The Tevis 2011* It’s always an adventure! by Nick Warhol

The Tevis 2011*   It’s always an adventure!

(* The Tevis with an asterisk)

This ride just seemed like it did not want to want to be held.  It was supposed to happen in the summer, but there was too much snow in the Sierra to allow it.   Something like 10 feet was still standing in and around Robinson Flat in August, and Squaw Valley had a reported 700 inches this winter, which is something like 60 feet of snow?   That’s a bigger snowpack than a lot of ski lift towers are high!  It sure would not work for the horses.   Rather than cancel, those dedicated WSTF people made the call to move the ride to October 8th- a very daring move to say the least.  There were concerns about the fewer daylight hours, the campgrounds, the cold, and perhaps would it rain?  Yeah, that turned out to be the biggie.   Not only did it rain all over northern California, but it snowed, again, in the Mountains.   Not your nice, light, fluffy dusting of powder.  No sir- this was a storm that dumped between 2 and 3 feet at the upper elevations.   In October?   It’s the Donner party all over again.  At least that’s what I thought when on Thursday afternoon I nervously looked up at the ski runs at Squaw Valley that were covered in snow, just begging for skiers, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Lucky for me I was really sick the weekend before the ride.  So sick that I would not have been able to go if it had been a week later.  Sometimes my luck works out in the right direction!   I felt a little funky on Wednesday, but not enough to keep me away from the ride.  (I just wired up a box of Kleenex and a bottle of DayQuil  on the front of my saddle.)  Donnie and I are having our best ever year and he’s in splendid shape.   My wife Judy once again “volunteered” to crew for me and my Donnie on my ninth start, Donnie’s fourth.   He’s three for three here- twice under me and once under Judy.  The deal is if Judy crews for me at Tevis I get to crew for her at 5 other rides during the year (if I don’t ride)  It’s a fair deal, since crewing at Tevis is more work than riding it.  Our best buddy Becky Glaser also joined in to provide the much needed second vehicle, as well as giving Judy a hand.  It’s SO nice to have a crew, especially these people with such experience.   They just know what to do.

We tried to pack up and leave for the ride Thursday morning as we usually do, but we found ourselves watching a movie in the house while the rain poured outside our home in Hayward.   I wasn’t packing up in this.  I kept looking at the road conditions- highway 80 was still open without chains amazingly enough.  (I ordered some for the trailer a couple of days before we left, just in case.  You know- If you have ‘em you won’t need ‘em.)   At about 10:30am it let up and blue sky appeared.   We tossed our stuff in the rig, loaded up the boy and set forth in the mighty Pony Tug wondering what we were in for.   The trip up was completely uneventful until we started climbing the Sierra.   It was blue sky and clear all the way, with roads open, but the snow on the ground in the mountains started about 3000 feet.  It kept getting deeper and deeper, until at the Donner summit there was easily 2 plus feet on the ground.  It looked like the dead of winter.   There were small walls of plowed snow on the edges of the highway.  All I could think was “there is NO WAY the ride is going to through this snow.”  This is 7000 feet; the top of Squaw is above 9000.  It sure was a nice day, though.   We rolled down through Truckee and down highway 267 to the turn for the entrance to Robie Park.  It wasn’t marked, but we turned in to the forest onto the narrow paved section.  Uh oh- here comes a rig from the other direction.   And another.  A third.   This can’t be good.   We pause at the tow truck, and see a rig turning around in a spot that worked.  The driver, Leigh Bacco, stopped and rolled her window down as she passed us coming out and told us it was a no-go.  A rig had been stuck ahead of us, and the tow truck driver had apparently said it was a thousand dollar tow job, and that there was no way he was going back in there, so we were on our own.   Leigh had made the right call!  She said she was planning on driving over to Squaw Valley and hanging out there until we knew what to do.   It took about a half hour to get to Squaw, but we were sure wondering out load what in the heck would happen with the ride.  Start at Squaw?  Um, no, not with all this snow.   We pulled in and found a nice place in the parking lot to set up the rigs.  We unloaded the boys and put blankets on; it was 4:30pm, but under 30 degrees and getting colder.  Donnie and the other horses happily stood and ate while Judy and I, Leigh, and Matt Scribner all threw on ski parkas and sat around enjoying Bloody Marys and Gin and Tonics that Matt graciously made.  They were great!   We were waiting for the decision that would be announced at 5 pm.  Smart phones are wonderful- sure enough we saw the announcement that Robie Park was out of the question and we should all head for Auburn.  There would be a ride!   Of some sort.   The boys had been in the trailer for too many hours straight, so we walked over to the local Sushi restaurant and had a fantastic dinner and really enjoyed ourselves.  Just like being on a Ski vacation!  With my horse?  It was that cold!   After dinner we trundled the boys back in to the trailers and drove on back to Auburn.   I was quite relieved, since I had already made up my mind I would not start if they intended to head up over Squaw Valley.   We found a nice spot in the grass field by the finish, put up the horses and went to bed by 10:30 pm.

