Cain the Equine Queen: Vail Valley local Leah Cain wins a national endurance riding title |

Cain the Equine Queen: Vail Valley local Leah Cain wins a national endurance riding title

Leah Cain, riding Monte her Arabian, won a national title by winning a 100-mile endurance race on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. Cain lives in Gypsum where she owns and operates Cain Performance Arabians and is a manager with Costco.
Steve Bradley|Special to the Daily |

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To learn more about endurance racing and trail riding, contact Leah Cain at Cain Performance Arabians in Gypsum. Email, or go to the Facebook page:

GYPSUM — Leah Cain takes the long view. She has been competing in endurance riding events for 15 years and has almost 8,000 competition miles.

Cain owns and operates Cain Performance Arabians in Gypsum, where she breeds and trains horses and humans for this sort of thing. Cain rode her own Arabian, Monte, to a 100-miler national championship on Antelope Island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake, which is good.

Not only did she get there first, Monte was named the Best Conditioned Horse in the field, which is better.

First born boys

Monte is Cain’s first-born horse, and Maverick is Monte’s first-born son, born on the same day but six years apart. Both can be a handful.

“I was hoping that someday Monte could become Maverick’s horse, but I am not sure he will ever be slow enough,” Cain said. “He is quite a freight train, gentle as can be, but a freight train. I bred, trained, trimmed and rode this horse to where he is today. He makes me proud.”

Of Cain’s 7,965 career competition miles, 13 events were 100-milers, including four Tevis Cups, the world’s most best known and most difficult endurance rides. The Antelope Island field was world class, and she just wanted to finish.

Both horses and riders were well known in endurance circles.

“I was extremely nervous when I saw who I would be riding against,” Cain said. “In fact, I was actually quite sick to my stomach. I knew we could do well but I would have to ride smart in order to contend with those riders.”

Cain and Monte won in 10 hours, 32 minutes.

Monte the morning machine

The race started at 5 a.m., in the dark. Cain and Monte set off second to last. She had completed many endurance rides on Antelope Island, so even though it was dark, she had something like a home course advantage. Most riders were picking their way along in the dark.

Not Monte. He’s a machine.

“He knew the trail and asked to go at a steady but fast pace,” Cain said. “I let him be the eyes and I maintained a controlled pace and we quickly passed many people.”

One hundred miles on horseback is a long time with no one to talk with, so after a few miles Pam Bailie (featherweight division) and Anya Levermann (junior) sidled up to ride with Cain. Their ride was an adventure.

“I have learned that anything can happen at a ride, especially 100 miles,” Cain said.

About four miles in, they rode up on a large buffalo herd, and had to pick their way through, sort of like Moses parting the waters, only in this case the waters had horns, hooves and a bunch of attitude.

Monte’s mind of his own

Cain tried to let Bailie and Levermann ride on ahead, and save some of Monte for later in the race.

“I wanted my horse to stay healthy and sound and to look and feel great at the end,” Cain said.

But the thing about horses is that they’re herd animals. They also minds of their own.

Arabians are often known as The Thinking Horseman’s Horse.

“You have to explain why it would be a good choice to do as they’re being asked,” Cain said.

Monte was having none of this going-slow thing. Cain, Bailie and Levermann came into the first vet check together, and had a pleasant surprise.

“I asked who the frontrunners were, and was told I was a front runner!” Cain said.

It’s called a Gate & Go, and horses aren’t allowed to continue until their pulse rate drops to a healthy level. It’s like a pit stop in auto racing. The faster you get back on the track, the better your chances of winning.

At every vet check Monte pulsed down faster than the other horses. After the 50-mile check, Cain realized she was riding alone. She was winning.

Cantering across the finish line

Cain rode cautiously and Bailie and Levermann caught her, but as with all endurance events, conditioning wins. Monte ate and drank like a pig all day and maintained almost all A’s at the vet checks, Cain said.

“At the last check, Monte pulsed down right away and gave us a few minutes lead on Pam and Anya,” Cain said.

With 12 miles to go, Cain started to think they might be able to win. Leaving that last vet check, she thought that if Monte was willing to get out of sight fast, they might have it. She gave him a little squeeze and he took off at a fast canter.

“I was so happy I was crying,” Cain said.

You can do this, too

Cain loves her sport and wants it to grow, introducing it to others whenever she can through endurance clinics she’s starting to host and through meeting people.

Because you dismount and run with the horse in different places, endurance riding attracts lots of triathletes and ultra marathon runners.

It also attracts the rest of us, and about any breed of horse can do it.

“It doesn’t matter what the breed is. Quarter horses are good are good because they’re used to working all day,” Cain said.

Cain bred Monte for this, and started leading him on trails from the time he was a baby.

“It’s similar to being a marathon runner. You build up to it over years and years,” Cain said.

Balancing her family, Maverick, Monte and a full-time job as a Costco manager is a bunch of life its ownself.

She started early

Cain’s parents were long-distance runners, competing in marathons regularly. They and their friends would do equestrian events like Ride & Tie, and Cain was nuts about horses from the time she was tiny.

She got her first horse at 20, and knew endurance riding was what she was going to do.

Showing horses is fine, she said, but trail riding means camping with your friends. And then there’s the race.

Trail rides can be a little slow. She’d rather go fast.

“It’s up to the individual rider whether you want to try to win, or just enjoy the ride. I’m competitive, but it’s not a do-or-die situation,” Cain said.

You travel to wide open spaces that most people can’t access.

“You can get 50 or 100 miles away from civilization pretty quickly and quietly,” Cain said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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