Going the distance: Local rider places 10th in 100-mile national championship horse race
After fifty years riding horses and more than thirty years of racing them, Teresa Fett was beginning to think she'd never get to ride in a 100-mile horse race, a dream of hers.
A test of strategy and endurance, a 100-mile is set up in "loops" of about 15 to 25 miles, the entirety of which needs to be completed within a 24-hour period — it's no easy feat. The timing had to be right for Teresa and her husband, Dale Fett, to pull it off.
"You know, it's one of those things, you've got to work at getting a horse," said Teresa, adding, "there's not a lot of horses that can do a 100-mile."
The Fetts have had many horses in their day but, either they weren't up to the challenge of the lengthy race, or the timing wasn't right for Teresa and Dale to take it on themselves — until recently, when their 13-year-old Arabian, CR Mister Aaz, proved not only could he run the 100 miles, but he could place them 10th in a national championship endurance race in North Carolina this September.
The Fetts have been racing Aaz in hundreds for the last few years now, and he's consistently proven he's a horse that can persevere. Arabian horses, Dale joked, "are kind of like a cheating horse," because they're built to run. They have bigger lungs and nostrils, allowing them to take in more oxygen than, say, a quarter horse.
But no matter how well the horse is built, no one is guaranteed a win. As Teresa says, horses "are an accident waiting to happen." They could spook and get injured or slip or trip on the rough terrain and, if they show any sign of injury throughout those hundred miles, they're out.
"The horse has to be fit to continue," said Dale. "If you run 100 miles, and he comes in and he's got a limp, you get zero for the day...disappointing...At the end, it's scary. When you're close, and you gotta get a vet check."
Teresa says in competition she gets too nervous to even watch her horse get checked by the veterinarian at each stop. She'd ride into the camp, get off her horse and hand it over to Dale, who is "the crew guy." He trots the horse and pours water on him to cool him off and get his heart rate down for the vet inspection.
Teresa also preferred not to know what place she was in for most of the race — avoiding the pressure to perform. Dale, on the other hand, is content to watch the leaderboard.
"My deal is: run harder," he said with a laugh.
"We've always been racers — snowmobiles and everything — so he has a hard time realizing in his brain that this isn't a motor. This is flesh and blood," said Teresa, adding that at one point during the championship race she told him, "It is what it is because when I'm done, that horse is going to be standing up, and he's going to be healthy."
And Aaz rose to the occasion with the best of them, until right before the final loop of the race, when his heart rate got a little high and he started to act like he was tightening up.
But Teresa knew better than to push Aaz to finish. Instead, she elected to take an extra 10 minutes on top of the mandatory 30-minute break before the final loop, fearing if they didn't take it easy, they'd get disqualified in the few final miles of the lengthy race.
"After doing this, I've seen people just burn through horses," said Teresa. "They go, 'My horse is off. My horse is off.' Well, quit riding...give the horse a break."
She says it's about listening to your horse and, hopefully, having one that can run hundreds for many years to come.
"They do give out award pins for horses that have gone more than 10 years. They're encouraging you that your horse makes this long duration," said Teresa, adding that the two horses she raced before Aaz were in the sport for 10 and 15 years.
And Aaz, after persevering the grueling hundred miles last month, is ready and rearing for another run this weekend. Teresa will be running him in a 50-mile in southern Minnesota, hoping to earn more points for the horse who is ranked third in the state, sixth in the region and now 10th in the nation for endurance.