Friday morning brought all kinds of speculation.  There would be a ride, but where?  How?  It seemed pretty unlikely that anything could be done.  I chatted with Barbara White in the morning and she gave me the straight scoop-  a hundred miles, out backwards on the trail to Foresthill, to Chicken Hawk, then an out and back loop, then back on to Auburn the way we came.   A Tevis lollipop ride!   The mind reels!   What about the start?  On the finish single track?  Come on!  Two way traffic on the California loop?   You have to be kidding.   What about the river in the morning?   Would it be lowered in time?  These WSTF crazies re-did the ride in 24 hours that it had taken them a year to plan.   Who would be where, when, I can’t believe how much they must have gone through.   The ride meeting was pretty funny.  Poor Chuck Staley probably had not slept in 2 days, and Tony Benedetti tried to explain the start.   What pens?   All we had to do was walk along the railroad tracks,  go to a field, muster there awhile, head through a gate under the underpass,  through the skateboard park, down a paved road for 10 minutes, hit the field at the bottom,  not enter the ditch on either side, only enter the lower pen in one spot, circle around, and they would release us at 6:30 am when we could at least see.  Right.  Everyone was really wondering how this would work.   I tried to calculate a start time that would get us just to the start just as they left.

It turned out to be unbelievably good.  I mean REALLY good.  Like better and easier than any Tevis start I have been on.  I doubt Tony had any sleep Friday night, but he and his team need a real pat on the back.  It worked perfectly and right on time.  There were almost 180 riders and everyone was feeling pretty good about the start.   I was riding with long time buddy Brenda Benkley on her friend Cindy’s horse Fuego.  We started out walking on the trail for only a couple of minutes, but then it turned into a nice calm trot on dirt roads with footing so good you could not have purchased it.   The rain had hit Auburn as well- Tevis with no dust?  Could it be?   It was.  We trotted along together in a long, long string of horses, but after only a couple of miles the line was strung out enough to ride the pace you wanted.  We twisted around on some fire roads I have not been on before, and went down the old single track trail, but suddenly we are dumped right out on the road that runs along the river.  I know where I am now!  The American river was on our right- a weird thing for sure, but we headed east along the bank and trotted to the no hands Bridge- a strange feeling going across it in this direction, in the daylight.  There was a mob of spectators there cheering for everyone!   Across the bridge and up the little single track over to the first little bottleneck of the day.  It took a couple of minutes for everyone to funnel down the little trail to the highway; we were told the good news that we could stay mounted.   Across highway 49 and a quick trot down the gravel road brought us to the quarry and a trot by.  My buddy Jamie Kerr said just keep on truckin!   It was still pretty cool out as we trotted along the dust free, perfect roads next to the river, but it was on the left!  And its daylight.   Pretty neat!   I caught up to Lake Almanor riding buddy Lisa Schneider on her great horse Tally; she and I would see and pass each other about 20 times throughout the day.  Donnie and Fuego went along together like a matched pair of cart horses.  We caught up to a little commotion up ahead- there was a horse bucking and jumping all over like it was being attacked by bees.  It was one of the Australian riders, a woman who did a great job of staying on.   She and her riding partner stopped; we passed by but did not see any sign of problems on the trail.   Two minutes later we hear a horse come galloping up behind us- it’s the Australian’s grey coming fast, but uh oh, no rider!   I turned Donnie sideways on the road and the horse stopped.  That’s good!  I turned to get its reins to take it back, but it turned around as I did, and started to walk back.  I popped it on the butt with my reins and it took off at a canter back the way it came.  Okay, that’s excellent!  Run home Lassie!  We learned later that is was indeed bees that had stung both the horse and rider.  We rode along to the single track that leads to the river crossing; I was amazed we were there already.   The river was about normal, but deep enough that I got both my feet wet.  He’s not that tall.  We sloshed across with about 20 horses, but no mishaps at all.  The deep beach sand along the river bed was wet and offered perfect footing.  No dust, no sand.  We wound along the nice trails for a couple of miles after the river crossing and popped out on the road at Francisco’s.  Up the tight little trail and into the vet check.  Vet check?  Ah no, it looked more like a crowded Tokyo train station at commute hour, but with horses!   Francisco’s can probably hold 30 or 40 horses comfortably on a good day, but I kid you not, I think there were over a hundred in here.   Oh man, watch out for kicking!   Belly up to the bar- the water troughs were packed solid with horses.   If you looked at the troughs from a helicopter above, it would have looked like a bunch of big, black sunflowers with the horses being the petals.  Nick’s Endurance “guideline” number one-  in a situation like this, where there are LOTS of riders waiting for water, please don’t let your horse stand around and maybe snack on the alfalfa some dope threw in the trough.  Get in, let the horse drink, and get out so others can.   The steam from all the horses made the place look like it was on fire.   It actually looked pretty neat, but it was a little tight in there.  My vet buddy Rob Lydon was a busy bee that morning- he told me the next day he himself looked at 48 horses in that check.  Brenda and I got in and out as quick as possible but it took about 15 minutes.  Not bad, all things considered, but we did get lucky with a newly formed vet line.   We scurried down to the river road, and onto the California loop single track that had been worked on before the ride to widen it.  Nice job guys!  I was expecting some kind of freeway after hearing about the work, but it turned out they just widened some really narrow single track to about 3 feet wide, and very nice to trot on.  Not wide enough to pass other riders unfortunately, but 80% of the single track on this ride is like that.   Of course it had perfect traction and no dust, which would become the order of the day.

