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2021 Tevis Cup - Jenny Gomez

By Jenny Seames Gomez
July 28 2021 Tevis 2021... I know it’s kind of late but I needed time to recover emotionally!!!

Where do I start? I guess the first thing would be to express my overwhelming gratitude to Susan Garlinghouse Dvm for giving me the opportunity to ride the Mighty John Henry through Tevis. What a grand adventue it was! Also my appreciation, gratitude, thanks... to all of the volunteers, the vets, my crew, all of the other riders that encouraged us and took time to lend a hand when it was needed, all of the good wishes and kind comments before, during and after, and of course to all of the folks out there that got John Henry and me to this point.

Next I want to warn everyone that this is going to be an unbelievably long dissertation as there is no way I can possibly thank everyone that helped get us through AND share what it was like to go through the Tevis experience looking through John Henry’s ears in only a paragraph or two. (There are a lot of paragraphs!!!)

As I’m sure most everyone knows by now, Mr. Henry’s slated rider had an injury and was unable to ride. So, to those folks close to Dr. Garlinghouse that tossed my name into the hat, (you know who you are) all I can say is THANK YOU! I am so humbled that there are people out there that considered me an appropriate candidate to take this amazing horse through Tevis. Just wow... holy cow! I’m reasonably certain Dr. Garlinghouse didn’t even know who I was! Of course I accepted when the invitation came! That moment right there was when this once in a lifetime adventure began. Of course it almost ended after a day of communicating with Dr. G... I asked what his tack colors were as I felt I needed to get a new sun shirt, so might as well go all matchy matchy. I mentioned that I ride in a pink helmet. Her response? “PINK? A PINK helmet???? That’s a deal killer!!!” Oh my gosh, I promised to get a new grey or black helmet asap! We chuckled about that!!!

My first opportunity to meet and ride Mr. Henry wasn’t until the Sunday before Tevis. We made the most of that first meet and greet, let me tell you! I got to assist his farrier, Jeremy Procopio with gluing on his boots later that afternoon which allowed me another chance to get to know Mr. Henry and dial in what would be needed for spare tires should we need something out there. (Which, of course we did... more on that later!) Then my next visit for a ride was on Tuesday evening before the ride to get his saddle set up for me. Dr. G is tall and leggy... me, not so much so there was serious adjusting to be done! But we got it done and I got to take him out for a spin as the sun set over Cool, CA.

To say I was feeling the pressure of what I was about to embark on is an absolute understatement. This amazing horse whose completed Tevis five times already, who was coming back from a life threatening injury, and should he get his sixth buckle, would break a 45 year old record for the number of Tevis completions by a gaited horse... yes, I spent a lot of time trying to stay out of my own head, not get caught up in the hoopala, and remain calm! My rock and quiet place in the storm, Greg Mayer, thank you... I couldn’t have done it without you.

We got Mr. Henry to Robie Park on Thursday evening. Whew! Finally... I took him out of the trailer and figured I’d take him for a stroll. Oh my gosh... I’m so used to flighty, spun out Arabs! This horse! He came out of the trailer and we calmly strolled around like it was no big deal. It wasn’t... remember, this was not his first rodeo! Easy to be impressed with him already. What a personality he has! My admiration and respect for this horse only continued to build.

Friday morning rolled around, we got checked in, I’m visiting with friends and trying so hard to not let my nerves and the pressure building up inside of me show. I happened to bump into the lovely Lynne Holochwost, who gave me a hug and asked how I was doing. Lynne, your beautiful words of wisdom were like a becon of light for me. Thank you!!! Lynne reminded me to just remember that once we got out on that trail together it was going to be just me and Mr. Henry. Just us two... All of this other stuff would fade away. Perfect words!

We got him vetted in early as I’m a stickler for getting that bit of a ride out of the way as soon as we can. Then back to the trailer for a last minute tacking up and adjustments so I could get him out for a pre-ride test drive. I cannot even put into words what that was like. We went about four and a half miles and he gave me a good show of his gaites that I’d get to experience on Saturday. I also got a feel for just how much power that horse has! Wowzer!!!

