Only 121 completed the ride. Abbott and Fire Ari were the 121st team to finish, completing the ride within the required 24 hour limit. The Tevis Cup Homepage on the Internet now lists Abbot`s name among the 1998 finishers. Endurance riding is tough and emotional, and Abbott teared up as she told Fire`s story. "He was built to do this," she said. So is Abbott. A petite, obviously fit woman, she climbs the Valley`s Squaw Peak three times each week to stay fit. On Saturday, she wore riding pants, tank top, and light hiking boots. In some places on Mingus, she had to get off her horse, and send him up the mountain while she held on to his tail and climbed behind, a maneuver endurance riders call "tailing," and another evidence of Fire`s good manners. Dennis Poolheco of Glendale won the "man" part of the 50-mile race, finishing in seven hours, nine minutes. "He would pass us at vet checks. He was incredible," said Holly Meltesen, second place finisher in the horse division, of Poolheco. "We got lost with him at one point, and then we all turned around together." Race Director Ron Barrett said 40 runners and riders entered the 50-mile division of the race this year, 130 started the 25-mile division, and 75 began the 12 mile division. The ride is a fundraiser for the Yavapai County Sheriff`s Department Search and Rescue organization, and race officials will also donate some money to another local charity, Barrett said. The courses run in a loop from Fain Road, up Mingus Mountain (to the top for the 50-mile division) and back. After finishing Saturday`s race, Abbott and Poteste returned their horses to their campsite, sponged them off, watered them, and let them rest before the fourth and final veterinary check of the day. Riders must complete the check within an hour of crossing the finish line. Before race officials declared Abbott and Fire`s time official, the horse`s heart rate, stomach sounds, legs, back and other indicators of health all had to check within the acceptable range. He passed, and Abbott sigh ed with relief and happiness. Not only did her little "miracle horse" finish his race, but Dana Fife, a Phoenix man who boards his horse at her stable, finished third on his Morgan horse. Because Arabians are traditionally the ride of choice for endurance enthusiasts, Abbott said, that made the Morgan`s stellar finish that much sweeter. By 5 p.m., Fire Ari looked unfazed by his 50-mile trek over Mingus Mountain. He took a long drink as he passed a communal camp water tank, and then looked for his evening meal.