Riding the whole California loop backwards was an absolute treat.  The trail was in perfect shape, it was cool out, and I could see the trail!   The head vet said riding a trail backwards is a different ride- he’s right.  It’s a pretty good climb up to Foresthill from Auburn, and the last climb out up from Dardenel’s creek is a good pull.  We scooted along the whole section with a few other horses, including my 20 Mule Team riding buddy Monica Bennet on her first Tevis, and did not run into any crowds until the end of the loop up into the first big check at Foresthill.  I was shocked to see we had done the 35 miles in less than 5 hours.  Time fly’s when you are having fun.   My crack crew was waiting and tended to the boy with precision and skill.  All I had to do was sit and eat.  What a life.   It was strange, though, since everyone could tell who was who since there was no dust.  Usually every horse in Foresthill is a grey from the dust, and you can’t tell the men from the woman from the dirt.  We vetted through quickly and let the boys eat for their first hour.   It was strange heading down Bath road, but down we went into the Volcano Canyon riding with Christoph Schork.   In no time we were crossing the creek and wound up the single track to the top of the hill and down into Chicken Hawk for a drink, a snack for the boys, and water for us.   Now we got to go do the new part of the trail- an 8 mile jaunt down a wide gravel road called the Gorman Ranch Road, all the way down to the Mosquito Ridge.  About 10 minutes after we left Chicken Hawk the first time, here come the leaders-  Jeremy, Dennis, and Rachel coming back up the hill into the check.  It was a long, downhill, kind of boring trot to the bottom that took about 50 minutes.  I believe it dropped 1800 feet in those 8 miles.   We were kind of bored, so we counted each horse as they came back up the road to see where we were overall.  It was fun to know so many riders- high fives and handshakes as you pass on the up or down.  There was water at the bottom for horse and rider, but Fuego was not drinking very well.  Donnie slurped down his share, so we headed back up at a nice, slow trot, all the way back up that long hill.  It took a few minutes longer, but not much to get back in to Chicken Hawk for a gate-and-go hold.   Fuego still would not drink, but he was eating okay.   Donnie recovered right away and was eating well, but we hung around for almost a half hour waiting for Fuego to get with the program.   He passed the vet check okay, but the vet said he was a little dehydrated.   Brenda said right up front he had not been drinking, and considered pulling him.   The vet suggested taking it easy into Foresthill and see if he starts drinking.  It’s only 4 miles and half downhill.

We pretty much walked down and up the Volcano Canyon into Foresthill, and up Bath road and all the spectators who are cheering and clapping.   Fuego had indeed drunk at the creek, and had a big drink at the Julie Suhr trough on the way up.  He looked better in the check, and met criteria easily, so Brenda elected to go on.  We wished he would pee, though.   Donnie was his usual recovering self, and impressed the vets.  Brenda and I got to sit and eat Chicken wings while the crews did all the work.   Uh- look what time it is!   Our out time from Foresthill was 5:32.   It was still blazing daylight.  This is REALLY weird.  I usually leave here just as the sun is setting or slightly after, and here we have a couple of hours of sunlight left.  It was great fun walking through the town of Foresthill with all the spectators and parties going on.   A guy asks us our numbers and speaks into a walkie-talkie.  A minute later we walk past this announcer’s booth with some women in it using a PA system. “And here we have Brenda Benkley and Nick Warhol, riding Fuego and Donnie!”  The crowd cheers, you gotta love it.  Everyone is clapping, happy- it’s a nice scene.   A man and his wife tell me that I’m amazing.   I just point to my horse and reply “no, HE’s the amazing one here.”   We walk past the craft fair with people bustling about.   Sorry Judy, I’d have stopped and picked up a set of earrings for you, but I forgot my credit card.

David walked some of the steep uphill to save his horse's strength in the famous mountain endurance event. He finished with author Nick Warhol just after midnight.

Out of town now and onto the downhill trail towards the river.  Who should appear from behind other than the unbelievable Barbara White.  She’s riding Brooke again this year on Barbara’s 41st Tevis, looking for her 31st buckle.  (If she had that many physical buckles she could open her own silver mine)  Every time I think about it I still can’t believe what she has accomplished.    This is what riding the Tevis is all about.  (Just ask Barbara’s Mom!)  She joins Brenda and I for the journey back the way we had come this morning.  We walked and led down to the creek where we hang the right turn and start out along the river. The three of us head west on the perfect, moist trails and do something I have never done- ride almost all the way to the top of the big switchbacks in the daylight.  The California loop really is a fun trail- its single track that just winds along for a couple of hours with very little serious up or down. At the water stop at Cal 2 Fuego finally pee’d, and it looked very good- lots of volume and clear.  He was drinking much better.  We headed down the switchbacks on the narrow trails walking and jogging in the dark.  The moon was about 4/5 perhaps, and shed some nice light on the trails in some spots.  Donnie tripped pretty big one time- once my heart started back up again we continued on down the trails towards the big climb that precedes Francisco’s.  It’s just an annoying road that’s pretty steep, but not too long, that goes straight up and right back down.   We just need a little trail to bypass it.  I’ll bring my neighbor’s CAT-D4 and fix that for next year!  Up and down the silly road, then the cool trails that dump us back at the river road and back into Francisco’s.

