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The first horse to cross the finish line of the 64th Tevis Cup 100-Miles One-Day Trail Ride on Aug. 17 won by the length of its body over the runner-up.

It was the kind of close finish Lindsay Fisher might have been involved in two years before, had the Napa veterinarian not believed in the true spirit of the event from Truckee to Auburn along the Western States Trail – that it’s a ride, not a race, and that winning should not take precedence over the horse’s health. She and another rider were at the last veterinary check together in 2017, leading the field, when the other rider took off. Rather than give chase, Fisher finished getting gelding “Monk” ready for the last six miles and ended up in second place by 12 minutes.

Top finishers also get a chance to win the Haggin Cup, a trophy given to the horse deemed to be in the best condition of the top 10 finishers after the race.

Fisher placed ninth this year – her fifth consecutive top 10 finish aboard Monk, a 17-year-old Arabian owned by Chris Martin of Penn Valley. It also meant a fifth straight round of Haggin Cup testing and judging for the 2000 Vintage High School graduate and Monk, after they had placed fourth last year, fifth in 2016 and eighth in 2015.

Not in the last four years, nor even in 2006 – when Fisher placed seventh aboard her mother Susie Seibert’s gelding, “Phoenix Affair” – had her horse ever won the Haggin Cup, though she thought she would almost every year.

“I’ve shown six times and every time I have had a horse that’s sound and looks pretty good. So you know, I thought it was always a possibility,” Fisher said last week. “But I think he looked better this year than in the past for the Haggin Cup showing.”

When they were finally announced as the winners this year on Aug. 18, after Monk was trotted in front of the judges by Ann Hall, wife of three-time Haggin winner and two-time Tevis victor Hal Hall, the reaction from the crowd indicated the Tevis Board of Governors had made the right choice.

“I’m definitely surprised and overwhelmed right now,” Fisher said during her speech, according to the Auburn Journal newspaper. “He’s just a really special horse. I really can’t describe how much this horse means to me. Hopefully, I mean the same to him.”

Fisher and Monk also had their names added to the Wendell Robie Cup, which goes to a horse that finishes five times.

“Presentation is a big part of it,” Fisher said last week. “Ann can run faster than me and she wasn’t sore like me, and she worked on circles with him a week before. So the plan was to have me do the first trot out and back, nice and easy and slow because it was a cardiac recovery index exam where they get the heart rate, then trot them out in a minute later check the heart rate again when he was calm, and then have Ann take over. It worked really well. He had a lot of energy and he was running in front of her.”

“It was a great year for us because we three goals – finishing a fifth time, finishing in the top 10 five times – there’s been only one other horse that’s done that – and try to get the Haggin Cup – and we were able to meet every single one of those goals,” Fisher said. “Everything fell into place just right.”

At just the right time.

Fisher wasn’t sure she’d even make the top 10, and get into Haggin Cup consideration, with about 20 miles left in the race.

“In about 30 seconds, I went from fourth place to 10th place,” she recalled. “I was doing a nice, easy trot and a group of six horses came barreling around the bend. I quickly did the math in my head, and then I was questioning where that 11th-place horse was. In the past I’ve been close to first place, so to be close to 10th place was a little bit nerve-wracking, for sure.

I said ‘Holy mackerel – let me pull over,’ and I let them by. But at the same time I obviously had pick it up a little bit. Monk wanted to stay with them, but we were going at a pace Monk was comfortable going at, and we weren’t having our best year out there.

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“We were close to first place just before Michigan Bluff (62.5 miles into the race) and I almost took the lead, but I didn’t feel like I had enough horse under me.”

On top of the stress of finishing in the top 10, Fisher was feeling dizzy. She said she’s experienced vertigo on every ride, from bouncing around on top of a horse for nearly two-thirds of a day, but that this was the worst she’s felt.

“I had to ride really slow the last one or two miles because I was getting really bad vertigo. I actually got sick and had to get off the horse,” she recalled. “I knew I had to suck it up and go faster, but I really just tried to do as little as I could to finish in the top 10. We crossed the finish line 10th, but the horse that crossed fifth was lame and got pulled (disqualified) and that bumped us into ninth.”

Her crew members, most of whom had also helped during her previous Tevis Cup rides, were husband Erik Fisher, sister Allison Knox, Martin, Seibert, and friends Bob Spoor, Shellie Hatfield, Jessica Tuteur, Lily Davenport and Veronica Simpson.

“A lot of people had high hopes of me winning the ride after being close two years in a row, but that’s not what I was going for. I’ve never gone there to try to win it,” she said. “I’ve wanted to get top 10 and get the Haggin Cup. That’s always been my goal, and it finally happened.”

Why go after an award that’s based on human judgement, rather to win the ride? Fisher feels the Haggin Cup is more respectable than the Tevis Cup.

“A lot of people are involved (in the judging) – the 20 or so vets involved with the ride, and a team of about 15 people called the cup committee who are at different points during the ride. They are watching for sportsmanship and how you handle your horse with other people and around the vets. Different parameters decide which horse looks the best, soundness, metabolic factors and everything like that. So it’s a combination of 30 people deciding which horse is in superior condition of the top 10.

“It is regarded as the highest award you can get in the sport of endurance riding, and more respected than winning the race. Not to discredit winning the ride. It is a very, very big deal to win it. It takes a very tough horse and a very tough rider to win Tevis, but that’s never been my goal.”

Fisher said she’s done riding Monk in the ride, but would like to ride her own horse – an Arabian mare that just gave birth – when the horse is ready in a few years.

“I have seven buckles,” she said of the brass awards that go to each 24-hour finisher, “and I definitely want to get 10 completions. That’s a big goal on a personal level for me, and you get a special buckle for that. She was bred by a woman who has bred four of the last seven Tevis Cup winners.”

As for Monk?

“He might be going to the national championships on Nov. 1 down south with Ann Hall,” she said. “If he goes there, that will probably be his last major ride.”

But Fisher wants to ride Monk one more time next year, in a 50-mile ride, so she can earn a spot on the American Endurance Ride Conference Decade Team. It acknowledges a rider who has kept an equine sound and actively competing and completed at least one endurance ride of 50 miles or more each year for 10 years. The recipient gets a certificate and a patch and may also purchase an embroidered Decade Team blanket or jacket.

After that, she said, Martin may allow a junior rider to ride Monk in future Tevis Cups.

“I’ll miss Monk,” Fisher said. “I got a little bit nostalgic on Monday, cleaning all my buckets from the ride. Everything says ‘Monk’ on it in permanent marker, and the names of the vet checks with his names on them. But he’s proven himself in that ride, so I’d like him to leave on top.”

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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.