Going the distance
Leading one of her seven horses on her 12 1/2 acre ranch, 44-year-old veterinarian Melissa Ribley’s dedication to the care and training of her horses goes hand in hand with her endeavors as an accomplished athlete.
Finding joy in horseback riding, Ribley, a Grass Valley resident for 19 years, has participated in 10 World Championship Ride and Ties, 10 smaller Ride and Tie events, and has ridden in multiple Tevis Cups ÐÐ a 100 mile ride through the Sierra Nevada completed in 24 hours.
“I guess it started because I had this pony and I found a book on the Tevis Cup,” Ribley said, describing her early fascination with the unique sports. “It looked like a challenging ride, so I asked my mom if I could do the ride and she said I should get a horse first.
“So, the next year I bought a half Arabian and rode.”
More than 30 years later, Ribley is still captivated by the world of competitive long distance riding. In June she and her partner, Cathy Scott completed Ribley’s 10th Ride and Tie event, and Scott’s first.
“That event was really fun,” Ribley said. “She’s (Scott) is a very good runner, probably better than I am. That’s the thing about Ride and Tie, you need to both be good at riding and running. I think that’s what makes it so difficult.”
In June, at the World Championship Ride and Tie, Ribley chose to ride her chestnut colored, 9-year-old Arabian, Monique. The trio took 30th place in the event, held at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
“The way the event works is you work in teams of two people and one horse,” Ribley said, explaining the objective of the race. “One person starts running at the same time as the rider. The person on the horse is obviously faster than the runner so they go about a half mile, stop and tie up the horse and take off running.
“The running partner catches up to the (tied-up) horse and rides up to the rider and hands off the horse. That’s how you progress down the course.”
Each Ride and Tie route is roughly 34 miles, Ribley explained. Throughout the course there are also two veterinarians at checkpoints who inspect the horse to evaluate its riding condition.
“Endurance riding is what caused me to want to become a veterinarian because of the veterinarian checkpoints,” Ribley said.
Passionate about long-distance riding, Ribley and her husband, Robert Ribley, a horse trainer, also manage the Wild West Ride, which is a 3 day long event, covering 50 miles each day.
“Right now, Robert is going for his 10th buckle. You get a buckle each time you complete the Tevis Cup,” Ribley said, admiring her husband’s accomplishments. “It’s kinda a big mile stone, there’s not a lot of people who complete 10 rides. I have completed 5. It’s a challenging ride to finish. There’s a lot of difficult terrain.”
According to Ribley close to 200 riders enter the cup but sometimes less than half are actually able to complete the 100 mile raceÐÐstarting in Truckee and ending at the Auburn Fairgrounds.
“You have 24 hours to finish. A winner will take about 13 hours to finish. I take about 23 hours,” she said laughing. “The highest I’ve come in is in the 70s. The winner of the Tevis Cup gets an actual cup. They also have a very coveted award, the Haggin Award, which goes to the horse in the best condition and finishes in the top 10 horses.”
To insure the health of the horses involved in the rigorous race, veterinarians inspect the animals every 10 miles.
“It’s usually the veterinarian’s choice if the horse can continue in the race,” Ribley said.
Gearing up for the next Tevis Cup ride on July 23, Ribley has been training rigorously with her mule, Murr the Blur.
“He’s won some 50 mile rides,” Ribley said, stroking the tethered animal. “He’s in good shape this year and seems the most ready. There’s mostly Arabians entered in the cup and they tend to do the best.”
Ribley and her husband chose a horse (or mule) depending on how fit each animal is and where it is in its training.
“Our horses that compete in the Tevis Cup have been competing in endurance for a couple of years,” Ribley said. “We’ll do peak training, which involves taking them (the horses) on long all day, trail rides about every week and a half.”
” This year I’m optimistic to finish,” Ribley said. “I think my mule is in good shape but there’s always luck involved.”
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