They’ve been companions on many memorable 100-mile rides during their eight years together – the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky., the 2011 Patriot’s Day Endurance Ride at Lake Almanor, where they broke the North American record with time of 6 hours, 53 minutes, the 2012 Presidents Cup in Abu Dhabi – and now the oldest 100-mile trail ride in the world.
Napa’s Lindsay Graham Fisher returned to the Tevis Cup 100-Miles-In-One-Day Trail Ride after a nine-year hiatus on Aug. 1, this time with trusty 13-year-old gelding Monk, and pulled off her second Top 10 finish in three tries at the ride along the Western States Trail from Truckee to Auburn.
They placed eighth out of 201 entrants, only 90 of which were able to finish within the 24-hour limit. They arrived at McCann Stadium 18 hours, 9 minutes after the 5:15 a.m. start at Robie Park.
“Monk is an incredible horse and athlete. He has been gifted with talent that not many horses have,” Graham Fisher of the horse, which is owned by Chris and Nancy Martin of Penn Valley. “I am not sure that I can put into words how much Monk means to me and how lucky I am to have been able to share so many wonderful experiences with this horse. Monk means the world to me. I would do anything for him, as he has already done everything for me.”
It was Graham Fisher’s first Tevis Cup attempt since 2006 when, just six years after graduating from Vintage High School, she pulled off a seventh-place finish – at the time the best-ever finish by a Napa Valley entrant in the ride. Her horse was 19-year-old Phoenix Affair, which after this year’s ride remains the oldest horse to crack the Tevis Top 10. This year’s third-place horse came close, though, at 18 years, three months.
“Phoenix was also an amazing horse and I hope he keeps that record forever,” Graham Fisher said of the horse she also rode to a 19th-place finish in her Tevis debut in 2005.
Since then, along with conquering the aforementioned 100-milers across the country and globe, she married Erik Fisher in June 2012. They welcomed daughter Hailey Mae into the world in July 2013.
“I had not done the Tevis Cup for nine years because I did not have a horse that I felt was ready for it and, on top of it, life happened,” explained Graham Fisher, a doctor of veterinary medicine. “I went to veterinary school, got married and had a baby. I did start riding Monk back in 2007, but we were focused on doing FEI (International Federation for Equestrian Sports) rides and hoping to make the 2010 World Equestrian Games, which we did. Otherwise, I would have done Tevis on Monk a long time ago.
“The Tevis Cup has always been on our bucket list. I have been looking forward to the day for quite a while. I knew that Monk would do well in this race, as he can master technical trails and climb hills like a deer. But this race comes with a lot of obstacles and luck, so it is always a challenge no matter who you are or what horse you are riding.”
After riding Monk in the 2012 Presidents Cup in the United Arab Emirates, her next mission was to make the team for the World Endurance Championship in London later that year. To make the team, they competed at the trials in Texas.
Monk sidelined for three years
“That is where Monk sustained a ‘career-ending’ suspensory ligament injury,” Graham Fisher said. “He was treated with stem cell injections and rested for one year. Then, while being brought back, he injured the branch of the suspensory ligament in that same leg. He was given more time off. It wasn’t until this spring that I had asked Chris if I could borrow Monk to do some slow, low-mileage rides with my mom (Susie Siebert). So I did one 25-miler and one 50-miler on Monk this year.”
They didn’t start training for the Tevis Cup until about seven weeks out.
“This was very last-minute, as we did not think Monks leg could hold up to such challenging trail,” Graham Fisher said. “But as Chris kept riding him this spring, Monk kept getting stronger and was holding up to the workouts that he used to be able to do – and he was staying sound in the limb. Chris trained him and had done some grueling workouts weeks prior to the ride.
“Monk had not done much in three years, so his workouts had to be intense in order for us to feel confident that he could do this ride. I only rode Monk about five weeks before Tevis, on a 20-mile ride on the Western States Trail itself.”
Having a soon-to-be-2-year-old to take care impacted her training, as well.