Back to Francisco’s.  I was still wearing my nylon tee shirt, but once stopped, I put the light jacket back on.  It was a different world in here now.   Maybe 8 horses, very calm, quiet, mellow, relaxed.  The place is lit by propane lanterns- it emanates a neat, hissing sound in the very dimly lit area.   The workers come right up and stick a blanket on the horses as we walk into the check.   Donnie was recovered when we got there; Fuego followed a couple minutes later.  It’s good to let them eat here a while, so we let them work on the provided mash and hay, then took them to the vets.   Donnie flashed right through, but when Brenda trotted Fuego he was three legged lame.   The kind where the rider jogs off with the horse in hand, and everyone says: “stop, STOP!”   Huh?   What the heck?  Rob Lydon had a look and found rubs from splint boots, but I’m not sure they would do that.   He was REALLY off.   I remembered being pulled here for lameness on Holly years ago, and what a heartbreak it is to have to stop so suddenly when it’s going so well.   I ate a couple of sandwiches, hugged Brenda good bye, and set off down the trail.  I was really bummed for a while, but it’s part of the game.   Brenda led up to White Oak Flat and caught a trailer ride back to the finish, getting back to the finish in less than 2 hours.

It was getting pretty cool out as the night wore on.  I led Barbara on down the nice trail towards the river crossing, Donnie just bopping along at whatever pace I asked.   This set of trails is quite fun- they just twist along, are nice and flat with a few tight switchback turns you can trot through quickly.  We rode along in silence, me still bummed about Brenda.  The river came up pretty quickly, and we rode into the party of the weekend for sure.  Music, probably 15 people around, dancing, well, maybe no dancing, but it sounded like they were all having a great time.  (Should have stopped for a beer)  Across we went, the river being much lower this time around, sparing my nice dry shoes.   I really like the sight of the American River with glow bars stretching across it in a crescent moon shape, bouncing and glittering in the current, showing you the way.  Up the steep trail out of the river bed, onto the single track trail and a lot of trotting along the river that is where it should be- on the right.  It’s fun to see camps of people out having fun along the river, laughing and partying- hey, look what time it is!   We are almost to the quarry and its eleven pm!   Unreal.   It’s usually 2 in the morning around here for me.  We trotted the last few miles of roads and walked down in to the check at the Quarry that is very well lit.  Lucy Turnbuckle Chipotle was there with strict instructions (In her British accent) for me from Judy to be sure the princess had a blanket on.   (We used to call him that as a puppy.  He’s really pretty!)  He did- the ride guys tossed one on as we arrived.   I had my “moment of the ride” here when the Vet did Donnie’s CRI.  His pulse was 48.   He listened to the horse for a minute, turned and shook my hand.   That felt as good as anything so far during the ride.  It gets cold in here, so Barbara and I zipped in and out of the check in just a few minutes.   We trotted off along the river with me feeling pretty good about life.   Just 6 more miles to go.

Across highway 49 (the Highway Patrol guys are so cool here) and up the trail, and over to no hands bridge.  This is more like it- trotting on across with the moon bright and the river to the left.  We scurried on down the fire road to the single track trail that climbs up to Robie Point.  We walked up with Donnie just hammering- he knew where he was.  He would have run to the top if I asked him to.  Over the top and onto the final road that takes you to the final single track.  We got to the spot 50 feet from the regular finish where the trail was extended – its literally 50 feet from the water tough at the regular finish spot.  There was enough yellow tape and glow bars there to help a jet land.  We had to turn left else we’d be caught like a fly in a spider web of plastic tape.  Donnie took a look to the right and told me I was making a mistake.  “The finish, sir, is right there.”   I said “no, a little further please.”   “Okay”, he says and hops back into his trot.  I love this horse.   Another quarter mile of twisty single track through the trees and we arrived at the official finish at the “skateboard park.”   (I expected a little more.  Auburn skateboarders need an upgrade)   We got our time slips and walked along the train tracks, then down to the final finish line in the arena.  I hopped back on Donnie for the finishing lap; I give him a little squeeze, and he takes off at a canter around the race track and under the banner.   You gotta love it.  We finished at about 12:20 am or so, a lot earlier than usual.

Yes, it was a great ride, but no, it wasn’t really Tevis.   That’s not a bad thing, just a fact.  It was not an “easy” ride like some people were afraid of, but it was not nearly as hard as the normal route over the Sierra.  I’m sure the perfect, cool weather helped the horses a lot, and the footing could not have been any better.  I was amazed that people finished from 7pm until 5:21am when Brandy Fergenchick brought her Norwegian Fjord “Dodger” across the line in time for a completion.   There were several riders, five I think, including Bob Spoor and Potato Richardson, that were pulled at the finish.   I know how that feels, but not this year.   Some rides of note- We all know Jeremy Reynolds pulled off another one with the win AND the Hagen Cup, on a horse owned by Scott Sansom.  Nice job, guys!  Our new friend and Squaw Valley sushi buddy Leigh Bacco got 8th, her friend Mat Scribner finished near 40th someplace.  (must have been that great Sushi, since  Team Squaw Valley Sushi went 3 for 3!)    Nevada’s best Connie Creech finished her 10th Tevis.  So did Debby Lyon, and Roger Yohee.   Rachel Shackleford got 2nd on her cool Cody.  Wait a minute- I sponsored her as a junior it seems like just a couple of years ago!   Where is time going?  Dave Kaden, from Texas and Specialized saddles, (which I use and love- grab a Eurolight!) finished his first Tevis on a borrowed horse one rider ahead of me.  And of course Barbara- her 31st buckle?  What more can you say.  Maybe “auto-buckle.”  Barbara thanked me for letting her and Brooke follow me all the way in.   Thank me?  It’s an honor to have Barbara for a friend, let alone ride with her.  I feel for my friends who got pulled- Brenda, Monica, Kim, Bob- it’s a bummer but part of the Tevis.

