• James E Aarons DVM

Tevis Cup Part 2

Rory looked toward Marol, squinting to see who it was.


“It’s me, Marol! Marol Pemberton!” She announced to the hills.


She saw him nod and laugh when he recognized who it was. He waved back.


She rode to the waiting queue and dismounted, hoping he would be able to find some time to talk to her.

“Hello there. May I see your card?” the secretary interrupted Marol’s thoughts.

“Oh, sorry. Sure, here it is. What’s the pulse recovery?”

“Sixty,” he replied, as he scribbled down the time Marol entered the checkpoint. He handed the card back to her. Now that she was signed in she could have Babe’s heart rate taken to see how close it was to the required pulse. Once a horse dropped to the safe heart rate, it could be run through the vet check to look for other problems. After an hour rest period, horse and rider were free to continue.

“Marol, those folks just left the P&R station. It’s our turn,” Jen walked Gara into the roped-off area to have his heartbeat and respiratory rate written down on the rider card. Two ladies wearing medical scrubs came to Gara’s left side. The first person placed her stethoscope on his chest and counted for sixty seconds. “Sixty-eight. You need to return in ten minutes. Once the heart rate is back to sixty or below, there will be an hour-long rest here at the checkpoint.”

The tech checked Babe’s pulse. “You’re looking good,” the technician said. “Sixty, you can leave in an hour. Go over there to have the full-on vet check.”

“I’ll wait for Gara to pass,” Marol said. “Afterward, we’ll have Rory check us out. I was just thinking, Jen, if you hadn’t pushed Gara so hard, his heart rate would be down now. Or maybe he didn’t have enough rose water to drink.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We rode at the same pace for the same distance together! Remember? I didn't push him too hard, it's just the way he is. Besides, I use rose hip tea, not just stupid rose water.”

Marol laughed. “Take it easy, Jen. I was just teasing you.”

Gara passed the P&R recheck just ten minutes later.

“Follow me, Jen. Let’s finish the vet check,” Marol walked Babe towards the vet area, where the four veterinary teams were evaluating the horses. “There’s an opening. Why don't you take it? I really want to talk to Rory.”

Jen nodded her head, smiling slightly. Marol patiently waited her turn for her preferred vet.

“Hi, Rory.”

“Hey, Marol! How’s the ride going for you?”

“Pretty good,” she replied warmly, with a wide smile. “How are Jen and I, doing time-wise compared to everyone else?”

“I’m not sure. Let’s see; it’s 10:35. What time did you arrive? Oh, here it is, on your card. It says you got here at 10:22. The fastest riders came by about… what time was it, Honey?” he asked his trail secretary.

“I think the first one was here about 9:20.”

“The cut off time here is 11:00, so you’re on the slow side of the majority.”

“Oh well, looks like I’m not going to come home with any new trophies.”

“But you’ll get a belt buckle if you finish; everyone who completes the ride gets one.”

Rory began his examination by visually inspecting Marol’s horse. He walked up to Babe’s left, patting the side of her neck quite vigorously. “Hi baby, how’s my favorite girl?”

Rory continued his exam. He slid his right hand upward along the coat, ran his fingers through Babe’s mane, and presented himself to Babe in a subdued, relaxed manner. He used calming reinforcements, murmuring to the horse, giving her reassuring pats, and gentle caresses. He playfully brushed her left ear to finish his first hello and started his fifteen-point checklist.


Honey, the secretary, was ready to write the findings on the rider card. Marol stood quietly at the front of her horse, loosely holding the lead rope, letting Rory do his job. He slid his right-hand down Babe’s muzzle, and hooked his thumb under the horse’s lip, exposing the pink gums to the sunlight. Pressing his thumb onto the gums, Rory made them whiten from the pressure. He removed his thumb and counted the time it took for the red color to return, for the capillaries to refill with blood.

“Mucous membranes are pink, CRT is one second," he said.

Honey wrote the findings on Marol’s rider card. Marol moved closer towards Rory.

“Look Marol,” Rory directed, as he pushed his thumb low on Babe’s neck. “Jugular refill is two seconds… Skin tenting is great,” he grabbed some of Babe’s skin between his thumb and forefinger at the point of her shoulder. “Give this girl an “A” for skin tenting, Honey.”

Rory checked Babe's heart rate with a stethoscope, then grabbed her tail, and continued. “I check for muscle tone in the tail as I lift it and evaluate sphincter tone when I insert my thermometer into the rectum,” he explained. “Give her an “A” for Anal Tone, Honey.”

