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  • Tosha Duncan

My Endurance Riding Origin Story

I have likely met most of you through three-day eventing, jumpers, dressage, or thoroughbreds. I’m sure all of the endurance content has been a bit of a shock, but to tell the truth, endurance riding and I go way back! Not growing up in a horse family or with much disposable income, I was an opportunist when it came to riding. Meaning, I’d ride anything and everything I could get my hands on no matter the tack, breed, size, shape, or training. 


Growing up I gravitated more towards English disciplines, and besides the occasional trail ride, hadn't really left the arena. When I was a junior in high school, our small local newspaper (The Union, for my Grass Valley people), used to run classified ads and job postings. I spotted one looking for an exercise rider and called immediately.


The gentleman who posted the ad lived deep in the country, down a very long and semi-washed out dirt road that my sparkly blue Volkswagen bug looked hilarious bumping down. My mom went with me the first time to perform her due diligence and not send her daughter into the sticks to meet a stranger. As luck would have it, the man who posted the ad was Chris Martin, who I still highly regard as one of the best. I’d unknowingly stumbled across one of the greatest teachers I could have hoped for to introduce me to the sport.


I still remember my “interview” like it was yesterday. The ranch was perched a few miles above Englebright Lake in Nevada County, and there was a myriad of trail options that would either lead you to the lake or wind you through the hills. My mom stayed at the house while Chris and I headed for the barn. I believe I got a few introductions to horses, quick overview on tack, then next thing I know I’m swinging a leg over Bo, a grey Arabian gelding, and taking off down the trail!


That first ride was exhilarating and unlike anything I’d done before. I’m sure in hindsight that Chris went extremely easy and slow with me, but in my sixteen-year-old mind we were going Mach 10! Flying through the rolling hills, up and down steep climbs, dodging rocks and trees, and bursting out of an oak woodland to see the deep blue waters of Englebright below us was immediately addicting and awe-inspiring. For a kid who had grown up with a deep love of both nature and horses, this was the ultimate combination.


Neither Chris or I talked much, something that would stay consistent throughout our almost two year-long partnership. Not because we didn’t enjoy each other’s company, but I think because that was both of our default mode. We loved being on the trail and didn’t feel the need to chatter, choosing instead to soak in the sights and appreciate the moment. To this day, unless I am riding with close friends I’m rather silent (besides mumbling words of encouragement to my horse, which I do quite a bit). I will also mention that unless you are riding at a walk it can be extremely hard to hear what people are saying! Try keeping up a conversation at a trot or canter over terrain and let me know how it goes.


** Quick sidebar for a funny moment: I was out riding last year with someone new, and thought we were talking quite a bit. There weren't many lulls in the conversation, and I wasn’t thinking much about it until my riding partner suddenly asked me if I’m “always this quiet?”


I was taken aback as it felt to me like we’d been talking non-stop, so I somewhat haltingly replied with, “I guess so?”


In any case, if we share the trail someday and I’m silent, just know that it’s not you, it’s me! **


Back to my interview! After nearly an hour of the craziest riding I’d ever done, we ended up at the barn untacking, still in silence. At this point I was unsure if Chris had seen the shocked and exhilarated look on my face the entire time, or me clinging to Bo for dear life. As we wrapped up, he turned to me and asked when I could be back, indicating that the job was mine. Months down the road I finally asked him why he decided to take me on, and he simply said, “every time I looked back, you were still there.”


The rest is, essentially, history. I went to Chris’ or met him at a trailhead a few days a week until I graduated from high school and left for college. I had the coolest after school job a kid can have! After learning the ropes on Bo, my main horse became a big bay Arabian gelding called Rambo Bay. Rambo was a dream, a horse that I would give anything to have the chance to ride knowing what I know now. I was too young and inexperienced to realize how rare he was at the time, all I knew was that I loved him dearly.


Rambo and I got six rides together, including four top ten placings, thirteenth at the Virginia City 100 (where I rode alone as a fresh seventeen-year-old), and a Tevis attempt. Tevis was our final hurrah in 2006 before I left for college, and sadly our day ended early following a fall on Cougar Rock. I was unscathed in the fall, but Rambo was slightly banged up and shaken. I hand walked him the remaining miles to the next vet check where I was given the option to continue, but opted to pull.


A month after Tevis, I was moved into my dorm at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Chris got me in touch with a local woman who rode endurance. During my time in Reno (which would be cut short after the conclusion of my freshman year due to life changes), I had the wonderful opportunity to ride with this woman a few days a week. In 2007 I took her young Arabian gelding to his first endurance ride, a 30-mile ride just outside of Reno. We finished tenth and I still remember to this day how strong that horse was!


That was my last endurance ride for fifteen years. I firmly believe what I learned from endurance gave me a leg up in all other disciplines I’ve tried. The conditioning, horse care, and ability to read terrain and trail are all vital skills that I feel all horse people would benefit from.


I owe everything to Chris, who took a chance on a kid that had hardly left the arena, put me on one of the best endurance horses I’ve sat on, and taught me how to do the damn thing. I’m indebted to my mom, who hated that I rode but still supported me and crewed for me at several rides, including Tevis (where she had to wait agonizing hours to know I was alright after hearing that Rambo and I had fallen on Cougar Rock). I have Rambo to thank for giving me wings, confidence, and a fire for the sport of endurance that still burns to this day. Lastly, I have so much appreciation for the go-getter, sixteen-year-old me who answered that ad and unknowingly opened up a whole new world for herself.


The twists and turns my personal and riding life took in those fifteen years between rides might have to be revealed in later blogs. For now, I will end by saying that before anyone knew me as the thoroughbred lady or the eventer, I was the endurance kid who loved cruising down the trail. It has been a rush and an exhilarating joy to rekindle that passion!

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