Specialized owner David Kaden crosses the finish line in his first Tevis.

As for me, it was another really fun ride.   It’s hard to not do that with Donnie, which is certainly a good thing.  This makes him 4 for 4 here, and yes, it counts as a Tevis finish.   I’m half way to that elusive 1000 mile buckle, which I will have.  (My fantasy- 10 for Donnie?  Now that would be something!)   There are 123 select people on the planet today who, ten years from now, will be able to say: “Yeah, I finished that crazy Tevis of 11.  It was weird, but really neat!”   That’s what I’ll say.  There should be some pretty lively talk at the Tevis party at the convention this year.  Funny- I usually have to wait a whole year for the next one, but as the web site says right now, it’s only 42 weeks, 3 days, 15 hours, 41 minutes, and 10 seconds to the next Tevis.  I’ll get started on that darn shoeing schedule.

A special tip of the helmet to the WSTF team.  I can’t imagine what they went through.  I’m a ride manager, and it’s hard enough to do a small, local ride with 50 horses.   To do what they did was nothing short of a miracle.  They wanted to save the ride, and boy, they sure did.

Special thanks as always to my crew: my sweetie Judy, and Becky Glazer.   I’ll never get tired of saying thank you to Ron and Barbara Sanches, who put me and this fine animal together.  Thanks guys.  And thank you, Donnie.   You are a good boy.  See you next year!

Nick Warhol
Hayward, Ca

Read Nicks Specialized Comments >>

Dave Dashner

Here is my story.

Ok, so my wife is Sharon Roper, a very successful Specialized Saddles dealer, but I have to tell my story. Trust me if you knew me you would know I wouldn’t be so enthusiastic if it weren’t all true.

Since Sharon became a Specialized dealer I have heard all these great stories from new owners. I watched Sharon on the NATRC rides go from losing points from a sore back, no matter what she did with pads and saddles, to perfect performance and this year riding open class, which is 30 miles, 10 miles longer than previous years.

Well I have my own story. The western saddle I have been using fit fairly well, didn’t have too many sore back problem but it would not stay put. The saddle would slide forward past the withers even with just cantering, imagine with steep hills, regardless of various pads I tried. I now have my very own Eurolight. and man, what a difference. This saddle doesn’t even have to be cinched tight to stay put. At the NATRC ride in NM we were ahead in time so we stopped for 30 minutes and I loosened the cinch 3 holes on the billets. We remounted and then did a 1/2 mile trot to the P&R. After the P&R we walked over to the water and then I noticed that I had forgotten to tighten the cinch. A mount, dismount and trot and that saddle didn’t move one whit with the cinch dangling! That is a miracle to Jabez and I. He has become so quiet, amazing for a left brained extrovert, like his owner. An extra bonus with this saddle is I change the pads and I can get the same fit on Nakala. It is a wonderful product!!

Dave Dashner
Grand Junction, Colorado

Lee Hutten

Hi David,

I want to thank you again for your support. I adore my saddle and it has done so much to improve my mare’s back. After a competition, Jazz would always get B’s on her back and be very sore for the next couple days, no matter the terrain. With the Specialized, we got it to fit pretty much perfectly, and she came out of her ride in great shape. We went to the OCTRA Spring Ride and entered the FEI** 75mile. This ride was filled with rolling hills and a couple of very good climbs. I was expecting her to be at least a little back sore at the end because we have no hills to condition on but her back was fantastic and not sore or tight in any way! I was amazed at how good her back was, but also at how she moves out in it! She is much more comfortable and so am I.

We completed the ride in 4th place in a time of 9:29.  With this ride, Jazz and I are officially qualified to compete at the World Junior Young Rider Championships in Abu Dhabi this December. We are still planning on attending the North American Young Rider Championships in Kentucky this July.

Thanks Again!

Lee

Cecile Beeck

Saddle type: western with A-fork and pencil roll.

When I received my saddle by mail delivery 2,5 years ago, I could not wait to put it on my horse Jack and try it. Surprisingly, the saddle fitted him without any additional need for shimming and so I decided to mount Jack on the spot.

I could not believe the difference I felt at that time between my previous 8 -year old roper and my new specialized saddle.

I had the feeling I was riding bareback ! I could feel every movement of his back and shoulders, every muscle that he was using.

This is what I like the most in my specialized saddle, it is like riding without one.

The soft feeling you have with your horse can only improve the partnership and understanding of his movements and ideas.

