August 31, 2013, San Francisco ~
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
160 riders left Robie Park, Lake Tahoe, at 5:15 in the morning of August 20, 2013, for the 100-mile challenge of the Tevis Western States Trail. The Tevis is many things; a personal challenge, a commitment to persevere, and certainly, a test of endurance.
This is not a trail for the faint of heart. Starting at 7,200 feet elevation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the trail climbs another 1,500 feet in the first 15 miles to Emigrant Pass, which is just 300 feet shy of the highest point in the Granite Chief Wilderness at 9,010 feet or 2,760 meters above sea level.
Jennifer Waitte was riding M Dash Czoe (KA Czubathan x CG Tufnut), a horse she bred for endurance. Waitte and riding partner, Jenni Smith, on Waitte’s horse, M Dash Stellar (ES Dakota x Sam Tiki), were riding their third Tevis together.
“My goal this year was just to finish, as I was pulled last year at Franciscos (at 85 miles) on Czoe,” said Waitte. “Jenni and I know our riding pace, and we anticipated we would finish in the top 20 and maybe the back of top 10.
The two Jenns got a good position from the start. “If a rider is going to ride competitively, I think it’s important to start out near the front of the pack and create some room for yourself going through Granite Chief,” said Waitte. “It’s very difficult to go through this section stuck behind a slower horse. There is little opportunity to pass and it wastes a lot of time.”
Twenty miles into the trail and 6,500 feet above sea level, horses and riders climb over the daunting giant boulder called Cougar Rock, a popular photo-op location to prove you have conquered the Tevis trail.
For the next 40 miles, there are check points named by the intrepid gold miners of the past: Dusty Corners, Last Chance, and Deadwood. After 50 miles. there are the canyons. Winding trails descend and rise over 2,000 feet for the next 13 miles. This section of trail is hot, steep, narrow, and unforgiving.
How did they train for the day’s extreme canyon temperatures and the tortuous trail in the dark?
“You must do a lot of heat training,” said Waitte. “There is no adjusting to the heat – horse and rider need to be able to perform in it. Riding at night — you must ride in the dark. Horses can see just fine. Headlamps interfere with the horse’s night vision and they are very annoying to other riders. Pacing—important. Jenni and I paced every step of the race. Barefoot and boots – the best piece of equipment I have for my horses, especially for the Tevis trail.”
Train and Prepare
Waitte said that both horses had good completions in three AERC CEI** rides (75 miles each). “The goal this year was to work the horses up through the FEI star system and get some longer-distance rides in as Tevis preps,” she said.
How important was the crew?
“Crew is essential”, said Waitte. “We had 11 crew members led by my husband, Barry.
We gave our crew ETAs (estimated time of arrival) for each check point. We came into Robinson Flat at the anticipated time but then came in ahead of schedule to the other check points.”
Waitte’s horse pulsed down and they left the 69-mile Vet Check at Foresthill ahead of Smith. “Separating the horses at Foresthill worked to our benefit,” said Waitte. “Stella is a very smart horse and needs to be kept motivated. When Czoe and I left the VC ahead of Jenni and Stella, she pitched a fit about being left behind. It re-energized her and she caught up with us again.”
The trail remains at about 750 feet elevation after you leave Francisco’s at 85 miles and cross the American River at Poverty Bar, climbing back up to 1,200 feet for the last four miles to the Auburn finish.
Waitte and Smith left the last VC with no one ahead of them. About 7 miles from the finish line Rusty Toth riding Take A Break blasted past them, going on to finish in first place at 10:12 pm.
“We left the quarry ahead of him (Toth), and were almost to the highway 49 crossing when he galloped past us and kept going,” said Waitte. “We did not even consider chasing him. We had already surpassed our expectations for this ride and were not willing to risk getting pulled at the finish. We knew we were finishing with our horses in good condition.”
Jennifer Waitte finished the 2013 Tevis at 10:29 pm in second place, her sixth completion with 10 starts, beating her other best time by over 3 hours. Smith arrived seconds after Waitte in third place.
Seventy-five riders completed the ride for a buckle award.
The second and third place finishes by her horses were sweeter for the fact that these are home-bred. Waitte purchased CG Tufnut specifically to breed to KA Czubuthan, and M Dash Stellar was in utero when she bought ES Dakota in foal to Sam Tiki from Cre-Run in 2003.
And the next endurance goal?
“Jenni and I are hoping to complete our CEI*** and COC requirement and do Tevis again.”
Any advice to share on riding the Tevis?
“The most important advice I can give is to know your horse. Know what he/she is capable of. Know his/her threshhold. Know how his/her body responds to fatigue. Know his individual red flags.”
Jennifer and her partner Barry Waitte, whom she married in 2012, own Tamber Bey Vineyards in Napa Valley. They produce estate-grown wines, and their endurance horses live on the winery property in Calistoga.
“Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” -by Eleanor Roosevelt’s uncle, Teddy Roosevelt.