All went well... ...well except our Friday night dinner! Our crew member, Ranelle Rubin, chef extraordinare, had taken on the food prep for the crew and rider for the various stops, including a delicious chicken dinner for all of us on Friday. When we packed up the food on Thursday, we ended up putting containers anywhere we could fit them. Rig fridges, ice chests... figured we’d sort through it all on Friday when our amazing Robinson’s crew, Chris and Micki Turney, came up to Robie Park to help get us sorted. Well, we got sorted... all tack, equipment, parts and pieces that needed to go to various vet checks was done. Chris and Micki took off to get ready to go to Robinson’s early Saturday morning. A short while later, Dr. G decided she’s ready for dinner... comes looking for the chicken and veggies... well... the only food item we had from Ranelle’s hard work was a container of rice! Everything else was in the ice chests in Chris and Micki’s truck!! Fortunately, Greg and I had some “extra food” that came along for Thursday night’s dinner! An huge thank you to Ranelle for preparing all of that amazing food. I sure wish we’d have gotten to eat it! By now, I’m nearly numb to the pressure that I’d been fighting down leading up to this point... Ride camp was quiet and peaceful early this year. I was able to try to get to sleep early. Typical of the night before Tevis, I didn’t get much in the way of sleep. Tossing and turning, thinking of everything that was about to happen and listening for the alarm at 3:00 am.

It’s Saturday morning, Greg gets me breakfast, Dr. G gets Mr. Henry saddled and ready to go. It’s time... we are off. Greg walked with us to pen 2. My instructions were to start as close to the front of pen 2 as I could. Mr. Henry was calm, cool, and collected at the start. We went out at a calm walk with the first probably 10 or so riders. Not an experience I’ve had in the past! What a pleasure! Then we were turned loose at the start. Mr. Powerhouse moved along at an amazing clip. We were on our way. Not terribly far from the start, we came up behind a couple of riders that I’d asked if we could pass. Turns out one of them was Lisa Schiender, who had ridden Mr. Henry through Tevis in 2016! What luck! I asked for any tips... and off we went. A while later, Lisa leap frogged us and as she passed, expressed to me that I was doing a great job. Thank you for those encouraging words, Lisa. It meant so very much to me!

On we went, at what felt to me like a blistering pace. As we traveled through Granite Chief and the boggs, I kept asking him if he might mind if we could possibly take this a wee bit slower and just a tad bit more carefully. Afterall, it’s been five years since the last time he’d been through and maybe, just maybe some of the rocks would be in a different spot. I got a firm “Let me handle this, sister... you just hang on and don’t do anything stupid!” So much for any navigational input on my part!

Dr. G had given me permission to go over Cougar Rock, as apparently that is the only route Mr. Henry knows. Yay! My two previous Tevis experiences did not net me that photo. So, thank you, Mr. Henry for taking us over and giving me that super exciting opportunity, now a memorialized memory! (As always, thank you Bill Gore, for the fabulous photos!)

Into and out of Red Star. I couldn’t believe the recoveries this horse has! Didn’t take us much time at all to head off toward Robinson’s.

Somewhere along the line, our pace slowed down a bit. Came rolling into Robinson’s nearly an hour behind our target time. Dang it! We were greeted by so many cheers and yahoos...

Everyone was so thrilled to see Mr. Henry come through. That in itself had to be part of his quick recovery as he knew full well all of that hoopala was for him! Chris and Micki Turney took extraordinary care of us both while we were there and sent us off to Dusty Corners with hugs, love, and well wishes. (oh, and refreshed electrolytes, food and water!) We stopped at Dusty Corners for watermelon.... That is a must do on this ride! At least for me as by then, I really need the pick me up and I do believe Mr. Henry enjoyed every bite of watermelon thoroughly!

We finally make it to Last Chance. One thing about this horse that adds to the list of things that impressed me about him is that he knows how and when to take care of himself, no matter what I might have been asking of him. When I asked him if we could slow down at the beginning and he said no, it’s becasue he knew what he could do. When I asked him to please pick up the pace during this middle section and he was reluctant, I believe with all of my heart it’s because he knew what was ahead and that he needed to conserve his energy. He is absolutely amazing.