And no pain in the a… after hours of riding, the saddle gives you all the comfort you need to stay in all day long (or week long as I did last year when driving cattle in Belgium!).

The saddle still looks very new, although it has been frequently used for more than 2,5 years now. The leather is still soft and strong, just how it should be.

The picture was taken a few days ago on the beach, we are both enjoying the ride.

Cecile Beeck, The Netherlands

David Kaden

What would you say to a 57 year old man who decides he wants to take on a new equine sport Jumping,while giving up another sport, endurance in which he had some rewarding experiences including winning two Nationals championships? A line about new tricks and old dogs comes to mind…

Previously, when I had broached this idea to my wife Tracy, she had pointed out the many good reasons, I should forget this nonsense. In the spring of 09 I mentioned it again and this time she said, “well why not go for it?” Endurance had become a business for us. I own a company that makes adjustable endurance saddles and she operates an endurance horse training center, Flight Leader Farm. Perhaps we were both ready for a change of scenery on occasion. But why jumping especially at my age?

I have always loved that momentary feeling of weightlessness, catching some air when skiing off a ledge, or jumping a hill on a dirt bike. The words of Tom Petty song echoed in my head,” learning to fly is the hardest thing, cause what goes up must come down”…

My first attempt at learning to jump had occurred 30 years earlier when a hunter jumper barn had opened near my country home in East Texas. I bought a Jumping saddle and booked a lesson. My lesson involved trotting over ground poles,. I came here expecting to jump, and no jumping what so ever was involved during my hour lesson. This wasn’t what I had in mind, and I didn’t go back.

Fast forward to my next lesson in March of 09 in my home of El Paso TX. My Instructor ask me a few questions about my previous riding experiences, and I told her about jumping logs and bushes with this mare on the trail and why I thought she could be trained to be a jumper.. She had me ride around in the arena for a few minutes. As watches me ride circles, on my 16 Hand Anglo Arab mare, a deepening frown grows on her face.

“What are you doing” she asks with an exasperated tone?

“You are in a 200′ x 300′ arena and you are flying around like you are trying to win an endurance race” Clearly you can ride, but this is not a foundation for jumping” Jumping is about stride control and you must learn to slow way down. As we trotted circles, in what I thought, was now a slow, working trot” she barked, “slower, let’s start from the beginning and give you horse a chance.”

At least, at the end of this lesson, she let me trot over some small jumps.

And this time I at least understood how much I didn’t know.

Same time next Thursday I ask?. We began as many lessons as I could work in with my busy travel schedule. And at home, I began doing what is commonly called flatwork. Rather dull, compared to my gallops through the brush or along the river, but I knew I was starting over, and the end result would make me a better, more skilled rider.

My horse seemed to love jumping as much as I did. After a month of riding about three times a week, we were going over 2′ jumping in various patterns and starting to get sense of what the sport was all about. I read two books on jumping and one weekend I built four of my own standards, and set them up, in our arena and was excited to show my wife what we had learned. She took her camera and snapped some pictures as I went over my new jumps for the first time. Wow, she said, “I think you and Lisette have found your niche.”

Even thou we were only jumping 2’6′ Lisette was clearing them by a foot and as I looked for the first time at photos of me jumping, I was proud of the progress we had made In only six weeks.

The next weekend there was a small local schooling show in nearby Las Cruces NM .and I decided we would go and enter the 2’6″ jumping class. AS I waited my turn after a smooth warm up, I must admit I had some stomach butterflies. I turned away from watching the first rider, and made small talk with the rider next to me waiting her turn instead of watching the first rider ride the pattern, as I should have. I was convinced I had it memorized correctly, and had mentally visually myself riding it, to etch it clearly in my mind. When It came my turn I took a deep breath an off we went. My mare bravely took each jump, heisting slightly only once, as we approached a double with lots of brightly colored artificial flowers. We went clean, and I approached the judge and she politely said, that was a beautiful ride, however you missed the last jump.. Somehow I had not seen it on the pattern, being over on the other side of the arena sort of hiding, by another jump. And my overconfidence, that I had the pattern down pat, made me feel a little foolish, but hey that’s what schooling shows are for right?

Looking at the AHA web site I saw there was the Zia classic show in two weeks in Albuquerque NM. I must point out here, my wife did not share my confidence I was ready for class A show. But show day found us headed north having gotten our late entry in just under the wire. The show office people were so nice with my many questions. And I found my stall and begin getting ready for my first class, the HJ warm up, not judged. I had entered both HA working hunter over fences 2’6″ and HA jumper 2’9″,both preceded by a half warm class I was a little surprised to learn I was the only entry in the warm up class, and felt under the microscope as I entered the outdoor ring surrounded by people. My horse felt my tension, and she too was much “higher” than normal, and seemed to feel all the eyes on us. The first jump went smoothly, but as we approached a double, complete with a fax brick wall, an lots of flowers, she locked up with a last minute refusal, almost unseating me. I sat calmly on her, in front of the jump and exactly in front of the judges stand. I turned her around, circled and approached again squeezed my legs slightly and visualized us sailing over the jump, and two strides, then over the next. This we did, and smoothly finished the pattern, and exited the arena in silence.

