Monday, August 08, 2005

Riding in Memory

By CAROLYNN BRIGHT - IR Staff Writer - 8/08/05

Helena woman keeps vow to dying sister, by finishing 100-mile horse race

Bobbie Pomroy's family was waiting to congratulate her as she crossed the finish line at the Tevis Cup in California recently, with one notable exception ? her sister, Wanda Allen.

Jon Ebelt IR Staff Photographer - Montana City's Bobbie Pomroy recently completed a one-day grueling horse race that covered 100 miles of tough California terrain including such challenges as 100-degree heat, crossing rivers and maneuvering past a swing bridge.

Allen succumbed to lung cancer in 2001, leaving Pomroy to carry out her dream of riding her Arabian, Hopper, in the annual, daylong endurance race that travels the 100 miles between Lake Tahoe and Auburn.

"I told her I'd take her horse to the Tevis Cup and she sort of laughed," Pomroy said, her eyes misting over with tears as she recalled the conversation with her dying sister, and the promise she made.

Looking back, Pomroy admits that the solemn vow was somewhat laughable given that her riding experience at the time was next to none.

"She was the horse person," Pomroy said. "I was the runner."

And Pomroy is no recreational jogger. In fact, she has competed in several ultra-marathons over the years, including one that covers the same ground as the Tevis Cup ? six times.

Pomroy is credited with founding the Elkhorn Mountain Endurance Run with the aid of her husband, Jim.

Pomroy is still a runner, but she put ultra-marathons on the backburner while she learned to ride the spirited horse that her sister brought home as a yearling and trained.

It took Pomroy four years ? including countless hours of riding, and a lot of bumps and bruises ? to get herself and Hopper prepared and qualified for the strenuous ride.

"For the first couple of years, it was a chore to go out and ride," she said. "Now, I wake up and think, ?I get to go out and ride."'

However, at 5:15 a.m. on race day, Pomroy wasn't too sure about what she had gotten herself into.

"It was scary at the start," Pomroy said.

She explained that the 199 horse/rider teams were separated into three groups ? she threw her lot in with the highly competitive teams so she could get ahead of the pack and leave the more unpredictable horses behind.

However, the start was still a cramped, mad dash in the beginning, and Hopper had a tendency to kick should another horse get too close.

Just the same, Pomroy said it wasn't long before she and Hopper established their place in the pack, allowing them to concentrate on the obstacles that stood between them and the finish line.

One such obstacle was a swinging bridge that the pair had to cross.

"She had never done anything like that before," said Pomroy, who explained that Hooper quickly accepted the swaying motion of the bridge as she trotted across, Pomroy leading the way.

Next was the treacherous stretch of trail that the team had to cross at night, in the dark.

Pomroy explained that riders weren't allowed to use headlamps because the harsh light might blind the animals, so many people used glow sticks to illuminate the path.

Pomroy and Hopper chose to forge ahead without any such aid, with Hopper feeling her way along the route which bordered a steep ravine.

"I kept telling her, ?Careful girl. Pay attention. You're such a good girl,'" Pomroy said.

Then, Pomroy was nervous about crossing the American River, only a few miles from the finish line.

She recalls watching the horse ahead of her ? at least two or three hands taller than 14-hand Hopper ? get shorter and shorter as it walked into the water.

But Hopper forged ahead, swimming when she had to, Pomroy said.

Above all the obstacles, Pomroy dreaded the oppressive heat most. In the valleys, temperatures soared to well above 100 degrees at times.

According to Pomroy, her bargain with Hopper was that she would dismount and run the valley portions and ride out of the steep ravines in an effort to help Hopper beat the heat and fatigue that Pomroy knew would surely set in.

Pomroy says her heart dropped when, on the way out of one of the canyons, Hopper let out a huge sigh and stopped moving. Pomroy pushed her on, but Hopper stopped again.

At that point, Pomroy jumped off Hopper and ran alongside her until they reached the crest of the ravine.

"After that, she was fine," said Pomroy, adding that she almost believes Hopper's break on the trail was really a way of gauging Pomroy's commitment to finishing the race, and to Hopper. She passed.

Looking back, Pomroy thinks her sister might have had a good laugh at seeing her hoof it out of the canyon as she had in past ultra-marathons, but this time, with Hopper in tow.

According to Pomroy, all the years of training, and the stress of the actual race, were well worth it when the finish line came into view.

"It was absolutely wonderful," she said. "My family was there and I know my sister was there in spirit."

Sitting in her desk at the Montana Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation office last week ? her inner thigh and leg still raw from being chafed by the saddle ? Pomroy could honestly say she was content.

"We did it," she said.

Now, Pomroy said, she just has to choose her next challenge.

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