Being able to ride a horse all day long was a childhood fantasy for Cathy Mathews. Now married, a mother of three boys and a full-time nurse at Primary Children's Medical Center, Centerville's Mathews has found a way to spend all day in the saddle, like she always wanted.
Endurance racing.Twenty-five mile races led to 50- and 100-mile races. One horse led to four. One rider in the family led to three.
And one preliminary 25-mile race led three years later to a second-place finish in the national finals of endurance racing, the Race of Champions. That was last summer at Brian Head, and Mathews came close to winning what was considered the toughest Race of Champions ever held. Eighty-eight horse-and-rider teams started, and only 16 finished, many dropping out because the riders couldn't take the up-and-down all-day and all-night punishment.
Mathews took it, even though she was coming down with hepatitis. She might even have won, if she'd been willing to push her horse down one last dangerous hill in the dark like the man who was hired to ride the horse that took first. "I couldn't do it to him," she says. "I like Bub too much to run him down."
Bub is short for Ali Baba, Mathews' 9-year-old Arabian who is becoming one of the best endurance horses in the country. He's won five races of the 50- or 100-mile length, never finished lower than fourth and been named best-conditioned twice. He's won several 25-mile races, too, but Mathews doesn't count them.
"I think we're just a good team. I don't know if he'd work that well with somebody else," says Mathews, who will ride Bub this weekend in the third "Old Stagecoach" races Saturday and Sunday starting at the Allen Ranch near Fairfield, 25 miles west of Lehi.
The Lehi race will be held over a new, improved course that Mathews helped to mark two weeks ago. It usually draws 20-25 teams but could get more with added attractions including a 12-mile fun run on Sunday.
Saturday's racing includes a 12-mile clinic, which is a good way for beginners to learn about the sport, plus a 25-, 50- and two-day 100-mile race. Sunday's racing includes a 25-, 50- and the conclusion of the 100-mile race. All races start at 7 a.m. For information, call Dean Jackson, 254-4347.
It's purely an amateur sport, costing huge amounts for feed bills and transportation but paying only small prizes _ a halter, a saddle, occasionally a trailer. "We don't do without," Mathews says, but she's content in T-shirt and Levi's and not owning any charge cards.
This will be the eighth race of the year for Mathews and Bub, who are pointing toward entering the Tevis Cup in California July 30. That's the Kentucky Derby for endurance racers, an old-time rugged run over the mountains, some of it through designated wilderness area, from Squaw Valley to Auburn.
When Mathews was 12, she read about the Tevis in a magazine. She didn't have a horse, but, "I was always horse-crazy. My idea of a good time is riding all the time," she says. The thought of someday riding in the Tevis stuck with her like the Grand National stuck with Elizabeth Taylor in "National Velvet."
Four years ago, Cathy went with a sister-in-law, who wanted to buy a Palomino. "I fell in love with this gray who was full of it," she says. She told husband Ron, and he said go buy him.
She rode him over the varied terrain in the hills above Centerville, then found a friend of a friend who did endurance racing. Another friend, Norma Petet of Centerville, took Cathy and Bub to their first 25-miler, in Gunnison, and babied them through it. "We were last to leave and last to finish," says Mathews. "I didn't know how to follow a trail and didn't know what a vet check was." But she knew she liked riding all day.
She spent the summer conditioning Bub, then entered a 25-miler the next spring in St. George. Bub still had his winter hair and wasn't acclimated to the warm temperatures, and Ron, becoming an enthusiast, told his wife to just try and beat "some of the northern Utah horses." Instead, she and Bub won the race, and the Mathews family became fully involved, even if a feisty Bub did dump her into a pickup truck and knock her out at a race later that summer.
They bought land, and Ron and 12-year-old Nathan now have their own horses, Ahab the Arab and Saad Gai. Ron's been too busy to ride since last summer, but Nathan is racing.
Cathy also has a 4-year-old mare called Hum, short for Humdinger. Cathy can't spell Hum's registered name and wouldn't call her that anyway.
Hum is just starting out as an endurance horse, still a couple of years away from racing. Endurance horses don't mature until about age 7, because it takes that long to build sturdy bone and connecting tissue. Cathy trains Hum about 40-50 miles a week now. Bub stays in condition mainly through racing because his skeletal and cardiovascular systems are already built. He's just entering his prime racing age at 9. He's so strong he's run away with her near the end of a couple of 100-mile races.
Mathews spends about 25 hours a week on the horses, feeding special diets and training, often riding one and ponying another on the trails to save time. She runs in the mornings to stay in shape, and she spends time with the kids and often works overtime in Primary's newborn intensive care unit.
"I short myself on sleep," she admits. "I sleep a couple of hours (after a 12-hour shift at the hospital) and then go ride.
"That's my relaxation," she says. "It sounds crazy, but when you're out by yourself with a horse going 50 or 100 miles, it's kind of nice."
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