A Pony, A Girl, And 100 Miles of Trail: Kyla Law And Flash Tackle The Tevis Cup

Photo courtesy of Natalie Law

BY JESSIE LOCHRIE

You know the story.

It’s the plot of The Black Stallion, National Velvet, and the dream of countless horse-crazy little girls: a young rider forms a powerful bond with an opinionated horse, and the pair go on to achieve success against all odds. It’s also the true story of 13-year-old Kyla Law and her 11.2hh Hackney Pony, Flash, who completed the Tevis Cup — a grueling, 100-mile ride known as the “grandaddy of endurance riding” — on July 25th, 2021, alongside Kyla’s mother, Natalie Law, and her Saddlebred gelding, Brave. 

Law, of Leeds, Utah, has been riding for as long as she can remember: blessed with a horse-loving mother, Law was going on pony rides before her first birthday. When she was nine years old, her riding instructor, Shelah Wetter, bought a little Hackney pony “for fun” and asked the petite Kyla to help start Flash under saddle. “I fell in love with him,” Law says. “He’s this fun, fiery little pony.” Law and Flash developed an unusual rapport: even now, she says, Flash “doesn’t really listen to anyone but me. And he doesn’t always listen to me.”

As Law’s 11th birthday approached, her family announced a move from Washington state to Utah. Unable to bear the idea of leaving the pony behind, Law asked his owner, Wetter, if she could buy him. Within a month, Law talked her parents into the idea, raised the money to purchase Flash, and had her very own pony.

Photo courtesy of Natalie Law

At the same time as she was starting Flash under saddle, Law was introduced to the sport of endurance by her mother and Hetter, and entered her first ride at age nine. A few years later, they decided to enter Flash in a ride, mostly out of curiosity. “He never gets tired,” Law laughed. “We wanted to see if he’d be tired after a fifty [mile ride], and he wasn’t. But he loves being out on the trail, he loves to be in the front, he loves to lead. So we’ve just continued.” 

The Tevis Cup calls itself “the world’s best known and most difficult endurance race,” and Time Magazine named it a “Top Ten Toughest Endurance Event” in the world, alongside the Tour De France and the Iditarod.  Horse and rider must traverse 100 miles of California’s rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains within 24 hours, riding day and night while navigating the famous Cougar Rock, river and bridge crossings, narrow cliff sides that horses have fallen from, high temperatures, and significant elevation changes. Vet checks held before, during, and after the ride monitor the horses’ condition, and a horse who fails a vet check or does not complete the ride within 24 hours is disqualified from the race. In a typical year, approximately 50% of entrants finish the ride. 

While Tevis is a lifelong goal for many endurance riders, Law never thought she’d ride that storied trail with Flash. By the end of 2020, she was outgrowing the 11.2hh spitfire and preparing to hand him over to her younger sister, Layla. “My legs are almost touching the ground on him,” Law says. “It’s pretty heartbreaking.”  In December of 2020, Law and Flash tackled a 100 mile ride in Scottsdale, Arizona, which they thought would be their first and last “hundred” together. After a successful ride in Scottsdale, Law’s mother realized that not only were Law and Flash qualified for Tevis, but that juniors’ entry fees were waived for the 2021 ride. She sent in applications for herself and Kyla, thinking they had nothing to lose.

Photo courtesy of Natalie Law

Luckily, Law didn’t grow too much over the next few months, and in July, the mother-daughter pair, their horses, and their support team headed to Auburn, California to experience their first Tevis Cup. True to its reputation, Tevis tested Law’s horsemanship and her bond with Flash at almost every turn. The start was chaotic: “There were so many people,” Law says, “and Flash loves to lead. It was hard to control him. Horses were passing us, horses were rearing, and Flash was spooking.” As the crowd thinned the pair settled into a group, and Law and her mother spent much of the 100 miles on their own.

Law also quickly realized she had to conserve both her and Flash’s energy, saying, “At the beginning, I knew we needed to take it slow or he would waste all his energy fighting me and I would waste all my energy fighting him.” The Laws focused on finding a “slow-ish” pace that would work for both the horses, knowing that too quick a pace would tire Flash long before his 16.3hh trail partner, Brave. 

The biggest challenge for Law was the 30 miles of the ride traversed at night. “I’m terrified of the dark,” she says. “I always think something is going to jump out and eat us, and I’m just on this tiny pony!” Tevis is traditionally held as close to the full moon in July as possible, but riders and horses still navigate a final portion of trail lit only by moonlight, the stars, and glowsticks affixed to trees and their horses’ breastcollars. 

Photo courtesy of Natalie Law

Out of 133 starters at this year’s Tevis Cup, 63 finished — among them Law and her mother, who trotted to an impressive 36th and 37th place in their very first Tevis. Law stresses that she doesn’t see the sport of endurance as racing, but just riding, and remarks that Tevis was one of the most beautiful rides she’d ever experienced. Law’s favorite part of the ride was the iconic Cougar Rock, and she had no worries about her pony’s ability to navigate the jump up the rocky slope: “Flash loves to rock climb and he’s very good at picking his way up, so I trusted him. I held the reins, but I just let him pick his path.” 

Law may do a few more short endurance rides on Flash, but is happy to have Tevis as their last major ride together. She has a new “big” horse, a Saddlebred named Prancey, who she plans to continue endurance with, and perhaps explore jumpers and cross-country in the future. Since her Tevis finish, Law has appeared on the cover of the American Endurance Ride Conference’s Endurance News, received letters from her Senator and legendary Tevis riders, and even been asked to write a children’s book about her pony. 

Photo Courtesy of the Tevis Webcast Crew for the Western States Trail Foundation

“Some day you’ll learn that greatness is only the seizing of opportunity; clutching with your bare hands ’til the knuckles show white,” said Mickey Rooney in the 1944 film adaption of National Velvet, another story of a girl in love with a complicated horse. Law knows this innately at 13, reflecting on her Tevis ride: “There’s going to be tough moments in endurance. In anything there’s going to be tough moments. Don’t quit. If I quit when things got hard, I wouldn’t be here.” 

And no matter how tall she gets, Law won’t quit on Flash, the pony that she started herself, bought for $500, and ultimately conquered the Tevis Cup with. “I’ll never get rid of him,” Law says. “I adore him. He will always be mine.”

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