Truckee, CA: Donna Huntsman has sent the following article about the first Connemara to finish the Tevis since Doc Molton used to ride her purebred, Springledge Irish Whiskey, in that famous ride a quarter of a century or so ago. Donna says, “ When my endurance enthusiast friend asked me if I had seen that a Connemara cross pony was entered in this year’s Tevis Cup I was intrigued to say the least. I eagerly opened the link and perused the breed column of the competitors listed and sure enough amongst the predominately listed Arabs and Arab crosses, there she was; #25, Sacha Egdell from Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada, riding M&M’s Gabriella (Gabby), a 14.3 bay Connemara X mare.
“The phrase “Connemaras Do It All” came to mind, but the Tevis Cup? Really? The Tevis Cup, also known as The Western States Trail Ride, is a 100 mile endurance ride over some of the most remote and tough terrain in the west and is touted as “The Worlds Best Known And Most Difficult Equestrian Endurance Ride”. The trail is so remote that large parts of it are accessible only by foot, horseback, or helicopter and though it’s a beautiful ride, the mountains are ruthless for the unprepared. The event started in 1955, is AERC sanctioned and is considered the founding ride of all endurance rides. The Tevis Cup ride starts in Placer County California at 5:15 a.m. at the Robie Equestrian Center near the town of Truckee and runs across the crest of the Sierra Nevada, traverses through El Dorado County and ends at 5:15 a.m. near the fairgrounds in Auburn. Veterinarians evaluate the condition of the horses many times during the ride and there are two mandatory 60 minute holds for rest and examination. Each rider who completes the 100 mile ride within the 24 hour limit, and whose mount is judged “fit to continue” can elect to receive a silver Completion Award buckle. But with a completion rate of on average of only 54% it is a great accomplishment to cross that finish line at all. The average age of horses who complete the ride is 10 yrs old and in a sport where men and women compete equally against one another men have won 30 times and women 32, and three times tied.
“I should jump right into the story of how a 14.3 Connemara cross pony ended up competing in the toughest and most famous endurance ride of all time, but we are, after all, Connemara Pony People and I know the burning question on everyone’s mind is “What’s her breeding?” So let’s get that out of the way first, shall we? M&M’s Gabriella is by a purebred Connemara stallion, Avenns Caibre MacCarthy (Lynfields Cormac McCarthy X Avenns Golden Ruby) out of a TB mare named Diamond Event of the Northern Dancer line. Gabby’s pedigree is on Allpedigree.com as M and Ms Gabriella.
“Gabby was purchased by veterinarian Sacha Egdell as a three year old from a Pony Club family who had bought her not realizing a pony club mount had to be at least 5 years old. Sacha shared, “ I was a horse-mad child and my parents spent much of my youth driving me to the riding stables. I was 33 years old when I finally purchased Gabby. She was the first horse I ever owned”. Sacha goes on to say that Gabby has done a bit of everything from dressage to reining, jumping and trail riding (there’s that Connemaras do it all thing again). She and her husband Dave, have done a lot of wilderness pack trips in the mountains of BC and Gabby “is an excellent mountain horse and can travel long days without getting tired. She hobbles and high lines and has camped in the wilderness with us for weeks at a time. Her only downside is that she HATES bugs”. Don’t we all Gabby, don’t we all. Sacha heard about endurance riding in 2011 while living on Saltspring Island, B.C. She purchased a book called “Go The Distance” and learned all she could about the sport. She trained Gabby all on her own and competed in a 50 mile ride that summer. Gabby did well and showed she had the stamina to do more but competition was put on the back burner for a couple years while Sacha and Dave, who is also a vet, did “some pretty big pack trips” and after selling their veterinary practice they went on a 6 week trek across the remote Chilcotin area of BC. They then settled down in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island and purchased another veterinary clinic. Sacha and Gabby starting competing again and in 2014-2015 they did some 50 mile rides, two of which they won, and they received several High Vet Score and Best Condition awards. Sacha had always dreamed of riding the Tevis Cup and decided 2016 would be the year for her to go on Gabby. This would be their first 100 mile ride and they carefully trained for five months before Sacha, Gabby, her husband Dave, and her vet student, Jessica, made the three day drive to California arriving four days early to give Gabby time to recover and rehydrate.
“No one can tell the story as eloquently and personal as Sacha herself. She shared that “the Tevis was tough mentally and physically but I truly enjoyed every moment of it. It is rocky, mountainous, HOT and dusty. The best part for me was riding in the dark from the Foresthill vet check at 9 p.m. until I finished at 4:36 a.m. The night was cooler than the 100 plus degrees weather of the daytime and the moon was full. There is something really special about riding your horse in the dark and trotting on those trails along the American River. It is amazing how sure footed the horses are in the dark if you trust them. I think they like it because as riders we don’t micro-manage them in the dark- we are passengers letting them do their jobs. As I passed through the vet check at 85 miles and then at 94 miles I realized that I was actually going to finish the Tevis! I passed through the last vet check at 94 miles with plenty of time to spare so I walked Gabby quite a bit over those last 6 miles. She had gone a long way and I knew I was going to easily finish the ride in time even at a slower pace. Out of 165 starters (10 retired before starting) she finished 57th. There were only 11 non Arab/Arab crosses entered and 7 of these finished. Most of the other non Arabs were gaited horses and two mules.”
“Gabby is an awesome versatile pony. Sacha says “I love her to bits and she has that loving Connemara personality. She calls to me every day in the morning and when I get home in the evening. Her absolute favorite thing is to get scratched INSIDE her ears”. I think that sums up how we all feel about our Connemaras. No matter how great their accomplishments the fact is we just love them for their friendship, their character, their personalities and for just being “them”. Well done Sacha and Gabby, well done.”