Couple completes horse-riding contest

At 5:15 a.m. last Saturday, Ken and Betty Wolgram of Craig set out on horseback to conquer 100 miles of trails over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

23 hours and 55 minutes later, just five minutes before the deadline, Ken crossed the finish line. Betty came in 50 minutes later.

The couple stayed together for 93 miles of the grueling Tevis Cup, the oldest endurance horse competition in America and arguably the toughest in the world. The race started near Lake Tahoe and finished in Auburn, Calif., about 30 miles from Sacramento.

Betty said that by 4 a.m. she was fatigued, and the dark was making her uncomfortable. They knew that neither would finish if they stayed together, so they made the decision for Ken to try to finish the race on time.

"I couldn't justify holding him back," Betty said. "I was wobblin' in the saddle."

This was Betty's first Tevis Cup, but Ken had competed the year before and didn't finish in time.

Ken said he had expected them both to finish this race in 22 hours, but some unexpected snags before the race held them back.

When Betty's horse was injured days before they were set to leave, they decided she would ride Ken's 14-year-old horse, Summer, and Ken would ride 9-year-old Hawk, owned by their veterinarian, Kay Gunckel, one of the five members of their traveling crew.

Then, 15 minutes before the start of the race, they realized they forgot their splint boots. Ken retrieved them in time, but the delay put them at the back of the pack. Betty estimates they lost 40 minutes stuck behind slow riders.

But their dual completion of the Tevis Cup, even if not on time, is a great feat. Many horses are pulled throughout the race for not being in good condition. Riders are required to stop at two one-hour checkpoints and various optional "gate and go" stops during the race where veterinarians check the horses for pulse rates and lameness.

The Wolgrams said they have an advantage because their horses are so well conditioned. Betty said that if a horse is well conditioned, the race is harder for the rider.

"You need to ride horses a lot, but not necessarily at a fast pace," she said. "We ride ours year-round," and for up to 20 miles per ride, she said.

Ken's horse Summer has won numerous national horse competitions, which are different from endurance races.

The couple already is planning for next year's competition, where they hope to achieve their goal of both finishing the race on time.

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