Welcome to the Tevis Cup, aka The Western States Trail Ride. the granddaddy of all endurance rides. The views are stunning, but the challenges of the trail can stymie the best of horses and riders.
The ride was devised by California businessman and Sierra high country rider Wendell Robie, who was eager to prove that the horse could cover the rugged trail from Lake Tahoe to Auburn in just one day.
Taking place each August since 1955, this 100-mile one-day test of mettle is run through the mountains and canyons of California beginning in Robie Park near Tahoe and ending in the middle of the night in Auburn. Earning a Tevis belt buckle (the prize for completing the ride with a sound horse) is the crown jewel for endurance riders around the world.
Devan Horn, a three-time Tevis competitor, says that while physical fitness is paramount for horse and rider, the real challenge is the technical elements of the ride.
“It takes a lot of strategy to know when to move out and when to slow,” she says. “If you waste too much time or burn up too much energy in critical spots, it’ll end your ride.”
About half of those who start the race fail to complete it, with horses succumbing to lameness, metabolic issues, and riders succumbing to exhaustion and dehydration. The elements of the ride are unforgiving—with temperatures ranging from 40F to 120F in the span of 24 hours and deep canyons horses and riders must climb in and out of.
“You have to have the mental strength to keep going no matter what, even at a snail’s pace,” says Horn. “Some people call it ‘the Tevis Trudge,’ you just keep moving at whatever pace you can, eating the miles and getting it done,” says Horn. “You have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.”
Flexibility and ability to keep a cool head under pressure are the hallmarks of a successful Tevis competitor. “You have to be able to roll with the punches,” says Horn. “The mountains will test you, play with you, and reward those who can shadow box their way across.”