Into the canyons... he’s unbelievably fast and efficient going downhill. We buzzed down that first steep canyon. We stopped at the river to make sure he was cooled down and ready for the long climb out. Not far up he made it clear to me that this is where I am to get my lazy bum off and tail behind him. Okie dokie! Sure glad I’ve had the opportunity to be riding alot lately and that I’d begun a little effort at running! Let me just say... I had an up close and very personal look at just how much power is in that hind engine!\

We made it to the top of Devi’s thumb, the volunteers and water troughs are one of the best sights ever! Off then to Deadwood... just a short ways away. Into Deadwood and Mr. Henry is quite hungry so we hung out longer than planned as he was hoovering up the groceries.

With a full belly, we headed out to tackle canyon number two... not as steep but so much longer. Again we booked down to the bottom, and again, on the way up he made it clear that my job was to tail behind, not sit on his back. He let me lead him up and into Michigan Bluff where Dr. G and Greg were waiting to provide amazing crewing and reviving care for us both. Those long tailing hikes up both canyons put us farther behind and now we were chasing the cut offs. Dr. G worked her magic and we took off, blasting to Chicken Hawk. On the way, wouldn’t you know it... he lost a hind boot! Of course he did... remember I mentioned how much power I got to see up close and personal? No surprise to me that a boot couldn’t hang on through all of that climbing! I hop off, toss on the spare tire and like a rocket, we blasted into Chicken Hawk. Where the heck does this horse pull out the energy to do this???? His well runs deep, that’s for sure!

Dr. G and Greg come into Chicken Hawk a few minutes after we arrive. Turns out, that was amazing as it gave me a chance to try to get something into my system, food wise... not particularly a wise choice but at least I tried! Not sure if it went down or came back faster! We got Mr. Henry vetted and I was reminded how far behind time we were. That meant we needed to bust bum, go fast, to get into Foresthill on time.

Mr. Henry understood the urgency. He gave me what I asked for. Once again, he knew what he could do and what was just ahead for him. We were just coming up to Bath Rd when, naturally, we lost a front glue on boot! Well crap! I hadn’t replaced the spare tire at Michigan Bluff... we were running out of time.... I put Mr. Henry on the soft trail on the side of the road and we gallopped all the way up. Cheers and encouragement met us. GO JOHN HENRY!!! I know all of that cheering urged him on, He realized his fans were there for him. As we came near the top, Dave Putnam came up, running along beside us encouraging us and making sure we knew we were six minutes, then four minutes away. All I could see was the top of the road at the turn into the vet area... I had no crew... where the heck were my people???? Doesn’t matter, says Dave! Some one will help you, just get up there! Magically, through the crowd I see Greg and Dr. G. Then they are there, Greg pulling me off the horse, Dr. G beginning her magic ministrations. We made it.... Two minutes! I nearly collapsed with relief.

So many wonderful people, friends, my neighbors, some of my clients... all at Foresthill, right there waiting for us to come in and offering up anything and everything to help us. The support, love, and encouragement from everyone sure touched my heart.

Dr. G shared with me that we’d been given an extension of time at Foresthill due to the situation on the trail earlier. She decided we’d hang out an exta 15 minutes to give Mr. Henry a chance to rest longer as well as giving me an additional break. Great idea that I fully supported for Mr. Henry. He had really worked hard from Robinson’s on. Especially the last five miles into Foresthill. I knew we’d need to make it up somehow, but with the extra rest, maybe his well reservoir would fill up enough.

It’s 9:45 and time to leave Foresthill. Oh my gosh, I’ve not ever left this late before... Mr. Henry, I need you to fly through these switchbacks, please!!! So, funny diversion about leaving Foresthill. We’re headed down the trail from California Street. All alone, in the dark. I wasn’t entirely sure we were on the right path as the glow sticks were tough to follow. All of a sudden I see a bunch of glow sitcks coming up the trail toward us! I’m thinking, “What the heck... are they just now getting around to putting them out? Oh, wait, are we so late that they are pulling them?” That’s what a tired brain does to you. Turns out, it’s three riders that took a wrong turn and were headed back into Foresthill!!! Oh hey... just follow us, Mr. Henry knows the trail! We all got situated and headed off in the right direction, with Mr. Henry proudly leading the other three horses through the crazy switchbacks.

