Thursday, July 26, 2007

Teen relishing challenge of her first Tevis Cup ride

Colfax Record
By: Susie Iventosch, Colfax Record Correspondent
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Endurance.Net 2007 Coverage

2007 Tevis Webcast

Elizabeth Weston, known as Liz, is ready to ride - 100 miles on horseback during Saturday's 52nd annual Tevis Cup ride.

For her Colfax High School senior project this year, Weston, 18, learned endurance horseback riding under the tutelage of Terryl Reed, an experienced endurance rider. To qualify for entry into the Tevis Cup, a rider must complete at least 300 miles of long distance rides, each 50 miles or longer.

"This has been a life-changing experience," Weston said. "What started as a 15-hour senior project has consumed my entire summer with training. Now I'm riding in the biggest endurance event in the country. I'm nervous and sometimes can't sleep."

The first time Weston completed a 50-mile ride, "she could barely finish it," Reed reminisced. "At the 45-mile mark, she could hardly move - we had to encourage her to get back on the horse. Now, she finishes 50s with a smile on her face."

But, according to Reed, the 100-mile Tevis Cup will test Weston's desire to finish because it takes determination, fortitude and strength to complete a ride of this nature.

"I know she'll do it," Reed confidently said. "She's a very good student. And, over the past month or so, Liz and Kian have formed a bond. If you're going to ride 100 miles, the rider and the horse better get along well. They need to become one and work together as a team - like dancers."

Weston indicated that Kian, a 900-pound Arabian belonging to Reed's sister, Lori, was difficult at first.

"He was kind of a jerk but I got tough with him and now he understands me and stopped trying to take advantage of me," she explained. "I think we'll have a really good time on the ride."

Reed said the Tevis Cup is considered the No. 1 endurance ride internationally in terms of technical difficulty.

The course features miles of rocky downhill trail and hours of night riding, imposing stress on both the horse and the rider. The ride begins at the Robie Equestrian Park a few miles east of Squaw Valley, then connects to the Western States Trail and finishes at the Auburn Fairgrounds. Weston hopes to complete the ride within 24 hours, which would include 21 hours of riding and a few hours at the various rest points.

It's not unusual for the most experienced riders and horses to be pulled for a variety of reasons. In fact, the completion rate is 50 percent because horses must successfully pass several vet reviews where professionals check for pulse rates, lameness, fatigue and weight loss.

Reed said that, according to American Endurance Ride Conference data, the mental stress is unlike any other ride. Practice riding in the dark of night is a key training element for the Tevis Cup, which is always scheduled for a night with a full moon.

But this is not necessarily true of practice rides.

Weston's first solo night ride was very dark, with no moon and no one else around.

"It was spooky," she said. "You can't even see the trail but the horse can see with his good night vision." Endurance riding requires more than trail-riding skills. A well- informed crew is essential to a successful ride.

And, according to Reed the crew needs direction from the rider. As a result, Weston learned management skills, too.

"My goal was to make Liz independent and able to make her own decisions," Reed said. "She has had to convene and manage meetings with her crew so they'll understand their roles during the actual ride."

Weston has a crew of eight or so who will take care of Kian during the vet checks and resting points so she can get a break. Training the crew is all part of the experience.

"Even if Liz doesn't turn out to be an equestrian," Reed said, "she'll be able to use what she's learned throughout her life."

Though Weston grew up with horses, her real passion is the theater. She plans to attend California State University at San Francisco this fall to pursue acting and costume design. But, Weston pointed out, this has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: "I'm off to college next year, and who knows? The next time I might have a chance to do something like this is 20 or 30 years from now."

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