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Published August 23rd, 2017
Moraga woman completes 100-mile endurance horse ride
Jenni Smith and her horse, Supes, ride up to Cougar Rock during the 24-hour, 100-mile Tevis Cup. Photo Bill Gore@Gore/Baylor Photography

Earlier this month, Moraga's Jenni Smith rode her horse, Supes, for 20 hours straight ... well, 18 hours if you count the two mandatory rest periods required in the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile equestrian event. And, of the 200 riders, Smith was the 14th to cross the finish line.
The Tevis Cup, an international event Time Magazine once named one of the world's "Top Ten Toughest Endurance Events," is a 24-hour, 100-mile trail ride. It's an annual event, held as near as possible to a mid-summer Saturday with a full moon because, as Smith explained, "we ride at night and need the moon for light."
Smith is no novice to The Tevis, as it's called. This was her 14th ride and the 11th time she's finished. In the past, she's ridden horses belonging to someone else, "more seasoned, experienced horses," and has finished in the top 10 five times. But this is the first time she rode her own horse - and the first time Supes, an Arabian racehorse, had gone 100 miles. "My goal was simply to finish the ride," she said.
Describing herself as one of those "horse-crazy kids who only wanted to see horses," Smith began riding when she was quite young and living in Arizona. "I have amazingly wonderful parents who indulged my passion and would take me to ride rented horses on weekends," she said. Moving to Santa Rosa, she started taking riding lessons and by middle school, had saved up enough money to buy her own horse, "an Arabian, which is how I got stuck on this particular breed. I loved her, loved her personality," Smith remembered fondly.
She now owns three Arabians, housing two at the Moraga Horsemen's Association pasture, while the third, the youngest, is being trained at a ranch in Brentwood. "Endurance is what Arabians are best at," Smith noted. "They're very energetic, light, handle heat well and do really well in long, hard rides."
And The Tevis, which has been an annual event since 1955, is exactly that - a long, hard ride. Sponsored by the Western States Trail Foundation, it's described as an "endurance riding event of distinction ... one of the world's best tests of true horsemanship. It's the world's best known and most difficult equestrian endurance ride." As one blogger wrote, "... it may be difficult to believe that people would actually do this sport on purpose."
The ride begins at 5:15 a.m. on Saturday when riders mount their horses and take off on a historic trail over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, "through some of the most beautiful country you can imagine on the backside of Squaw Valley," Smith said. Wendell Robie, one of the founders, said the ride was on a "majestic riding trail penetrating the wild beauty of mountain peaks and valleys."
Although riders typically take off just south of Truckee (7,000 feet elevation), this year, because of all the snow, the start of the Aug. 5 event was moved to Soda Springs. Climbing to elevations of more than 18,000 feet from the starting point in Soda Springs and then descending almost 23,000 feet, the ride concludes in Auburn. Much of the historic route passes along narrow mountain trails through remote and rugged wilderness territory.
While approximately 200 riders begin the ride, typically only half actually finish, Smith reported. Some horses get pulled off the trail, some people get sick, some decide it's simply too much. "It's a very rocky, challenging course," Smith said. And the ride must be completed by 5:15 a.m. Sunday; riders coming in past that time don't get credit for a completion.
There are two mandatory one-hour holds, as well as several quick 'gate and go' stops, where both riders and horses have a chance to rest and eat. Veterinarians are at each stop, checking the horses' health before releasing them to continue.
This year, Smith crossed the finish line 20 hours after she began. "That's about as long as I want to be out there," she admitted. The winning horse, one that Smith had previously ridden, arrived almost four hours earlier. In fact, when Smith rode him in 2015, she was presented the Haggin Cup, a very prestigious award given by the vets, who, after carefully examining the first 10 horses to finish the ride, choose the one that is in the best physical condition. "That was the pinnacle of my endurance career," Smith proudly stated. "It means I rode him 100 miles, at speed, and he still looked great."
Smith has a nine-person crew, which helps before and during the ride and then celebrates her completion afterward. The Tevis Cup organizers call riders' crews the true "unsung heroes of the Tevis ... your work is equally as difficult and exhausting as your rider's and you spend all day supporting and encouraging him/her on the journey of a lifetime."
And, after all the hard work, sore bodies, exhaustion and stress, every Tevis finisher receives a silver buckle. Or, as Gilbert Cruz wrote in the June 14, 2010 issue of Time Magazine, "That's right: 100 miles in 24 hours. For a belt buckle."

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