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October 1 2012
The Western States Trail Ride, also known as the Tevis Cup, is widely considered the toughest endurance ride in the world. The trail follows part of the original Pony Express route through 100 miles of steep canyons, rocky pinnacles, sheer drop-offs, and deep forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Competitors have only 24 hours to complete the ride so it’s not surprising that only half finish successfully.
Endurance riding is not a race. The challenge is for a rider to finish with a horse who is judged “fit to continue”, which means he is mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to keep going. Veterinarians make sure that happens. The Tevis has more vet stops per mile than any other endurance competition.
Fourth year vet med student Rita Wehrman has been dreaming of riding in the Tevis since she was seven years old. “I read a book about it and I was hooked,” she says. “I knew I was going to do this ride eventually.”
Wehrman grew up around horses and began riding in local endurance races six years ago with a plan to work up to the Tevis. This year, she got serious and started cross-training her Morgan horse, Thompson. They did the usual trail riding, where Wehrman tried to present Thompson with obstacles and other challenges, but they also spent time in an arena. “We did light dressage to keep the horse balanced and collected,” she says. “You want their back up and their head down and them really listening to you.”
In May, three months before the Tevis, Thompson was injured chasing a goat friend who had escaped from the pasture. Wehrman realized he would not be able to compete and calls it “heartbreaking.” But she didn’t give up. She had nine weeks to find another horse and get it ready. Fortunately, a friend who was pregnant and not participating in Tevis this year offered Wehrman her horse, Dragon, an experienced endurance competitor...
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