Saturday, August 05, 2023

2023 Tevis Cup - Mark Montgomery

August 2 2032
by Mark Montgomery

Mark Montgomery and his mustang MM Gus finished in 8th place

Tevis 2023 - almost didn't happen for me this year. My horse Gus came up lame just three days before the ride. I called my crew, and the Tevis office to let them know we were out. My wife Linda DVM couldn't find anything obvious causing the lameness, so she recommended pulling the shoes. Upon doing so, I found that the N/G shoes had cupped, causing sole pressure. I ground out more sole and put the EasyCare Flex shoes on him, which are more ridged than the N/Gs. Gus instantly went from lame to almost 100% sound, but he was still slightly off. His sole was still sore. It's now Wednesday evening. I start calling farmer friends, looking for Vet Tec, to add sole protection. Scotty Mayfield came to the rescue. He had a tube of Vet Tec and the applicator, and he gave me a demonstration on how to apply it. A huge Thank You to Scotty. We are good to go, and back in it. Woody has had great success for years with the EasyCare N/Gs, but Gus is more flat footed, and needs a shoe with more support.

Do to the depth of the snow over the top of the Sierras, this year the ride started at Soda Springs, in the dark, early Saturday morning. The first part of the trail was a long downhill road, starting with pavement, then changing to gravel, then to dirt. My friend from Israel, Ilan Dvir, was riding my mustang Woody. Woody is very competitive, and can be very difficult to ride, but Ilan is an excellent horseman and rider. The plan was to use Gus as a blocker, to slow Woody down. Ilan is also very competitive. They got ahead of Gus and I, and started working their way through all the riders in front of us. We were doing our best to keep them in sight. When we got to the bottom of the canyon I asked a spectator “How many are in front of us?”. He said “Nobody, you’re it”. We climbed to the top of Lyon Ridge, where Todd Barnum and crew were managing the trot by and water stop. While our horses were drinking, I jumped of and gave them their electrolytes that I carried in my backpack, along with some extra shoes, a hammer, and some nails, incase they lost a shoe. We headed out of this stop just as other riders were starting to arrive.

Ilan and Woody were leading the way, and as we approached Cougar Rock, Ilan and Woody were having a disagreement on which way to go, over the Rock, or go around on the bypass trail. Last year I let Woody choose, and he chose the bypass. Ilan won the argument, so over The Rock we went. The ride photographer was not expecting to see riders so soon, and was not quite ready yet, consequently our pictures are a little fuzzy. Sorry Bill, I should have yelled that we were coming.

Woody is known for his big spooks, at high speed, resulting in the rider (usually me) hitting the ground. That’s why I always hold on to my Oh Shit Strap while riding him. We left Cougar Rock with about a ten minute lead on the other riders, with Ilan in the front. As they flew around a blind corner, a man with a camera stood up from behind a bush, causing Woody to spook, a duck and spin, resulting in Ilan falling off. The ridge and the trail was heading West, but Woody took off, heading North, down off the ridge, over an almost vertical 300’ drop, and disappeared into the timber below. I stayed on Gus, at the edge of the cliff, while Ilan climbed down the bank in pursuit. A short time later I hear him yell “Got him”, and they climbed back up to the trail. I asked how he was able to catch him so easily, expecting Woody to run clear to the next vet check at Red Star. He said that he approached him as if he was another horse, bobbing his head, with a non confrontal slouched posture. It worked, and we are back on trail, just as three riders pass us. Ilan and Woody were able to pass, putting them back in 1st place. Gus and I were content to follow the three riders at a more moderate pace, so we came into Red Star in 5th place. I pulled tack, and got water on Gus, and his heart rate was immediately down to criteria. One of my highlights of my ride was looking over and seeing Chuck Stalley hand feeding Woody some hay. With support like that, I knew it was going to be a great day. We left Red Star in 1st place, and came into Robinson Flat fast, with a good lead on second place. At Robinson, Gus pulsed down almost immediately again, so off we go to vet through. Our vet at this stop was Mike Peralez DVM, the head vet for the ride. As he preformed the CRI, Gus’s first pulse was 48. After the trot out and back, Mike checked his pulse again. He looked at me and smiled with amazement, Gus’s pulse was 44. I jokingly said “You better check that Again”. Mike gave us the green light to proceed. Unfortunately, Woody was off at this vet check, and was pulled. Could he have injured himself earlier, running down that embankment, who knows, but he was 100% sound when we trotted him out the next day at the Auburn Fair Grounds.

Gus and I kept a good fast pace heading down the trail, only slowing down for the steep downhills. As we came into the Dusty Corners water stop, a volunteer commented how good Gus looked as she handed me a slice of watermelon and I offered Gus a drink. He was not interested in drinking at that time, and we took off down the trail as we see other riders coming fast into this stop. As we leave, the volunteer yelled “Only 4.9 miles to the next check at Last Chance.” Gus and I were in sync, flying down the single track trail as one body. He was on auto pilot, only slowing to a trot for brief moments when necessary, for our safety. I did take a glance down off the cliff at Pucker Point as we flew by, thinking that it would be the end of us if we went off there. There were fresh bear tracks in the trail, and we were lucky that we didn’t encounter a bear while cantering around those blind corners, on that narrow trail, with a drop off on one side.

We came into Last Chance with a good lead, and Gus looking great. He ate and drank, and vetted through right away, so off we go, heading down into the first canyon. I usually get off and run this section, but my left knee was starting to give me trouble, so I stayed on. In the past, I’ve always taken my horses into the river for a swim below Swinging Bridge. It was still early in the day, it wasn’t hot yet, and Gus didn’t seem hot or tired, so we skipped the river, and across the bridge we go. The climb to Devils Thumb is brutal. I consider it the toughest part of the ride, so when I could start to hear Gus breathing, I would get off and lead him. By the time I got to the top, I was beat. I could hear Greg Kimber and other volunteers offering encouraging words, but I was too exhausted to look up and acknowledge them, we were heading for the water trough, where we were treated with more volunteers with treats and cooling sponges.

