SI Vault
Bob Ottum
December 07, 1981
Ideally, this story should be written by a horse. Heck, it's only fair: The horses are in a lot better shape than the humans after one of these races. Besides, they get a bit more emotional about it, and the excitement is wildly contagious. There are moments in this race when everybody is snorting and puffing and pawing at the ground, no matter what his species. Another possible approach might be to pretend that a horse is narrating the story. But the problem with both of these devices is that no sensible horse could logically explain why people get so goofy over this event, and we would end up with awkward pauses and contemplative whinnies while the animal stared off into the distance.
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December 07, 1981

The Ride & Tie Race Demands Lots Of Stamina And Plenty Of Horse Sense

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Johns smiles at the wonderful simplicity of it all. "The son does exactly that. Then, refreshed, he jumps off and starts to run again while the horse rests, waiting for Dad to come along the trail. Now, it has been proven that incredible amounts of distance can be covered very quickly in this manner. One horse and one rider could not do it; the horse would collapse and die."

The story lurked in Johns's memory until 11 years later, when he created the first Ride & Tie race as a promotion for Levi's. Now there are some 200 ride-and-tie events in the U.S. every year, and even some in England and Germany. The Levi's race is considered the world championship.

"And then, doing more research," Johns says, "I discovered...."

Wait a minute, Bud.

He blinks reflectively. "Ahh," he says. "Well, actually, father and son only rode and tied for one day—about 40 miles. Then they took a stagecoach, and finally got their 14 horses back in Mexico."

That's better.

"The rustlers were all shot to death on the spot."

Vet checkpoint No. 2 is swirling under steady explosions of dust; it's up there at 6,600 feet, at an intersection of trails high in the forest. It's a million miles, easy, from civilization, lost among stands of white fir and cedar. Spotted here and there among the wildflowers are giant tree stumps, shattered and blackened by lightning.

The race is getting serious. The riders and runners have all changed color, no matter what color they may have been when they started. They come slogging up the trail with faces and bodies coated with dust. It has painted them all uniformly a gritty tan, and the sweat isn't beading up as it does on ordinary runners. It forms little trails down their bodies, miniature rivers.

And in the 10 or so miles from the start, the horses also have come to look alike. Sleek browns and polished blacks are now all dusty tan; there are no pintos or roans in these mountains. And that explains the odd decorative touches seen back at the starting line. Some of the horses had pranced into the race with bits of brightly colored yarn woven into their tails. One horse wore two shiny silver-foil stars tied high on its tail, as if dressed for a disco.

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