As he moved around the horse, Rory gently palpated Babe’s butt muscles as well as her back and hamstrings. “Give her a “B” for Muscle Tone. Finally, he palpated her withers and back for soreness from the saddle.

“Okay, it’s time for the lameness exam, Marol. I need you to trot Babe to the end of the lane in front of us and trot back.”

Marol shortened the lead rope, clicked at Babe, and ran with her to the end of the trotting alley. Guiding her up and back allowed Rory to see any lameness, any unevenness in the horse’s gait.

“Give her a Grade I for her gait, Honey,” Rory said, after seeing no signs of limping.

“What about wounds, Dr. Evans?” the secretary asked.

“I don’t see any,” Rory reported, as he circled the mare, briefly feeling up and down each leg.

“What about Impulsion?”

“Oh, she has a great spring to her step. Give her an “A” for Impulsion.”

“And Attitude?” Honey asked, reading down the checklist.

“Give her another ‘A.’ She's happy, unstressed, and inquisitive. Okay, Marol, everything is checked, and you’re good to continue when your rest time is complete.”

“Thanks, Doc.” Marol looked around and saw there was a line of horses and riders waiting for the vet check. Rory didn't have time to talk to her right now. She would have to catch up with him later. Marol was scheduled to leave at 11:22 but waited for Jen, biding her time in the penalized zone.

“About ready, Jen?” She asked when the time was right.

“Yep, give me another sec.” Jen fussed a moment with her saddle, hopped on, and they trotted out.

They settled into the next stage of their Tevis journey, moving from a trot into an extended canter. The only noise came from the creaking of leather, the clacking of hooves, and an occasional snort and fart. The changing terrain dictated the spacing and pace of the riders. At times the trail followed the road, allowing easy conversation. However, in many places, the paths were narrow, uneven, rutted pathways cut into the hillsides, weaving through Ponderosa Pine trees spaced between five and twenty feet apart. Other parts ran through marshy wetlands, or along treeless, sun-scorched south-facing slopes. There were the boulders, big rocks that fell from higher up, ranging in size from watermelons to Volkswagens. Wherever they appeared, the trail bent around them, complicating the path, and slowing the horses.

Marol slowed Babe to a walk when she realized the group was bunching up in front of her. Everyone was still moving, but slower. Looking ahead, she could see the trail increased in elevation becoming rockier, and narrower as it rose. The tall pines were replaced by scrubby chaparral bushes. As the angle of the slope steepened, the trail narrowed further, and, except for being chiseled through the rock, would have abruptly ended at this steep rocky point overlooking the deep canyon.

“Where are we?” Marol asked. The fellow in front of her replied as the riders waited for their turns.

“This is Pucker Point. It overlooks Screwauger Canyon. Just follow everyone else. Take it slow, and easy. Don’t worry. Enjoy the view. It’s just another rock to pass through.”

He quickly stepped his horse across the threshold showing Marol the way. She followed and entered the man-made passageway. There was a vertical rock face on their left, an uneven rock floor under their feet, and just a few feet away, on the right, a precipitous cliff with a grand view of a yawning chasm. She could see loosened rocks bouncing down the canyon wall and falling a long way before smashing on the bottom.

“Remember, just another rock to go over.” What the fellow said made sense, and although Marol did appreciate the view, she couldn’t convince herself to enjoy it. Maybe next year, she thought. She took it slow and easy, and Babe successfully stepped her way across the rocky surface without losing cadence. Marol held her breath until the clinking of horseshoes against granite gave way to the familiar dull thud of feet on good old dirt.

For a while, the trail widened, and the women were able to ride abreast again. Just after 2:30 PM, the women, entered the P&R check at a place called Last Chance. It was the halfway point. Dismounting, they waited their turn while the horses enthusiastically sucked water from the trough.

“What’s the pulse recovery here?” Jen asked, as their turn came.

“Sixty-four.”

“What is Gara’s pulse?”

“Sixty-four. You can proceed without delay.” The last few miles the ride had been smooth, and the horses were doing well. This stop was just a check without a rest time. Babe also passed on her first test.