As we headed up the hill toward Cal 2, I kept thinking... this trail is going on forever! I sure don’t remember it being this long before! I was so grateful to see the volunteers and the water tank there. No time to dally though... drink up sir, we’ve got places to be. We headed out right away and a rider named Barb came along behind us. She mentioned that her gelding really liked Mr. Henry so would we mind if they came with us. No problem. We’ll go as fast as Mr. Henry deems appropriate (or I could encouage him to go) as we’ve got to get down to the river and back up to Franciscos pronto!

Mr. Henry did not disapoint. We moved out through all of the tough sections. Thankfully he kept it to a dull roar while we were on the side of hill over the river... I thought to myself, “You know, if he starts cantering, you could just close your eyes... trust him...” however, I also realized that if I had closed my eyes, I would have fallen asleep! That’s not a section of the trail one wants to sleep through! I had my first night ride hallucination on that section too. Another first opportunity, thank you Mr. Henry!

Into Franciscos with a horse that I was in complete amazement over. We weren’t lighting any trails on fire, but we were still moving out. He pulsed down right away, ate, drank, gave me a minute to get some pretzels and gingerale into me (Thank you so very much to the trail angels, Kimberly Ellis , Jeanlaurie Ainsworth, and the most amazing Janis Travels.) Barb and I got the horses vetted and took off without wasting a moment.

We made great time getting to the river crossing, with Mr. Henry just forging forth through the river. He is fearless and so incredible! I know this next section of trail very well as it’s my home turf. A couple of riders catch us and are crusing along with us. I’m able to share where the good places are to trot and move out, where to use caution. Some where along the way, as we are nearing Lower Quarry, I think to ask Barb if she knows what time it is. I’d managed to leave the reciever part of the GPS/heart rate monitor on the charger in Foresthill.... She mentioned it was 3:50! Oh no! I’m pretty sure we need to be out of Lower Quarry by 4 am... I tell Barb to go ahead of us if her pony will trot consistently. Get to Lower Quarry, get out of the check and go fast to the finish. Do not risk your completion by hanging out with us. Turns out, that was the best advice I could have given. Barb sent her horse off into a trot... got a little a head of us and Mr. Henry decided he would have no part of that cute horse leaving us. It was all of the incentive he needed to go fast. We made into Lower Quarry right about 4 am... the volunteers there were unbelievably amazing. I’ve volunteered there three times in the past. The folks there on Sunday morning showed me what a truly amazing volunteer is. They all worked incredibly hard to get each of us out and on the trail to the finish. Thank you to everyone that was there and made that fast getaway possible.

Six miles. Six fast miles my friend... we can do this! We both know this trail well... let’s go! Mr. Henry was agreeable to picking up the pace along the quarry road, but only at about six-ish miles per hour. I thought, ok... we’ll make this work, somehow. Then another rider came up from behind, trotting a faster pace. Once again, Mr. Henry dug deep into his reserves and kept up with that fast little Arab. We hung onto them across No Hands (another first for me, I’ve not ever ridden over No Hands any faster than a walk!), across the wooden bridge at Canyon Creek, and on up the road until we made the final right turn onto the single track that takes you to the Overlook. That’s when Mr. Henry let me know what our pace would be. We walked at the pace he was willing to give me. By now, I’d learned what it took to get him to move along and I tried all the tricks I’d figured out. Nope, this is our pace and that’s that. We stopped at the spring with the water trough and he took several long, long drinks. Other horses came by and I hoped that he’d have renewed enthusiasm to stay with them. No thank you, I’ll just finish my drink. So we continued up the hill toward Auburn, with me pleading, reminding him that his mom was waiting there with all sorts of groceries... and of course by now we were on a first name basis... John, lets just do this. Whatever pace you want is fine, let’s just get there! Once again, his response to my request was “I’ve got this, you just sit tight, we’ll get there, don’t worry.” We did cross the finish line to cheers and hugs and tears being shed not only by me. Unfortunately, it was 24 minutes past 5:15. We might not have achieved that 6th buckle or broken that long standing record, but he DID go the distance. He went the 100 miles at 21 years old, after a five year sabatical from Tevis, and most importantly, from recovering from that horrific injury only two years before.

Mr. Henry is an amazing spirit. He is a champion and a warrior. He went the 100 miles, giving me all that I asked for and more.

I am so proud and honored that I got to ride him. I know that he’ll be back stronger than ever and is a force to be reckoned with.

I’ve attached a few photos… these are the only ones I have of us. I know there are a lot out there already though!