Two hours northeast of San Francisco and two hours southwest of Tahoe lies the once-small-but-rapidly-growing town of Auburn, California, and though it is currently known as “The Endurance Capital of the World,” it was formerly known as the state capital. Because the American River runs through Auburn and was the catalyst to a little thing called The Gold Rush, the town flourished in the mid-1800s. Since that time, California’s capital has moved about forty miles away to Sacramento, and Auburn has come to be known for many other things. Think outdoor activities, a historic downtown, wine tasting, and…
The Tevis Cup.
Every summer, several dozen well-conditioned endurance riders and their horses gather in Tahoe, from which they embark on a 100-mile trail ride that culminates in Auburn. It’s recognized as the foundation of endurance riding by the American Endurance Ride Conference, and the completion rate is only 54%, which means it’s probably pretty difficult. The horse and rider teams have 24 hours to complete the race, and are rigorously inspected multiple times throughout the course to ensure the safety of the horses. Last Saturday, the 64th iteration of The Tevis Cup kicked off per usual, with 184 hopefuls setting out on the famed Western States Trail. Just over sixteen hours later, eighteen-year-old Sanoma Blakeley and her ten-year-old Arabian gelding, RA Ares Bay (aka “Goober”), beat a three-time winner to secure the victory (Sanoma is the youngest human champion in history, FYI).
And – if we’re being honest – that’s the extent of what these two hunter/jumper/eventer princesses know about endurance riding. So rather than trying to fake it until we make it, we figured we’d ask an expert. Below, we get the DL on what it’s like to sit in a saddle for an entire day and night. Below that, we share our favorite places to ride, hike, eat, drink, and be merry in the uber-cute town of Auburn, should you decide to visit. It’s a real insider’s guide…almost like one of us grew up there (spoiler alert: one of us grew up there).
Ask the Expert: Jana Smith
How does one typically gravitate toward endurance riding?
Everyone seems to enter the endurance world for different reasons. Some are born into it (I wasn’t that lucky…I love Arabians and transitioned from trail riding to this sport with some friends). Some come from eventing.
How long have you been competing, and how often do you compete?
Since 2005. I’ll ride as many as 15 endurance rides in one year…and two another year. From September through December I could be at at ride about every two to three weeks. And February through June at least one a month…some rides are multiple days. I’ve done a few of those!
What is the longest ride you’ve completed?
Fifty-five miles is my longest so far.
Is there a specific breed of horse most common in the sport?
Mostly Arabians. But other breeds have done well.
How would you describe the culture compared to other equestrian disciplines?
Endurance riders ride. To finish is to win. I have seen people ride with broken bones just to finish. As competitive as we are, we camp, have bonfires, and hang out together. If someone is missing something, we all help out. Twice I have had friends forget to bring their food! If someone is injured or a horse needs help, someone will step up. We are a very family oriented environment. Plus, we share some libations as well. Oh, not during the ride!
Do you ride alone?
Sometimes! You ride your own ride.
You must use special, very comfortable tack. Please describe. And what does one wear?
I use BioThane
bridles and breastplates that can be easily hosed off. I just bought a specialized saddle that looks kind of like a Western saddle but without a horn and only weighs about six pounds! I haven’t ridden in it yet so I hope it’s comfy! It does have a wool fleece seat. Most of us wear riding tights. I wear Blundstone
ankle boots and half chaps and a top that fits the weather…Ice Fil
or a warmer one.
How does one condition for endurance riding?
I try to ride four times a week, usually six to eight miles, and every seven to ten days we will do a 15-18 mile. Some slow rides and fast rides as well as interval training. And dressage helps keep them flexible. I used to fox hunt. It is a great way to keep the horses in shape during the winter.
How do riders and horses fuel-up?
We have vet checks and hold periods between loops, so we should have some time to eat. It hurts my stomach to eat much, but banana with peanut butter is my favorite. Most riders eat whatever they want, though electrolytes need to be replaced for the rider and the horse. We typically just set up a buffet of hay, alfalfa, grain, beet pulp, soaked food, water, etc. and if I don’t have what my horse wants, somebody will.
How do you find your way at night…and stay awake?
I haven’t done a 100-miler yet but headlamps are used by some. The trail will be marked with glow sticks so you know where you are going, and usually the last couple of loops you have already done. I hope coffee helps. And the adrenaline!
Please explain the check points, and the general rules of endurance riding.
There are many basic rules. When you arrive at a vet check a timer will take your ride card and record down the time. You have 30 minutes to get your horse’s heart rate to 64bpm. From that point, your hold time starts. It could be 40 minutes to an hour and is determined by the head vet (judges are what they are called these days), then you take the horse though vet check where they check the heart rate again, then hydration, gut sounds, capillary refill, and gait. You trot your horse 50 feet down and back. If something isn’t right you may have to go back for a recheck or you could be pulled (no finish).
When riding a Limited Distance Race (25 miles) you come in according to heart rate. The first to get down to 60 beats a minute wins. The Open Rides (50-100 miles) you place at a finish line, and yes they will race to that finish. I’ve always heard you race for first and tenth place… that’s where the points are…. no difference between second and tenth. But you don’t want the dreaded 11th place!
Any notable details about your first endurance ride?
My first ride was Big South Fork. I was going with a friend but she had an emergency and couldn’t go, so my Hubba aka Dennis went. I had the best time! I met so many people. I would ride with someone for awhile and then by myself for a while. It was and still is a pretty challenging trail. I remember one huge long climb, I got off and tried to walk my horse up. About ten feet in I told him I was sorry but he was going to have to carry me. It was so exciting. We finished our first ride… and I was hooked!
Any other stories worth sharing?
I have sad stories and happy ones. And every ride is a new story. The next story starts at 6AM at Big South Fork this September 6-7. I’m hoping to complete my first 100-mile ride in either October or May. We will see!
Jana lives in Primm Springs, TN on 48 acres with her husband, two dogs, two cats, and six horses.
An Insider’s Guide to Auburn
For expertly chosen California wines and a charming atmosphere, Carpe Vino is unbeatable. For a casual vibe (read: dive bar) with a jukebox, The California Club is our top choice.
Auburn is in the foothills, which is quickly becoming known for its interesting vino varietals. Check out any of the vineyards on the Placer Wine Trail, and if you stop by Dono Dal Cielo, tell them Outside Rein sent you.
For upscale dining (in addition to the wine bar), Carpe Vino is our go-to again. The Auburn Alehouse also has fantastic comfort food (try the street tacos and fried pickles) and house-made craft beer. Katrina’s Cafe is always a great spot for sober brunch, but for a mimosa or two with your eggs, try The Pour Choice or Monkey Cat.
We like Hidden Falls and Western States Pioneer Express Trail for river access.
Literally anywhere. Auburn is a hiker’s dream, so check out any of these various spots (though we’re partial to Overlook Park)!