Former Equine Wellness cover star JayaMae Gregory updates us on the wild ride she’s been on for the last few years, and how it’s strengthened her appreciation for family – four-legged members included.
It seems “endurance” is an overarching theme in JayaMae Gregory’s life. Since she graced the cover of Equine Wellness Magazine in 2018, this record-breaking endurance rider has endured a great deal of hardship. From the Camp Fire to COVID-19, we caught up with JayaMae to hear about her trials – and the joy and success she’s managed to find in the wake of it all.
EW: First of all… how are you? What’s new in your life since you were featured on the cover of EW?
JMG: Well, a lot has changed since Foxfire’s Little Britches (Asali) and I were featured on the cover of Equine Wellness! In 2017, my oldest son Jakob completed the 100-mile Tevis Cup with Asali, making her the only Missouri Fox Trotter to have completed Tevis more than once and the only Missouri Fox Trotter to complete the Tevis with a junior rider! A few months after that, we added another little cowboy to our family! Asher Braxton Gregory was born at home on November 29th at 10:20 pm.
Less than a year later, our world was completely turned upside by the Camp Fire, California’s most destructive and deadly wildfire in the history of the state. On November 8th, 2018, we lost our home, my horse business, our rental property, my 10-year job as a Registered Nurse at Feather River Hospital (because the hospital was also destroyed in the fire) and sadly, we lost one of our amazing endurance partners, DC Reindeer Dippin, an 11-year-old Morab mare who was our next Tevis hopeful. Since that loss, we have lived with a few different friends who were kind enough to temporarily take us in. Our surviving horses and dogs were taken care of by other amazing friends of ours who we will never be able to thank enough. We were also gifted an RV and spent 12 weeks living on the road and traveling the country. We visited 25 different states and in three of those states, I got to catch ride horses in some really fun endurance rides! We concluded our trip across the country at the starting line of the 2019 Tevis Cup ride, where Asali and I once again saw the finish line. She now has three Tevis finishes to her name and 6 100-mile completions on her record! Just this last April, we purchased a new home, on 10.5 acres, about 45 minutes from where we used to live. All of our horses and dogs are with us again – I cannot even tell you how wonderful it feels to have everyone home and together again. I am re-employed as an RN again as well – working in Labor & Delivery at Oroville Hospital and I also teach part-time with the School of Nursing at my alma mater, California State University, Chico.
EW: Wow, it’s been an eventful few years for you! Speaking of events…tell us a bit about the endurance event you participated in recently.
JMG: I rode the Redwood 50 on August 15th in Orick, CA. The Redwood Ride is the only American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC)-sanctioned endurance event which takes place in a National Park! The scenery is just incredible!
EW: You volunteered at the event as well, correct?
JMG: Yes! This year, I both volunteered before the ride and rode as a competitor. Before the event, I (along with my friend and fellow RN, Nichole Jolly) completed the COVID screening on all the riders and volunteers. We had to ask everyone a series of questions to screen them for the symptoms of COVID-19. We also had to take and record their temperatures.
On the day of the event, Nichole and I rode together. We were both on gaited horses so they paced well together. We rode conservatively and finished the 50 mile endurance ride at the end of the pack.
EW: What horse did you ride in the event?
JMG: I rode my 20-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter, Asali, the same mare who was featured on the cover of Equine Wellness a few years ago.
EW: How did she do?
JMG: She did amazing, especially since we hadn’t done a ride since last season. Next season, after one more 50-mile ride, we will be a Decade Team, which means we will have successfully completed endurance events together for 10 consecutive years.
EW: Congratulations! What an accomplishment. I’m sure this has been the strangest of those ten years, would you agree? How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your 2020 training/competition schedule?
JMG: There haven’t been any competitions to speak of – the Redwood Ride was the first AERC-sanctioned endurance event in the state of California since the pandemic began. Because of this, Asali and I hadn’t competed since November. But because she has such a strong endurance base on her already, she was ready to compete again after only a few good training rides. Many endurance riders underestimate the power of rest for our endurance partners. Adequate rest between competitions is vital to the longevity of the endurance horse, so while I was disappointed so many rides were canceled, I don’t really think Asali minded all that much!
EW: Were you wary about participating in an event during the pandemic?
JMG: I wasn’t wary about participating in an event during the pandemic but that’s probably because I am a nurse and have a different perspective on the virus and also a good understanding of how to protect myself.
EW: For our readers who are curious – what protocols were put in place to protect the contestants and volunteers?
JMG: As far as protocols, the entries were limited to only 50 riders. And we weren’t allowed to bring anybody extra – no crew, no visiting family members, etc. This was especially disappointing to my middle son, Declan, who, while not a horse person, does enjoy attending endurance rides just to camp with me.
During the event, masks were required any time you were not mounted on your horse. You also had to complete your own P & R (pulse and respiration) assessment of your own horse before presenting to the vet to eliminate the need for extra volunteers. In camp, the sites were spaced out widely to adequately allow for social distancing. We also did not have a pre-ride meeting or an awards ceremony afterwards, which was something we all missed, but we were just happy to be out there riding!
EW: What’s next for you? Will you be participating in any other events this year, or focusing on training until 2021?
JMG: Ha! That’s a good question. Right now, I am knee deep in the start of a new semester with my nursing students, as well as trying to get the endurance ride that I manage every fall sanctioned. We need special approval to run the Kristina Chesterman Memorial Ride: Live, Love, Laugh & Ride because of the pandemic, so we’re working diligently on that to make the ride happen! I do have a new horse though that I am very excited about, so I’ll be doing some training rides with her so that she’s ready for an endurance ride early next season or maybe even by the end of this season! And, of course, I do plan on another 50 mile ride next season with Asali so that we can earn the award of Decade Team with AERC. How much training and competing I do complete though is dependent on one thing — how I am feeling, as our family is growing! I rode and competed throughout my last pregnancy, so I am hoping for the same with this one.
EW: Any advice for competitors who miss competing? What steps can they take to prepare for next year?
JMG: I totally understand missing competition. I was a bit depressed at the beginning of the ride season when some of my favorite rides – and rides that had become a family tradition for us – were canceled. I also missed seeing all my friends in ride camp – many who had become like family over the years of competitions we had done together. What I can say is use this time to focus on something new you have always wanted to do. Maybe you’ve always wanted to fool around with some liberty training in the round pen or maybe you’ve wanted to get together with some close friends for a horse camping adventure or maybe you’ve wanted to take some lessons in a different equine discipline, but you’ve always been so busy training and competing that you haven’t done any of those things. So, get out there and try something new!
Another great thing you can do – which I’ve been doing right now while the air quality outside is poor with new wildfires cropping up in Northern California – is read some training books and catch up on some training videos. I have an equine training journal where I log notes from books I read, videos I watch, and clinics I attend so I can remember what I’ve learned when I want to try it with my own horses later!