Next was my HJ class and I was the last to go. This time I carefully watched the other riders. The was one refusal, and one rail down, so maybe I would not be last place in this double judged show. My number was called and I tried to be positive, and relaxed as we circled to pick up the right lead and started to the fence. One jump after another sailed under us smoothly, with no hesitation even at the troublesome double, and it was over before I knew it. No rails down, and I pretty sure I had cleared all the jumps this time. I hoped I had gotten a placing, but as they named forth, third, second without calling my number I felt pains of disappointment but then the loud speaker said first place won by___, and I missed the number, but recognized they had said my horses” name, placed first by both judges!! I was stunned and elated at the same time.

The pattern for my next class, HA Jumping was clearly more technical, with more tight turns and precise riding required. AS I entered the ring the steward ask did I want to ride the jump off? I was a little confused ,and he explained I was the only entry in the class and if I got around without two refusals I would win, and I had the option to ride, or not ride the jump off pattern “No ,I said, If I get around that will be just fine.”

Again we went clear, and I found myself wishing I had some other entry to experience the thrill of competing in a Jump off for time.

I collected my prizes, and I must say, I never thought I would be so proud of these four pieces of blue ribbon…

Horse shows are different than endurance events, in some ways that my wife and I really liked. Like staying in a nice motel, with your horse in a stall, eating hot meals with clean fresh clothes, and most of all not getting up to saddle up and start at 5 am.. yep I could get used to this, she said.. So could I . We watched other Arab classes the next day before driving home.

It wasn’t long before I was studying the entry Premium of the Sport Horse Nationals in Sept in Lexington. I discovered there were no classes for HA jumping in 2’9″ height. Being a national championship there were only room for higher level jumping classes of HA Open, 3 to 3″6″ and ATR 3 to 3’3″. And there was only one other show I could find with those classes two months away in June in Santa Barbara Cal, with a preshow and region 2 championship. I just happened to be going the Sacramento Cal for the Western states Horse Expo, June 12-15 where I was a clinician speaking on saddle fit and working a booth for displaying my saddles. Why not take a trailer, and stay for the show?. My wife signed off on the idea and we would enjoy visiting some friends and a little down time between the events.

But could I get my horse and me jumping nearly a foot higher in 6 weeks? My trainer didn’t think it was a good idea, saying it normally should take a year to raise your level a foot. But undeterred I started moving the pins holding the cups up a little each week. With the help of my LA area Specialized Saddle sales rep Kathleen Green, I found a stable with jumps where I could board my horse, while we went north to the trade show. Upon our return, I took another lesson from an Instructor at the board barn. The loaded up and off to the Earle Warren Equestrian center in Santa Barbara. Every Lesson brings with it some new insight, and learning to jump, is really a lot about learning to ride better.

The air was electric we pulled in the Earle Warren Expo center and three arenas were buzzing with Arab show classes. This is going to be a bit different from Albuquerque.

I was at the bulletin board at 7am the next morning where they would be posting the jumping patterns. I managed to copy it and went back to motel and begin memorizing. I decided to enter both Open and ATR jumping classes as both would jump the same pattern. The Open class went smoothly except for a single refusal, at a double with a single stride between. I turned back and approached it again thinking come on you can o this and she responded with a perfect jump, single stride, and clean over the next oxer,finish with no rails down. I got a third and was happy with our start. It could have been worse .

The next class was ATR and Lisette never hesitated, beautifully jumping everything and when this class was over we finished second, also jumping clean in the jump off. The results were the exact same the next day in the region 2 championship show. A third and second, this time the ribbon said “reserve Champion”, and as we drove home to TX, I told my wife “next year let’s bring two horses…. .”

Since writing this story in 09, I took two horses to the region 8 sport horse championship in winter park colo in July, and won HA Open Jumper Champion on Lisette and won open HA Working Hunter champion on My palomino George.

David Kaden – Owns and operates Specialized Saddles

Maribel Paulson

The first time I saw the little Mustang was at Tall Pines Endurance ride. He and his rider beat us by so many hours that I barely caught a glimpse of them. Reports had it that his front leg really swelled, but since he was not lame, he had not been pulled. His owner had turned him loose to find his own way home. He simply hung out by the road until some compassionate folks caught him and iced his leg.

About a month later, the young owner died in a drowning accident. Cisco ended up with his friends, and they did not get along. When they put him up for sale, they said that he needed an experienced rider. The previous owner had put him with a trainer for a short time because of problems with running away.

I am not brave, but I am determined. One look at his big feet, good bone, strong hip and long trot and I was sold.

The young woman who sold him to me said he liked to bolt for home, do leaps and paw with both front feet when tied. She was right. He tried to lose me in many creative and calculated ways. He succeeded twice.

The first time I tried to saddle him, he tried to bite the saddle. I noticed that he had some white hair on his back, so knew saddle fit would be an issue.

We spent many hours in the round pen and his behavior did improve. What bothered me the most was his unpredictability (sound familiar, Mustang owners?). He seemed to be the most troublesome when ridden hard on the previous day. I tried at least a dozen saddles on him, watching for sweat patterns and experimenting with pads. My western show saddle seemed to be the best, but the skirts are square and rubbed his hip.