“Training for Tevis was hard, as I was either working or watching Hailey,” she said. “I had to get some help from my family to watch her so that I could do some riding, but it was definitely not as much as I should. I was pretty tired after the ride and also had vertigo, so that didn’t help. But I survived.”
Monk made his Tevis Cup debut look easy.
“I was impressed that not only did Monk finish the Tevis Cup, but that he finished so strong,” Graham Fisher said. “He had hardly done anything the last few years and to do well in a ride that is so incredibly hard, and with the toughest in competition that I’ve seen in years, also remarkable.”
She didn’t push the horse, spending the first part of the ride between 30th and 40th place before realizing they could shoot for Top 10.
“I did not ride Monk as fast as I usually do, as I was honestly worried about his leg holding up,” Graham Fisher said. “They we just kept picking horses off all day. He was so strong. He ate and drank better than he ever had, and we just cruised our way up to the top.
“I think people had even higher expectations of us, like winning the ride, which I thought was silly under our circumstances. I had high hopes of taking Top 10 but was not going to ride faster than I wanted to go in order to do so. I was passed by at least 20 horses as I walked Monk through the awful footing of Granite Chief Wilderness. I also let riders leave vet checks earlier than us, as he was eating so well. I did all the things that I wanted at my own pace, and we still were able to accomplish eighth place.”
Close finish for eighth
Graham Fisher and the ninth-placer nearly finished together, while the 10th-placer was only a minute behind, while the 11th-place finisher 23 minutes behind her.
“I left the last vet check with six miles to go with one horse two minutes behind me and the 10th-place horse maybe 10 minutes back. I had not seen the 11th-place horse while at that check or as I left, so I was pretty certain that I had a good gap,” she recalled. “After the leaving the last check, I trotted two miles to the highway crossing and maybe one mile after crossing No Hands Bridge. At that point, I did not want to take any chances, so I walked. I had plenty of horse under me if I needed to press the pedal.
“It is easy to hear horses coming down the trail and the two behind me either had glow sticks on them or a headlight, so I could also see them. I walked until the horse behind me caught up, which was less than a mile to the finish, and then we did an easy trot in as she was worried about horses behind us. I assured her that we were fine and that we were very close to the end.”
Graham Fisher thanked her crew – her parents, Susie and Steve Seibert; her husband, Erik Fisher; the Martins; her mother-in-law, Veronica Simpson; and her sister-in-law, Jessica Valtierra.
“My crew was amazing and very instrumental in getting me out on time and taking care of both myself and Monk at the vet checks,” Graham Fisher said. “All of my crew did a wonderful job, but I would have to give my stepdad, Steve, the award as best crew member. He stayed up all night after the ride to walk Monk every two hours so that he would not stiffen up. I know that Monk would have not looked nearly as good the following morning for Best Condition Judging had Steve not sacrificed his sleep. I owe him for life.”
The Haggin Cup, which goes to the horse in the most superior physical condition among the top-10 finishers after the ride, went to Moraga’s Jenni Smith. Her crew included Yountville’s Jennifer Waitte, who in 2013 finished second in the Tevis Cup for what is now the best-ever finish by a Napa Valley rider. Graham Fisher, who won the best condition award with Monk at the record-breaking Lake Almanor ride in 2011, thought they had a good chance of winning the Haggin Cup this year.
“At the finish line vet check his cardiac recovery index was great and most of his scores were A’s. The day of the showing I could not keep up with him as I ran the circles,” she said. “He was completely sound and had a lot of energy considering what we had just done. But many other horses looked good as well making it very competitive. It would have just been the icing on the cake to win this, but I am not disappointed at all. I know Jenni Smith through Jen Waitte. I met her several years ago and she is such a nice person. I was so happy for her and her Haggin Cup win. She did an amazing job and her horse looked great.
“I am just so proud of Monk and so pleased about everything. I want to thank everyone who supported, cheered and followed us all day and night on our incredible journey.”