Our next vet check is Deadwood, only a mile down the trail. We quickly vetted though, and down into the second canyon we go, at a fast trot, only slowing down for the steep sections. So much work has been done to improve the Tevis trail, and this section was no exception. We felt very safe, as much of the trail has been widened. Seeing all the chainsaw work that had been done was amazing. So many huge dead trees from last year’s fire had been cut out of the way. This will be an ongoing project for years to come, as more dead trees fall.

As we neared the top of Eldorado Canyon, Gus was getting hot, so I jumped off at the last creek crossing before Michigan Bluff, to cool him off. As I was pouring water on him, two riders passed us. I figured that cooling my horse was far more important than maintaining our 1st place position. We left Michigan Bluff and came into the next vet check at Chicken Hawk in third place. Gus pulsed down right away, and we probably could have left Chicken Hawk in the lead, but Gus was finally starting to get an apatite, so we stayed a little longer to let him eat. I lost track of how many riders passed us at this check while Gus was eating. I think that there were about five out areas of us.

Coming up Bath Road was perfect. My crew were amazing. Ilan and his son Rotem met us part way down the road with a gallon jug of ice water. I was pouring it on Gus and drinking it as we trotted up the road to the rest of our crew. I said to my crew“Get Gus straight to the P&R person”, as from past experience, I know his heart rate will be down. He was down right away, and that put us leaving Forest Hill in third place, just four minutes behind first. While at this check, I noticed that he had lost his Vet Tec padding. Luckily, the farier, Joby Souza, was there to apply more.

The next section of trail goes right through downtown Forest Hill, on pavement. We quickly caught and passed the next rider, putting us in second place. Dropping down the switchbacks, I could see the lead rider about a minute ahead of us. We caught her just beforee the Cal 2 water stop, and we led the way down the switchbacks from Cal 2 to the river. We were flying, but we couldn’t out run them. Turns out, it was Jenna and Kong, they are an amazing team. We rode together for a while, trading off the first place position.

About a mile from Franciscos, three other riders caught up to us. They were trotting fast down the road. Gus wanted to go with them, but my knee was done. I could not go that speed any longer. I had to turn Gus in a circle to slow him down to a walk. My knee was swollen, and the skin had worn off where it rubbed on the saddle. We came into Franciscos a couple minutes behind the group of four. Gus pulsed down right away again, but he was breathing hard, and I was exhausted. I could not keep up that pace any longer, and at that point I realized that we weren’t going to win, and resigned to shooting for a Top Ten finish. We stayed a little extra long at this check so we could both get our strength back. I was feeling really overheated at this point and the volunteers were wonderful helping to get me prepared to hit the trail again. Another rider passed us while we were resting in the vet check, putting us in 6th place.

The next section of trail had to be re routed up Drivers Flat Road, a 2 1/2 mile steep climb to the top. As we passed the usual single track trail to the left,, that goes to the river crossing, Gus looked at at me saying “You are going the wrong way, we are supposed to turn here”. He lost his motivation at that point, and we walked all the way to the top. Our crew was waiting for us at the top, a welcome site for sure. They cooled Gus while I rested. Gus remained unmotivated for the next several miles. He knew we had missed a turn, as he had done this ride once before, with a junior rider, Rotem, in 2019. It’s amazing how they remember the trail. While we were jogging down the trail, two other riders caught and passed us, putting us in 8th place. Gus stayed with them for a while but finally let them go. At this point, I was exhausted, and my poor riding form was taking it’s toll on Gus. I was riding with both hands on the pommel of the saddle to help relieve the pressure on my knee, just letting the reins go free on his neck. The new re route of the trail seemed to go on forever. Finally, just before dark, we reached the highway crossing at the Forest Hill bridge, and we were passed by another rider, putting us in 9th place.

The long steep descend down to the confluence of the North and middle forks of the American rivers brought us to the final vet check before the finish line. Gus vetted through right away again, but just as I mounted up to leave, he decides that he wanted to stay and eat hay. Every couple minutes I would suggest that we really need to get going, and he would just keep eating, so I let him, knowing that we would probably be passed by other riders. Finally he had enough hay and we were back on the trail. Just before No Hands Bridge, my crew found me and let me know that two riders were coming up fast behind us. When Gus got to No Hands Bridge, he new where we were, he wasn’t lost any more, and we flew at a fast canter. He had been dogging it for the last couple hours, and now he had a renewed energy. We quickly caught the 8th place rider, putting us in 8th place, but we could hear the other two riders, in the dark, pushing hard to catch us, all the way to the finish line. They crossed the line less than a minute behind us. Gus cantered most of the lap around the track at the stadium. He felt and looked great at the finish, and at the Best Condition showing the next morning. I was in no condition to show him. Thanks Caroline De Bourbon for showing him for BC for me, you did an excellent job.

My crew was great, they could not have done any better. I was spoiled all day. They went above and beyond to be everywhere for me. A huge Thank You to Karen Gardella, Shane Lesher and his wife Angie, Amy Rawlins, Ilan and Rotem Dvir, and my wife Linda DVM, and Mike Shaper for moving my rig from Soda Springs to Auburn.

Chuck Stalley and his crew of volunteers did an amazing job to make this ride happen, from dealing with the mess from the fire last summer, to re routing the trail because the river was too high to cross, to all of the work done to make the trail as safe as possible. The Traill was the best that I’ve seen it - Outstanding job guys. And as always, the vets were great keeping all the horses safe.

A huge Thank You to everyone.

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