When she was 15 years old, Sarah Krueger made her dad, Courtney, a deal.
If he would learn to ride horses — her passion — then she would train as a runner and they could compete together in a little-known sport for horses and humans called "ride and tie."
Courtney, a Presbyterian minister, recalls that he had no real interest in horses, but he found his daughter's proposal irresistible.
That was six years ago, and although Sarah is now off at college at Western Carolina University, pastor Krueger, of First Cumberland Presbyterian Church on North Moore Road in Brainerd, is still smitten with ride-and-tie races — to the point that he has become a perennial threat to win the national points championship.
"I love it," Courtney Krueger says. "I once did a 50-mile race. No way I could have done a 50-mile foot race."
Meanwhile, you're excused if you've never heard of ride and tie. The whole universe of participants numbers only about 600, Krueger says.
The sport, a blend of endurance horseback riding and long-distance running, dates to 1972 when it was first sponsored by Levi Strauss & Co. as a way to promote its denim products.
Try to imagine a cross-country half-marathon combined with a steeplechase and you'll begin to get the picture. Now, imagine the members of a two-person running team taking turns riding the same horse. Ride-and-tie people call it a "three hearts" race — two human heartbeats and one equine ticker. All three hearts must cross the finish line to bank an official time.
The horse riders pit-stop at intervals of about a half-mile and tie their animal to a tree. The rider then takes off on foot to the next tie point, while the trailing runner hops on the horse and leap-frogs ahead. At longer intervals, a veterinarian checks the horse's gait and its heart rate to make sure the animal is not overstressed.
"A horse can't say, 'I'm hurting,'" Krueger explains.
Krueger says his ride-and-tie career almost came to an abrupt end when he and Sarah almost lost his wife, Lea's, horse during their second race. Six hours after their horse, Cruise, slipped its tie, it was found wandering in the woods.
Krueger says that when he came to Chattanooga a couple of years ago, he was reluctant at first because he thought the area might be too urban to indulge his ride-and-tie hobby. That was about the same time that Outside Magazine named Chattanooga its "Best Town Ever."
"I was like God telling me, "I have this taken care of,'" Krueger says.
He says the sport has pockets of support on the East and West coasts. Races in this region have included stops at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., and the Talladega National Forest in Alabama.
Races typically happen over a two-day time-span and can span 10-50 miles each day. Riders often camp out in order to corral their horses and socialize with other participants.
"My life is split between being a pastor and this," Krueger said. "Ride and tie helps me to be a good pastor. There is a meditative, prayerful, peaceful aspect to it that comes with being in the woods and beautiful venues. It feeds my soul."
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645.