Good Horse Luck and Good Karma, Tevis Style

Horsemen have always been a superstitious lot. For the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile equestrian endurance ride from Lake Tahoe to Auburn, Calif., riders pull out all the stops to improve their chances of completing the race in the required 24 hours. That includes calling on lucky charms, good luck trees, special numbers, and horoscope readings.

Riders from around the U.S. as well as Canada, Japan, and Australia are gathering in Auburn this week to acclimate and complete pre-ride sections of the Western States Trail. This is the rational approach to familiarizing their mounts with the steep rock-strewn sections they will travel, often in the dark.

Riders like Jonni Jewell, Decatur, Texas, are warming up their lucky charms as well. "I carry a little pin with hair from a horse that completed Tevis seven times," Jewell explained.

Jeremy Reynolds, Los Gatos, Calif., two-time winner of the Tevis Cup, commissioned a special necklace of a racing horse emblem containing four horse hairs, each from a horse with a special story. "It hasn't come off my neck since I got it," said Reynolds. Reynolds also likes to ride under the entry number 32. "Thirty-two was my high school football and baseball number, and those were fun times," he explains.

Roger Yohe, Georgetown, Calif., rode under 13, his lucky number, until he finished his last Tevis in a rescue helicopter in 2007. Yohe went over the side of a cliff in the dark, 80 miles into the ride. His horse popped up unscathed and reported, riderless, to the next vet check. Yohe, not so lucky, was trapped on a ledge and sustained multiple injuries. What did he learn? "No more number 13 for me." He is now number 42.

In the 55 years of Tevis history, completion runs about 50%. Many "pulls" due to lameness are attributed to Tevis lore that there is "a rock with your name on it" somewhere along the trail. Riders often carefully search the trail for "their" rock. They find it, write their name on it, and then throw it far off the trail or drop it into the river to bring them safety and luck.

Chris Littlefield, Monticello, Fla., and first-time Tevis competitor, was partially motivated by her recent horoscope: "You are about to have a life changing experience and it won't come easily." Interpreting that as a call to transport Farley, her 15-year-old Arabian gelding, 2,633 miles to ride in the Tevis Cup seemed logical and part of horse karma.

A hand-lettered sign posted high on a towering pine only 100 feet from the finish line reads "Leigh's Good Luck Tree." No one pre-riding that evening knew the purpose or the origin of the sign. "I touch it whenever I ride by," confessed Jewell as she watered her horse from the well just beyond the finish line. "It couldn't hurt."

About the Author

Marsha Hayes

Marsha Hayes has been covering endurance, trail, and other equine topics since 2005. She believes every horse has a story.

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