1993 Ride and Tie World Championship

Trading Snowshoes for Horseshoes with Fanci and Chuck

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in the California Events Schedule, October 1993

For more about Ride & Tie, visit the Ride and Tie Organization

The spirit of adventure and perpetual cross-training has taken me to a wide variety of wild events this year, like the 100 mile Iditasport Snow-Shoe Race held in Alaska in February and the Triple Ironman in France in May. Recently this spirit took me to the Ride and Tie World Championship near Arroyo Grande, CA, on July 10. No surprise, I was in for one of the greatest adventures of my life.

The race format seemed simple enough from my perspective: each team of two runners and one horse would take turns either running or riding the horse while covering a cross-country course. It was said that this was the toughest course (36.5 miles) and most competitive field ever in the history of this unique sport, but all I was concerned about was that I didn't know how to ride a horse.

So, I made a point of showing up in Arroyo Grande at dusk, the evening before the race to allow enough time to meet my partner and get a fifteen minute riding lesson. One of the race organizers, Curt Riffle, hooked me up with the only athlete to compete in all of the previous 22 Ride and Tie World Championships, Chuck Stalley of Williams, CA, a 40 year old school teacher. In 22 years, he'd won the event on three occasions (72, 73, and 76) and become revered from coast to coast for his equestrian talents. Chuck had only dropped out of one Championship event and his chosen steed for this year's race, an Arabian named Fanci (short for E.F. Fanci Flight), had completed seven previous Championships. Completing this awesome team was yours truly. I'd ridden horses twice in my life, once at age seven and once at a walking pace this April. Surely things wouldn't be too far off from the Mr. Ed shows I'd watched as a kid, I figured. As darkness set in, Chuck and his wife/pit crew, Pam, "taught" me how to stop, go, turn left, and turn right. I'd have to learn the rest while racing.

The race got underway bright and early in a cool fog with the horseback half of the teams taking off at a gallop and leaving us on foot in a cloud of dust. The trail ranged from single track to fire road and was always well marked. In teams with one particularly strong runner, that runner takes off on the horse at the start, in order to establish a lead. But I couldn't possibly ride at a gallop, let alone amongst seventy-five teams of frantic horses converging on a narrow trail, so Chuck took off while I ran. Just a few miles into the race, there he was, waiting with Fanci at the start of a climb that closely resembled a cliff.

This would be our second divergence from traditional ride and tie racing strategy: The rider doesn't normally wait with the horse in order to help his partner get on it, but rather ties up the horse and takes off on foot, leaving the horse for the runner to find, mount, and ride. Hence, the name "ride and tie." But at least until I got the hang of things and Fanci got used to me, Chuck would wait for me to make sure I didn't get thrown while mounting Fanci, or let the overanxious horse get away in the process. (On several occasions during the race I heard "loose horse" being shouted at me, then turned around to find a horse galloping straight at me!) So with Chuck's help, I was on the horse and soon getting a free ride up the death climb.

So off I went, into the real world of ride and tie: racing cross-country in the fog, runners and riders covering every inch of trail, beautiful teamwork amongst people and their animal friends. What a thill and what a privilege to be a part of something so wonderful! At the top of the hill, I dismounted and tied Fanci to a tree, then started bombing down the trail on foot amongst the runners and horses. I heard Chuck yell "way to go, Chris!" as I disappeared into the fog. Wow! Unreal! My amazement carried me along at a ridiculous pace, quad pounding be damned...

And on it went. Chuck would come on by, then wait for me at the frequent death climbs and help me get going. Riding Fanci was nerve wracking at first, but a welcome respite from the trail pounding none the less. Running was tough, for I'd never seen a race held on such relentless and insanely steep hills, nor one where the footing was so treacherous and abusive. But I loved it! Eventually Fanci got used to this total stranger, so we started to do the real thing: taking turns riding and tieing, just like the name says.

As the miles went by, I got used to having horses literally breathing down my neck as I scampered down the trail. From a competitive standpoint, it was important to start picking up the pace during my 100 yard to quarter mile stints on the horse, so I did and it was SCARY! It took all I know about harmonizing with the universe to keep from falling off or letting Fanci break into a gallop! Yikes!

But I managed to hang on, occasionally with a little help from Chuck's friends Brev and Alfonso, whose horse is a stablemate and friend of Fanci's. Before I knew it we'd covered the first ten miles, but we weren't into the home stretch yet. My first attempt at riding Fanci at a canter on flat ground was a total disaster, with Chuck's only comment being "That's as green as anyone can get." Ouch! This race was bruising my body And my ego...

The first 18 mile loop brought us back to the central vet check area where Fanci's heart rate and trotting ability were carefully checked out. As we continued on through the miles of hills and arroyos, I learned to trot with some proficiency, but I was still nervous as all get out while doing it. Running was certainly still my forte, so I continued to cover the majority of the course on foot, but the brutal terrain and uneven footing made even this exhausting. (At the finish, we calculated that I'd run 29 out of the 36.5 miles!)

Finally I learned to canter! And it turns out that the faster cantering gait is more comfortable and less scary than trotting. If only I'd known! Now I felt like a real "ride and tier" as Chuck and I started to alternate regularly and really began to pick up the pace. Being surrounded by a strong contingent of the women's field was also a rush, with up to four of us on horses cantering together down the trails. I felt like John Wayne in some B movie. These people and horses are fine athletes, to be sure.

Chuck gave me the honor of riding Fanci into the finish and as we crossed the open field towards the finish line, I heard the race announcer singing litanies of Chuck's experiences, then explain who his partner was. With a brief rundown of my background, he concluded that I'd "traded my snowshoes for horseshoes to do this race." But soon I realized that my pace wasn't fast enough to reel in Chuck before the finish line. Really wanting to cross together, I kicked my heels in and brought Fanci to a canter. Placing 49th with a time of 5:39:28, the crowd went wild as Chuck, Fanci, and I finished together. It was a powerful moment that I'll not soon forget.

But all was not over yet, not when you're with folks so genuine and fun as ride and tiers! After we'd all showered ourselves and our equestrian teammates, and changed into an interesting collection of running gear and western duds, it was time for a huge barbecue and the festivities. As we chowed on grub from the chuck wagon, each finishing team was introduced and innumerable prizes were distributed. Once the umpteenth well-deserved round of applause had been made, the area was cleared and a live band came on, but once again I was out of my league. Of course, now that I'd become such a horseback stud, it should have come natural to be able to two-step, right? Guess I'll have to learn that next year...

Thanks again to Chuck, Pam, and Fanci Stalley, as well as Curt Riffle, Skip Lightfoot, and Mark Conover for making this dream come true for me!