When I was sitting at home in the comfort of my arm chair and taking my horses for gentle hacks along the groomed trails near my barn, 174 riders set out on a 100 mile trail ride of brutal territory, determined to finish in 24 hours or less.
Endurance riding was first developed in the early 1900s as a military test for cavalry mounts. Horses were required to go on a 5-day, 300 mile ride carrying at least 200
lbs. But many people consider the Tevis Cup to be the father of endurance rides. The first ride was organized in 1955 by Wendell Robie, Bill Patrick, Nick Mansfield, Dick Highfill, Pat Sewell, set out to prove that modern horses could traverse the rugged trail from Lake Tahoe over the Sierra mountains to Auburn in a single day. They all succeeded. But their finish rate is unusual. From 1955 through 2011, there have been 9,278 starting entries, of which 5,066 (54.6%) finished.
In 2017, 92 riders completed the ride; 82 did not. Some horses came up lame, some had metabolic issues. All horses must pass a pre-ride vet check for soundness and horses at Tevis are inspected at 20 checkpoints along the ride. During these mandatory holds, horses’ heart rates must recover to 60-68 bpm and then they are inspected by vets to make sure they are fit to
continue. Not all “pulls” are horse problems, though. Some riders suffer from altitude sickness or dehydration. The elements of the ride are unforgiving—with temperatures ranging from 40F to 120F in the span of 24 hours, trick footing and deep, treacherous canyons.
So steep are the canyons that some riders choose to navigate them on foot, often using “tailing” to allow their horses to pull them up the slope.
Hardly surprising, this is a ride dominated by Arabians. In fact, the top 10 finishers this year were all arabs. But there are a smattering of other breeds and the occasional mule who also complete the race.
To recreate the Tevis Cup experience, I hope you enjoy the videos below. They aren’t from 2017 but they do give a good sense for some of the toughest — and most beautiful — parts of the ride.