Sunday, July 24, 2005

Tevis Trek Goes Hi-Tech



Ride's tone changing from cowboy hats to molded saddles, GPS

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
Sunday, July 24, 2005 4:05 AM PDT

Jogging his horse DWA Sabku into the Foresthill checkpoint of the annual 100-mile Tevis Cup Ride, Christoph Schork, of Moab, Utah, wears high-tech sport clothing and a helmet as opposed to the cowboy attire used in the early years of the 51-year-old ride. Photo by Karina Williams/Auburn Journal

The Tevis 100-mile endurance ride is more than just one rider, one horse these days.

In its 51st year, the ride this weekend is a parade of high-tech equipment far removed from the 1950s and 1960s, when riders in cowboy hats, boots and western shirts spurred their mounts on the trail.

Many of today's horses sport saddles padded with the same shock-absorbing materials runners pound the pavement with in the soles of their shoes. Their horseshoes can be just as much a plastic composite as steel. And for several years now, Tevis horses have been guzzling electrolyte drinks similar to Gatorade, as they make their way from Robie Equestrian Park, south of Truckee, to Auburn.

High in feather-light, injection-molded saddles, riders' cowboy hats have been doffed in favor of lightweight helmets, padded and protective trail-running shoes have replaced cowboy boots, and running tights, shorts and sweat-wicking shirts from the endurance running world have replaced the jeans and pearl-buttoned Western wear of yore.

For many horse-rider teams navigating the twists and turns, ups and down, and heat and cold of the Sierra, a global positioning system and heart-rate monitor are standard equipment. And canteens have given way to plastic bladders with flexible straws strapped to the back of riders.

Pilot Hill's Steve Elliott was on the sidelines during this weekend's Tevis Ride, but as owner of Equine Performance Products he's on the cutting edge of many equestrian innovations. Elliott's working with a design factory in Italy on a new, high-tech saddle and was one of the early champions of GPS and heart-rate monitoring for horses.

"It's like an onboard black box," he said.

Elliott sees opportunities in the future to increase nutrition. Horses, like their human counterparts, are already gulping down glucosamine to strengthen and rebuild cartilage.

But when the starting line is staring a rider in the face and a horse is prancing in the first light of dawn to set out, all the accoutrements of the modern world take second fiddle to some basic tenets.

"It all comes down to good conditioning and luck," Elliott said.

That means some of the high-tech tools are finding some resistance from riders in an event that is steeped in tradition.

Three-time Tevis winner Hal Hall of Auburn, one of the veterans of the Tevis trail, doesn't use GPS but will strap a heart-rate monitor on his horse occasionally.

Like many riders, he's a purist on the trail during the Tevis - riding not only to test his own mettle and the endurance of his horse, but riding against the best equestrians the event has put on the route over five decades.

"I don't want to be regimented by a number," Hall said. "They can't tell us if our horse has a stomach ache or a sore foot."

Hall was trying something new on this year's ride - reflective clothing designed to keep the UV rays off the body.

Two-time champion Potato Richardson of Greenwood distances himself from the GPS crowd, who can track distance, elevations and temperatures with an onboard unit.

"When I go out, I just want to have a good ride," Richardson said. "When someone says 'How far did you go?' I say 'I don't know.' Instead of more gadgets, I want to get to know the horse."

Virginia rider John Crandell III, said he's played with the monitors and GPS systems but would rather be reading a twitch of a horse's ear than a digital read-out.

"When the metal hits the road, I'm a minimalist," Crandell said. "Sometimes the numbers can distract you."

Cool's Erin Klentos, another two-time Tevis winner, said that GPS is a benefit for on remote trails but in and around the Western States, she has no need because she's ridden those trails all her life.

"And I didn't inherit my mother's ability to lose her car in a parking lot," Klentos added.

The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com

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