Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Destination Virginia City 100: Gina Hall and Fire Mt. Destiny

Wednesday April 9 2014

He still unloads her once or twice a year. He'll bolt. He can "spook like no other." He can trip and fall when he doesn't pay attention, because "it's not real important for him to stay up on all four feet." You could say Fire Mt. Destiny has "a few quirks," admits owner and rider Gina Hall, of Carson City, Nevada. Even now at 17 years old, Gina always respects Destiny, because she doesn't put anything past him. But the 15.3-hand chestnut gelding has more than made up for his quirks with his extraordinary accomplishments on the endurance trails.

Gina's friend Wanda Myers told her about Fire Mt. Destiny when he was for sale as a two-year-old. Bred by Jackie Bumgardner of Ridgecrest, California, Destiny is by Sierra Fadwah +/ (1992 AERC Hall of Fame horse, 7280 AERC miles, 87 for 87 record) out of a L.a.s. Talasman+/ mare.

Wanda had owned L.a.s.Talasman+/, an extraordinary endurance horse with a 4850-mile, 86 for 86 record, who traces back to the Bezaleel line (sire of Bezatal, 1987 AERC Hall of Fame horse).

"I had been riding a Talasman daughter," Gina related, "and Talasman and Sierra Fadwah were half brothers (both out of Judhi by Bezaleel), so I went and looked at him with Wanda."

He was a rather unlikely looking super horse then. "When I saw him, I thought - really? He was so gangly, at that awkward two-year-old stage - big pot belly, ewe neck. Wanda kept saying, 'Yep! Yep! You're buying him for his bone and his bloodlines' - so that's why I got him!"

Destiny had been introduced to saddle and rider just a few times; but Gina took him home and turned him out and left him alone until he was 5, other than just trimming his feet and hand-walking him on hikes in the hills.

He was good-tempered and charmingly mischievous those years. "He started this thing that he still does to this day," Gina recalls. "When I'm leading him down the trail, he fiddles with my coat, or my hair. He used to grab at the hood on my coat. He kind of nuzzles me as we go down the trail."

When Destiny turned 5 and it was time to start the breaking and riding in earnest, Gina started him. "Well, I tried riding him. The first time, I took him over to Connie Creech's place. We worked him in the round pen a little bit, and I got on him. She was leading him around, and for whatever reason, he freaked out." Gina had to bail off. "I tried riding him a couple of other times in a friend's round pen, and he dumped me, HARD. I said - 'Oh, you are going to the trainer!'"

Destiny still kind of had Gina's number when he got back from the trainer, so her daughter Carolyn Meier rode him for a while. "What helped the most with him was putting a running martingale on him, because his trick was getting his nose up in the air, and he'd bolt with me and buck. And as soon as he couldn't do that (get his head up) - and the trainer put a pretty good mouth on him - I didn't have that problem anymore." Gina still doesn't let her guard down on him though, because he can still randomly test her with his shenanigans.

Destiny's first endurance ride was a Limited Distance ride at age 5 in June of 2002 in Nevada. Gina recollects the conditions were less than ideal. "The wind was blowing a thousand miles an hour, and I had a scoop on my saddle, and I had a crupper on. He tried to buck me off. I took the crupper off, and gave Connie my scoop; and after that, he was fine for the rest of the day, although we had a bunch of motorcycles to deal with too that day."

His first 50 miler was a month later at Red Rocks, also in Nevada. "It was a tough, long ride - we took a long time to do it. And it was super hot that year, 105 degrees - they ended up starting the ride an hour earlier because it was just too hot. But he did good."

The duo only did 3 50-mile rides that year, and Destiny only got better and better. "And I'd gotten more and more comfortable on him. My friends were all very helpful and supportive, helping take care of me while I got brave on him."

After starting and completing 8 50-mile rides the next season at age 6, Gina felt ready to try a 100-mile ride on him at age 7. It wasn't an easy 100 she picked, either. It was the the Virginia City 100 in and around historic Virginia City, Nevada.

The Virginia City 100 is known for its rocky, challenging terrain, heat, historic wagon trails, its 5 AM start in front of the Delta Saloon and the Bucket of Blood Saloon in downtown Virginia City, its unrelenting elevations between 5000 and 7800 feet, its SOB's (Sons of B*tches hills you hit during the heat of the day), and for some rather legendary horses and riders who have graced its trails over the (now) 47 years of its running.

Destiny handled the trails with ease the first time. "We did it in a little over 19 hours. He was just solid. He was a trooper." And he's only gotten better and better over the years on 100-mile rides. He's gone on to start and complete a total of 19 100-mile rides, including the Virginia City a total of 9 times.

In 2012, Gina and Destiny completed 3 100-milers: the Twenty Mule Team in February; the Tevis Cup in August; and Virginia City in September. That year, their eighth VC completion was one of Gina's best rides ever on Destiny. "I rode with Ann Hall on HCC Zara RR (no relation) the last 50 miles, and I never thought I would have that kind of horse on a 100-mile ride. I don't know if it was Ann or Zara or what, but our horses did unbelievably well on that last loop. I think we rode it faster than the winning rider did. And it was just awesome to finish (in 9th place, in 16:06) with a horse that felt so strong and good," Gina recalls.

Gina does have to carefully manage her horse. He has tied up with her before (muscle cramps), so she has to carefully monitor his feeding and training between endurance rides. "I really work on keeping him hydrated during rides, and between rides, I have to be super careful with his diet and exercise. He doesn't get to sit around very often; he has to get regular exercise. My daughter says I micromanage him, and that's okay! It works, and I've been real conservative with him."

Gina has carefully planned Destiny's 2014 ride season, with the Virginia City 100 in September as the centerpiece. Destiny is poised to become only the fifth horse to earn a 1000-mile VC Buckle (the last one was Beansprout in 1987). That puts Destiny up there on the same page with Donna Fitzgerald's legendary Witezarif, 1000-mile Buckle winner in 1978.

"It's going to be exciting!" Gina said. "I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that we finish. Destiny knows VC 100 - he just knows it. He knows where I want him to go, or where he knows it's okay to go - and he's just awesome. When he's 'On' for that ride, he's a ball.

"He's so awesome; I'm so blessed! I'll probably never have another horse like him. It's been a journey for sure, getting him to where he is, but he just seems to get better and better and better. I'm sad that he's going to be 17, but I think he's still got quite a bit of miles left in him, and time. And he loves it. He really likes the work."

You just might want to mark September 20th on your calendar, the day of the 47th annual Virginia City 100 ride, where a 17-year-old endurance horse with a record of almost 6500 miles, and a 108 for 109 start/finish record, an AERC Decade Team Award, and 19 100-mile completions, stands to make a little endurance history.

Merri Melde photos

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