I picked the brains of many patient soles and invaded tack stores with a tape measure and chart. A western style endurance saddle seemed to be the right one and I bought some expensive saddle pads for extra insurance.

Things seemed to go better and his behavior was getting quite good, but I could never get completely in sync with him. Then last year at Fort Stanton, he acquired some edema on his back. I had been noticing, also that the muscle along his spine looked different.

Many endurance riders were using Specialized Saddles, and I had been too cheap to consider one, but I had run out of options and I could not continue to hurt this valiant little horse. David agreed to look at his back and kindly told me that his back was very hard to fit being asymmetrical and long and that the muscle on his back had atrophied from the poorly distributed weight. The sick feeling that overcame me then visits me still.

Needless to say, I bought a Western Specialized saddle, wanting the extra security. I cannot believe the difference in the horse and in myself. We are so comfortable! He moves freely and his back muscle has actually filled back in!

In 2008, we completed 495 miles without pulls and won a jacket for the SW region (5th) for my weight division. No big deal for some, but a BIG deal for us. Best money I ever spent….no kidding…and this is coming from a notorious cheapskate.

We finally found that missing intangible…..harmony.
Maribel Paulson

Mary Ann

In May it was clear that something was wrong with our 12 yr old gelding, Levi. Vet checked him in the round pen with the western saddle I’ve been using for 4 yrs and determined that was the worst saddle fitting he’s ever seen. I guess to make matters worse I had it too far forward and held in place with a breast collar.

We had him treated for a sore back and shoulders, bought a new western saddle that was fitted to him, but he was still not comfortable when I tried to ride him and would not walk out, so I stopped riding him.

Your clinic was our last hope before taking him to Alamo for a complete check.

When I rode him at your clinic Saturday in the saddle you fitted to him he was like a new horse again to me and was fun to ride, free in the shoulders and trotted great.

I purchased the Trailmaster (without the horn) and rode Sunday for a long ride and had a great time. My old boy is back. The saddle is very comfortable and the way the fenders hang I found it easier to move with the horse on sudden moves he makes.

He used to be so uncomfortable that he would get under himself and jump or buck. I think the saddle we bought has solved a lot of problems for us.

I think the whole experience was good for us and Levi. It all made sense.

Thank you all
Mary Ann

Stan Roskens

Love the saddle. I was unintentionally soring my horses back with an ill fitting saddle. I had borrowed a friend’s Orthoflex but didn’t like the seat and the saddle clinic showed how it’s tree was only touching my horse in four places. I purchased the Featherweight Trail and haven’t looked back. My horse is moving better and I can adjust the pads to fit his high withers and hips. It’s a great saddle for a gaited horse.

Stan Roskens

Beth Hall

I purchased a Tracy Webb signature Santa Fe at a fitting clinic near my home in Bear Valley California.

My horse, Choco LOVES the new saddle. Some of the benefits I have noticed already would be a softening of the eye, for sure. He just looks content and relaxed. And keeps that look even when asking him to back now, which took a little while for him to forget it hurt, but now that we have done it so many times w/o any pain, he gets it that the pain is over. Very nice :)

He moves more freely and easily, his gait has improved, and it is easier to keep him in a gait.

I love the way the saddle feels to move in. It is a much lower cantle than my previous saddle, so there is a little adjustment on my part to bring my confidence level back up. I don’t think I was necessarily safer in the higher cantle saddle I used previously, but I think more it just felt like it, and I just need to get used to that factor. But the freedom of movement is definitely there with the Santa Fe, and thus makes me feel more “as one” with my horse, and I feel he is responding to that as well.

The “bump” on his back which was a direct result of the pinching on the last saddle is softening and shrinking. Yay! And there is no flinch at all when pressure is applied, so I know we are doing good.

And…it LOOKS pretty with all the bling! We have had a little trouble getting the purses to stay on. If Choco shakes, they fly off. But seems to be only when he shakes. I think the angle of the saddle with all the shims are not helping. I am not overly concerned. We have been working on tightening up the snaps a bit.

(Speaking of the bling, can you get me in touch with the gal who can order me additional bling? I would really like that.)

So, in summary, I am quite satisfied with my new saddle and am very grateful to all of you for educating me and taking the time to get both what Choco needed for his comfort and enjoyment, not to mention performance, and what I needed as a rider. It feels like it has all come together. You guys are the best!!! :)

Beth Hall

Kristen Fisher

I can’t say enough great things about my Specialized Saddle. I bought it after I had purchased 2 other saddles to try and fit my mare – one of which was a treeless saddle [which hurt her back so much she was unrideable for 5 months]. When I tried the Specialized I finally had hope that something would work. I have had it re-fit to my mare 3 times in the 3 years I have had it as her fitness level and shape has changed – something very few if any other saddles can accommodate. When I rode a hard-to-fit gelding that belonged to a friend, I had a spare set of panels fit to him; we did his 2nd and 3rd 50 mile rides that weekend and his back was terrific.

I really like the saddle as well – it is very well constructed and makes me feel very secure. Also, it is a real benefit to be able to move the stirrups into different positions in order to optimize your equitation and make life even better for your equine partners. I’d be proud to wear a Specialized hat and tell even more people how great these saddles are!

Kristen Fisher, Corinth TX