Om El Bernini Dream
The Western States Tevis Cup – 100 Miles 1 Day
Om El Bernini Dream and Shannon Constanti won National Champion Best Condition and Top Ten overall in the first ever US National Championship Endurance Ride in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
August 1, 2009 - 4:30 AM, Om El Bernini Dream and I, full of anticipation and vigor (yet, not knowing what the day had in store), rode away from the comfort of our horse trailer, into complete darkness through the densely wooded Tahoe National Forest. Amidst hundreds of horses & riders, we embarked on what is arguably the most physically and mentally challenging, as well as most prestigious 100-mile endurance race in the world, the Tevis Cup. Guided by the sound of pounding hooves, glow sticks and the crescent moon, Bernini, without hesitation, boldly led me to the start of the race at Robie Park, Lake Tahoe, CA.
At 5:15 AM it was official, the race began. There were nearly 200 horses in line on a single- track trail, each trying to gain or maintain trail position in the twilight. As the sun gradually peaked over the horizon and the trail widened, Bernini and I powerfully ascended the peaks of Squaw Valley to an elevation of 9000 feet. The trail was covered with glistening snow packs and enabled a surreal view of the emerald shores of Lake Tahoe.
We then descended west through Granite Chief Forest to Lyon Ridge through snow fed creeks and deep muddy bogs and across rocky hillsides sprinkled with beautiful wildflowers of yellows, purples and reds. After negotiating around the legendary Cougar Rock, the white rock slides of Elephant’s Trunk and getting a quick bite of hay, water and a few carrots at Red Star Ridge, we arrived at our first 1 hour hold, the infamous Robinson Flat, hidden among the towering Pines (36 miles) – a hold which typically claims the most pulls.
Om El Bernini Dream
(Dreamcatcher SMF x Om El Benedict by *Sanadik El Shaklan)
ridden by Shannon Constanti.
With Bernini’s fantastic vet scores on soundness, hydration, muscle tone and pulse, we confidently left Robinson Flat through the desolate charred forest, which was due to the fire that cancelled Tevis Cup 2008. With a panoramic view to the east, of the picturesque Lake Clementine, surrounded by rich green meadows, we descended through the forest to Dusty Corners. On our way to Last Chance (50 miles) we encountered Pucker Point, a rocky outcropping, which is one of the most breathtaking and gut wrenching sections of the trail because it has scenic views in all directions, on a very, very narrow corner of trail, atop the sheer rocky cliffs of the American River, which rushes thousands of feet below.
After successfully making it through Last Chance vet check, we braved the first of the three scalding canyons with heat in excess of 110 degrees, crossed the old 50 foot swinging bridge over the swift American River and climbed Devil’s Thumb into Deadwood, listening to the rattlesnakes slithering in the dry grass – hoping we wouldn’t meet one coiled on our trail. We successfully left Deadwood (55 miles) after a bran mash and carrots, for Michigan Bluff (64 miles), which takes you through the second canyon section in the mid day extreme heat in excess of 100 degrees. With much appreciated Gatorade, carrots and water, we had a brief stop at the Chicken Hawk/Volcano vet check and onto our third and final canyon, to our second and final 1-hour hold at Foresthill/Mill Site.
Foresthill is a charming rustic town, nestled in the Sierra Mountains. It is one of the most memorable and inspirational vet checks of the Tevis Cup. With hundreds and hundreds of supporters lining Bath Rd as you arrive, and Foresthill Rd as you depart, you can’t help but feel the thousands of hours and numerous dollars put into conditioning were well worth it, and smile ear to ear at your achievement of being a part of this great race. The town’s enthusiasm is heart warming!
The majority of riders leave Foresthill near dark and much after, so Bernini and I rode the next stretch of trail in the dusk and then dark, which is quite challenging because this is a very narrow and unforgiving portion of trail. In absolute blackness – except for the occasional lightning bolt, down about 15 miles of very steep switchbacks, and through multiple slippery rocky stream crossings, which are complete drop offs on the inside, we finally arrived at Francisco’s (86 miles) around 10:30 PM. Bernini, showing me great vital signs, hungrily munched on grass hay and bran mash, as the volunteers offered me fruit, sandwiches, drinks, granola bars etc. After leaving Francisco’s we both knew we were on the home stretch – 14 miles to go.
The most euphoric part of the Tevis Cup adventure was riding in the darkness. Giving Bernini the reins, relinquishing control and experiencing him moving bravely with purpose forward into the unknown at a trot, provided such a bonding experience. The sense of trust that you establish with your horse as they safely carry you down the trail is incomparable, especially once you both are exausted and relying only, on each other.
We arrived at the American River crossing around midnight. I had pre-ridden the river many times so I would know the best path to cross in the darkness, without having to swim. But, to my surprise the river was much deeper at night than during the day due to the controlled release of the flow. But, Bernini confidently entered the cold rushing water, and very quickly I realized that my feet, then my knees, then my hips were under water. We emerged after the 50-foot crossing quite cold and wet. But, Bernini knew he was nearing the finish line, where his blanket, water and fresh food would be waiting. We had conditioned on this section of trail hundreds of times.
Shannon and Bernini Dream
at the AERC National Championship where in
2009 he was Top Twenty.
We arrived at the Lower Quarry (94 miles) around 1:00 AM, the final vet check on the trail. Bernini pulsed down immediately and I was told to vet right through because many horses had tied up due to the cold breeze that was whipping through the canyon and chilling the horse’s fatigued muscles. We trotted out of the Lower Quarry on fire, at about 15 mph for the Auburn Staging Area – the Finish Line. We crossed the famous No Hands Bridge and ascended up the canyon into Auburn.
After passing our final vet check for our completion with a pulse of 48, amidst cheering fans and our elated crew, we made our victory lap under the lights, through the Auburn stadium. Bernini spooked at the shadows, flashes and blowing banners, with his tail over his back. Bernini certainly didn’t look like a horse that had just completed one of the toughest 100-mile races in the world.
Om El Bernini Dream has risen to every challenge that I have beset upon him and clearly exceeded all my expectations. He began his endurance career in June 2008. He has completed every race that he has entered, including (1) 30-mile (8) 50-mile and (2) 100-mile races. Just six weeks after completing the 2009 Tevis Cup in Top 20, he finished the AERC National Championship 100 mile race in Top 20 as well, an amazing feat for such a young endurance horse.
Our next adventure together is the US National Championship 50 Mile Race in Stillwater, Oklahoma on October 30th 2009. Then Om El Bernini Dream has the winter off for R&R until Spring 2010. So, watch out for our results in our 2010 season!!