The trail leaving Last Chance dropped quickly. They followed two miles of zigzagging switchbacks, descending downward two thousand feet into the densely wooded canyon of one of the umpteenth forks of the American River. The pace was slow; the path was narrow, rocky, slippery, and steep. Some riders, nervous about the dicey descent, jumped off their mounts and ran down, leading their horses. The distant rumble of churning water increased in volume to a low thunder as Marol and Jen approached the bottom.

“We suggest everyone dismount and walk singly across the bridge,” a trail steward in an orange vest informed them. Marol looked up to see a queue developing at the bottom of the trail.

“Oh, I remember this,” Jen reported ominously.

The bridge was a seventy-foot long swinging bridge made of wood and held up by cables. There were two layers of flooring, thick wood slats that went from side to side, and extended planks lying on top of the slats that stretched from one bank to the other. Safety side rails of thick rope ran from end to end on both sides of the bridge. It swung fifty feet above the foaming, gurgling crystal-clear water of the American River.

When the fellow in front of her cleared the bridge, Marol walked up to the approach. The trail steward gave her a pep talk. “You have the bridge to yourself, but it will start to rock when you are halfway across. Lead your horse, walking by her side. When you feel the bridge move, stay calm and lead her purposefully. If she should bolt, you won't be trampled if you are walking at her side.”

Marol was having doubts. “Do you want to go first, Jen?”

“No, you’re in the lead, Marol. You’re doing great. I’ll see you on the other side.” Just like Cougar Rock and Pucker Point, the Swinging Bridge was another daunting, although doable feat on the Tevis obstacle course. “Just give her a chance,”

”Jen said. “Don’t be uncertain; you'll undermine her confidence.”

Marol wasn't sure about this unsafe looking bridge, but it was time to go. The bridge stopped swinging a few minutes after the man and horse in front of her finished crossing.

Standing next to her horse’s shoulder, she shortened the lead rope and gently tugged it, coaxing Babe to take her first step onto the wooden plank. Marol made clicking noises with her tongue and increased the pull on the lead rope until Babe tentatively touched the first wooden plank with her right front hoof. The duo began a careful walk across the Swinging Bridge.

To Jen, watching from behind, Marol appeared stiff. She needs to relax, Jen thought, take some deep breaths, and exude confidence.

But Marol could not relax. Every breath she took was shallow and quick. Every step she made was tentative. She could do this; she had to do this. Disregarding the ominous feeling of impending disaster, Marol guided Babe on a slow and steady, straight path down the center of the bridge. They did well, making the first quarter of the way across without slowing.

She could feel the bridge sag downward as they approached the lowest spot. Suddenly, just after the halfway point, the bridge began to sway. It was almost imperceptible at first, but each step they took worsened the movement. By the time they were at the three-quarter mark, a stiff breeze had turned the sway into a swing.

Suddenly Babe snorted. Both ears went straight up, and her even, straight steps quickly became uneven and uncertain. She was in a place where she didn’t want to be, and her instincts told her it was time to flee. Babe dropped her head and bolted toward the end of the bridge, pulling the lead rope from Marol's gloved hands. Evidently, this was a regular occurrence because no one became alarmed. The trail steward at the exit end grabbed the rope as the horse stepped onto solid ground.

“Thank you,” Marol said to the fellow when she stepped off the bridge with relief. He handed the lead rope to her, and she found an out of the way spot to watch Jen and Gara.

They were right behind. “If you worked her harder earlier,” Jen stated as she stepped off the bridge, “as I did with Gara, you might not have had that blowup.”

That was it. Jen had finally pissed Marol off. “For god's sake, why are you so fucking bossy?”

Before Jen could answer, Marol realized she hadn’t eaten yet, unzipped a small bag on the saddle seat, pulled out two candy bars, and handed one to Jen. “Sorry about that, Jen, I think I'm just hungry. Here's a peace offering.”

“Oh, thanks Marol,” Jen said, “I'm hungry too.” They smiled at each other as they took a moment to eat their snacks.

“Well, girlfriend. It’s time to go.” Marol felt better after finishing the candy bar. Both women remounted and began the long upward climb out of the canyon. The horses often rested along the switchbacks on the way up.

“Look, you can see Devil’s Thumb. We’re almost to the top,” Jen said, as she pointed up to a fifty-foot tall volcanic cone on the ridge above them.

Twilight turned to inky blackness as the riders made their way to the finish. Here and there, glow sticks were placed along the trail, illuminating the route. At 1:35 AM, Marol and Jen arrived at Auburn fairgrounds a lot later than they planned.





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