Aberdeen man participants in 100-mile horse race

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Carl Kimbler had everything planned out perfectly.

Everything, that is, but the bear.

Kimbler, an oral surgeon from Aberdeen, was in Northern California for the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile equine endurance race.

He and his daughter had set up camp near the start of the race and had sent Kimbler’s wife Kelly on ahead with the trailer so she could be in position at the first check-in point of the race. That left Kimbler with the horses, a tent and a temporary pen.

“It was the most organized we had ever been for the Tevis,” Kimbler said.

But even the best-laid plans to ride 100 miles in 24 hours on the back of a horse through mountain trails can be nearly derailed by a bear.

Kimbler recalls hearing a noise outside his tent just after he had gotten to sleep. Initially he thought it was another human, which would have been just an annoyance and minimal cause for concern.

Instead, it was a four-legged creature with fur, a sight that sent his horses — which had never seen a bear because that they were from South Dakota — careening through the temporary fence.

It turned into the longest 24-hour distance race of Kimbler’s life.

“I have a watch that keeps track of how much I sleep,” he said. “I think I got an hour and 47 minutes of sleep in 48 hours.”

By the time Kimbler and his crew caught their horses and found a place to tie them up for the remainder of the night, sleep was long forgotten.

The memories, however, are not. Kimbler finished the race on his horse, Blade, and has the belt buckle — an award given to all those who complete the race — to prove it.

It was his third completion of the race.

Kimbler’s presence in the world of distance horse racing began at the age of 12. Born in Key West, Fla., he had a Paso Fino horse that he would ride around the island.

“My father had brought me home a magazine and it talked about this race, the Tevis Cup,” Kimbler recalled. “I told my mom, ‘You need to take me out to California. I bet I could win this race on this horse.’ “

But having no trailer or means of transportation from one coast to the other — or training in the art of endurance racing — the dream died.

That is, until Kimbler moved to Aberdeen, had a daughter and picked up yet another magazine.

“(My daughter) would get the Arabian Horse magazine,” Kimbler said. “I was reading it one day and they had an article on the Tevis. I said, ‘Kelly, this is the ride, when I was a kid, I wanted to do.’ “

That’s all it took. The dream, once dormant and forgotten, was rekindled.

“I asked my oldest daughter, ‘If I get a horse, you’re going to have to train with me. Are you okay riding 50, 100 miles a week?’ ” Kimbler said. “She’s like, ‘Of course. Two hundred miles, I could do.’ “

Thus, the Kimbler family free time was poured into a common dream.

Considered one of the world’s oldest endurance races, the Tevis Cup is a 100-mile event. Competitors have 24 hours to complete the course, which features elevation gains of more than 31,000 feet. On average, roughly 50 percent of those entered into the race do not complete it.

All dreams can feel daunting at times, and Kimbler’s progress toward the finish line was initially slow.

He started out doing 50-mile events until he met up with a Canadian rider named Myna Cryderman, whom he credits for much of his family’s success.

“She really helped us make a huge leap in training and just management of the horse,” he said.

That assistance paid off when Kimbler completed his first Tevis Cup in 2006 on a horse named Dee.

Kimbler said each ride is different and depends as much on the conditions as it does the horse.

“We come at a disadvantage,” Kimbler said. “We can’t motor up the mountains like the California horses. They cruise up those mountains. We do one climb like that, they’re basically done. They’ve spent too much energy. You really have to go to the strength of the horse.”

Interestling, Kimbler said while his horses have a disadvantage on climbs, they are distinctly better on flat ground.

One thing that must be consistent, however, is the horse’s mechanics.

Riding the mountain trails of Northern California leaves little room for error, Kimbler said. There are areas that feature steep cliffs, including the last stretch of the trail, which is often done in the dark.

“You have to have a sure-footed horse that’s not a looney toon,” he said. “I would never take a young horse on this ride. They have to have experience and, in my opinion, quite a few miles on them. If they’re trippy or if they spaz, there’s no way.”

Training for a race like the Tevis Cup can take up to three years to go from base to 100-mile ready. Kimbler said his horses do 50 to 60 miles a week in the walker — a round pen with slowly rotating gates that keep the horses moving. Then they are ridden in gradually increasing increments three times a week.

In ideal training situations, Kimbler will do a 50-mile event in June and another in July to give the horses some mountain training.

Following a 100-mile race, horses are given a month off with minimal work, he said.

Kimbler said he plans to compete for as long as he can.

“We’ve had some great rides there and some that are heartbreakers,” Kimbler said.

Follow @J–Scoby on Twitter.