Sanoma Blakeley, an eighteen-year-old from Terrebonne, Ore., accomplished what she had wanted to do since she was a kid - become a Tevis Cup champion.
One could say she was meant to win the Tevis Endurance Ride, especially given her family’s history with horses and racing. Her family owns the Blakeley Endurance Stables, where they care for seven horses - including RA Ares Bay, the horse Blakeley won with in the Tevis Cup. Her mother, Gabriela, has six Tevis completions; her father, Wasch, has five Tevis completions; and her brother, Barrak, has four Tevis completions in addition to winning the Haggin Cup at 15 years old. So, it comes as no surprise that Sanoma kept alive her family’s Tevis legacy.
“I grew up with horses, and endurance has always been a part of my life,” Blakeley said. “My grandfather used to log with horses, and my dad grew up with horses to care for his family's sheep herds. My parents got into Arabians and endurance when I was really young, and I did my first 25-mile endurance race when I was six.”
Inspired by her parents, who did their first Tevis in 2007, she aspired to do Tevis when she turned 12 years old, the minimum age one must be to compete.
“The challenge of the race itself is just amazing,” Blakeley said. “Half the race is just getting to the start line because so much can and does go wrong when you are training all year for a challenging race. Over training, under training, peaking too early, keeping weight on, but not feeding too much sugar and grain, keeping them from getting injured - there are so many factors getting ready for Tevis.”
She added that the Tevis has a 50 percent completion rate, a 24 hour cutoff time, and 17,000 feet of elevation gain and 21,000 feet of elevation loss in addition to three giant canyons that are steep and roughly one and a half to two miles deep. Also incorporating the ride occurring during the hottest part of the year and through the most challenging section of the trail, and there is no need to emphasize the difficulty of this race.
“Half the competition is the trail and the other half are the actual horses,” Blakeley said. “I tried it three times before this year, but I had only finished it once when I was 12 in 2013. In 2015, my horse got dehydrated and in 2016, my gelding slipped on a rock and cut himself. I love the atmosphere of Tevis, but there are a lot of steep, narrow trails and drop-offs, and I am not a huge fan of those.”
Things changed in 2011 when Blakeley and her family saw an ad for an almost-two-year-old gelding for free on Craigslist.
“His owners were moving across the country and were looking to rehome him,” Blakeley explained. “He was well cared for. They were picky about who they gave him to; he wasn't a rescue horse. They had done extensive x-rays on him, and since he was still young and had grown so fast, he had OCD in his stifles. They felt they couldn’t sell him, as they weren’t sure if he would ever make a good sport horse.”
Nonetheless, they decided to buy the gelding, RA Ares Bay, who the family nicknamed “Goober.”
“We decided to give him a chance and gave him a couple of years to grow into his long legs,” Blakeley said. “His stifles developed just fine with good nutrition and time. As a cocky two-year-old, he soon got the nickname Goober for opening locked gates, untying himself or other horses that were tied up, ripping blankets, playing with all the big horses, leading them by their halters, and irritating the serious horses. He would also play with buckets and nibble on everything, even taking a couple bites out of our car - because you never know how something tastes till you try it. We tried to rename him several times, but he has so much personality and still drives us crazy. I don’t think he will ever grow out of it.”
Blakeley and her family are all extremely fond of Goober, and it shows. The Tevis Cup brought Blakeley closer to Goober. She shared some of their most memorable moments during the ride.
“We came into Fransisco’s vet check (85 miles in) in second place, and we saw the first place horse getting ready to leave,” Blakeley said. “We were probably only about ten minutes behind. A couple minutes behind us came a big group of seven horses. We left the vet check with four other horses - Haley Moquin from Texas, Jeremy Reynolds of Florida, Richard George and Suzanne Huff, both from California - and moved out at a nice pace. About 90 miles in at the river crossing, Heather Reynolds, Jeremy's wife, caught our group, and the volunteer at the river crossing said the first place horse was only a few minutes ahead.”
Blakeley added after she and the group quickened their pace, they caught up with and passed the first place horse a few minutes after the river crossing. The Reynolds started to leave the group, so Blakeley decided to keep pace with them, which Goober had no problem doing.
“It was dark by the time we came into the Lower Quarry - a vet check at 94 miles - and the three of us came in together, but the other riders came in a few minutes behind,” Blakeley said. “We went straight through the vet, got some food and cooled off a little. Goobs knew where we were from the last three years and seemed to want to get to the finish, so we headed to the out timer and checked out. I put him into a nice gallop and tried to get some distance between us and Jeremy, who I knew would be coming at any minute. I tried to be stealthy and didn’t have any lights on, and we were moving pretty good through the winding trails for the last miles. We crossed No Hands Bridge, where my crew cheered us on.
“Jeremy caught us about four miles from the finish. We leapfrogged a few times between those last four miles, going as fast as the winding trail, darkness and 96 miles of wearing trail behind allowed us to go. It was a real horse race and during it I knew Goobs had a lot of kick for when it came down to the final sprint. But Jeremy is a heck of a horseman, and I would still be proud to lose to him. It came down to the final sprint, and I guess Goobs was just a little faster than his horse. We won by probably about a horse length.”
Both Goober and Reynolds’s horse, RTR Rimfires Etta, recovered their heart rates the quickest and engaged in this intense game of horse racing leapfrog for several miles before Blakeley and Goober pushed ahead to clinch the win.
“I have always had a soft spot for Goobs,” Blakeley said, “and throughout the eight years we have had him, he has been my mom's horse, my horse and my dad's horse for a while. Going into Tevis, he was my dad's horse, but coming home, he was mine! We definitely have a good relationship and two-way trust. I like to think he gives more for me, and I know he will take good care of me. He is really cocky, proud and smart, and especially after Tevis, he knows he is a big gun.”
But that is not where racing stops for this daring duo. Blakeley and Goober already plan to compete in Tevis next year.
“I want to try Tevis again with Goobs next year, although a lot can change in a year,” Blakeley said. “If we finish, he will get the Robie Cup, which is awarded to a horse that has completed Tevis five times. But after winning this year, we set the bar pretty high, so we will see what happens. I eventually want to be a missionary in another country, even if it means giving up horses. If it works out that I can have horses, I’d love to have horses for the rest of my life, but I’d really like to pursue my missionary work and my relationship with God. So, I feel like if horses are not in the equation, I’m okay with that.”