Track improvements for Tevis Cup endurance ride after two horse deaths

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Riders at a past Tevis Cup ride negotiate the Little Drop trail in Royal Gorge area.
Riders at a past Tevis Cup ride negotiate the Little Drop trail in Royal Gorge area. Photo by George Lamson

An investigation is under way by organisers of the Tevis Cup endurance ride over three serious incidents at the California event, in which two horses died from injuries sustained while falling from the trail.

California’s 100-mile Western States Trail Ride (WSTR), popularly called the Tevis Cup, is organised by the Western States Trail Foundation (WSTF).

Three horses fell off the trail during the 2022 event in mid-July; one died of his injuries while two others required rescue. One died in veterinary care a few days after the ride.

“We are deeply saddened … and very concerned that we had three separate accidents this year. (We) will dedicate time, resources, and money to figuring out what happened in these incidents,” the  WSTF Board of Governors said.

The first incident was between Last Chance and Swinging Bridge and involved one of the leaders. Two more incidents occurred in the last third of the ride – between Foresthill and Francisco’s. In the latter two cases, the horses were carrying GPS trackers, which sped up the rescue response.

The WSTF’s Board of Governors said it was “committed to reducing the likelihood of future accidents and improving potential outcomes”, and would focus on two areas; emergency response and trail repair.

The board said it would work to improve emergency response with faster and more effective strategies. “The horse-rescue teams WSTF contracts with will be on-site, stationed along the course and focused in areas identified as higher risk. We will also stage rescue equipment and provide veterinarian support to all rescue efforts. Our standard helicopter and ambulance infrastructure will continue to be on call.”

A survey of the trail to identify areas that are most in need of repair is to be undertaken. “Working with our partner, the Western States Endurance Run, and in cooperation with two primary agencies – Auburn State Recreational Area and the US Forest Service, we will review every foot from Last Chance to Francisco’s with the goal to improve the trail bed – widen it, stabilize the base, and remove obstacles as much as possible – specifically for horse safety.

“The higher risk areas will be prioritized and we’ll attempt to complete them as soon as possible.”

The board acknowledged that additional changes and recommendations may be added. “The Tevis Cup is an iconic ride like no other and – while there is an inherent risk to this trail, as there is to many others – we are committed to minimizing these incidents while at the same time being ready to respond as quickly, appropriately, and effectively as possible. Our goal is the best possible outcome should they occur.”

• “Midmorning on Saturday, July 16, Susie Kramer and A Ali Aseel (“Steel”) were among the leaders. The pair was navigating the trail of the first steep canyon which runs between Last Chance and the Swinging Bridge. Steel fell from the trail and suffered catastrophic injuries,” organisers said.

Emergency response and search and rescue led by a veterinarian responded to the scene, which took some time because of the remote and difficult location. “Once on scene, veterinarians confirmed that Steel had expired from his injuries.”

Kramer and Steel had come from Arizona to compete in this year’s Tevis Cup. They wore the #4 – their finish placing in the 2021 Tevis Ride. Steel – a 12-year-old grey Arabian gelding – had completed 2360 miles of endurance competitions beginning in 2016. He was five for five in finishing 100-mile competitions coming into this year’s event.

• At about 10pm on Saturday, July 16, Carrie Ellinwood and her horse Jamboree had completed about 72 miles of the 100-mile distance of the ride. “Near Cal 1 on the California Loop, Jamboree spooked and fell from the trail,” the WSTS said.

Ellinwood was taken to hospital, where she was examined and released.

A large animal rescue team and the Veterinary Emergency Rescue Team from UC Davis attempted to extract Jamboree, but had to wait until daylight on Sunday morning. Jamboree was then airlifted by helicopter to a safe location in Foresthill.

He was attended to by veterinarians and transported to UC Davis Veterinary Hospital for further examination and care.

“It is with a heavy heart and great sadness that the Tevis family reports that Jamboree unexpectedly succumbed to his injuries on Friday morning, July 22, 2022,” the WSTS said.

Jamboree and Carrie began their endurance career in 2013 and accomplished nearly 1000 endurance miles together. Jamboree was a 17-year-old grey Arabian gelding.

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