2015 Tevis Cup: From Montpellier to Greenwood, the French Connection

By: Ike Dodson of the Auburn Journal
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2015 Tevis Cup

Entries: 201 riders (9 junior) from 11 countries and 20 U.S. states

The trail: The Tevis Cup Ride follows a rugged portion of the Western States Trail, which stretches from Salt Lake City to Sacramento. Beginning at the Robie Equestrian Park (elevation 7,000 feet), south of Truckee, California, the trail descends gradually approximately nine miles to the Truckee River at the Midway Crossing on Highway 89. The trail takes a route through Squaw Valley, the U.S. Olympic training facility and site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, and ascends from the valley floor (elevation 6,200 feet) to Emigrant Pass near Watson's Monument (elevation 8,750 feet), a climb of 2,550 vertical feet in 4½ miles. From the pass, following the trail once used by gold and silver miners during the 1850s and rediscovered by Robert Montgomery Watson in 1929, riders will travel west, ascending another 15,540 feet and descending approximately 22,970 feet before reaching the century-old town of Auburn via the traditional route through Robinson Flat, Last Chance, Deadwood, Michigan Bluff, Foresthill, and Francisco's.

Advisory: Much of this territory is accessible only on foot, on horseback, or by helicopter.


Nestled about 20 minutes from Auburn, in between Cool and Georgetown is the tiny community of Greenwood.

At some point today, one of Greenwood’s 1,128 residents, Dominique Cognee, will pack up his gear and drive to Auburn, ultimately winding his way to a secluded hill between Red Star and Robinson Flat.

In what’s become a yearly ritual, Cognee will stretch out on a flat piece of earth and take in the world around him before rising early to photograph the most difficult equestrian endurance ride in the world — The Tevis Cup.

“The beauty of this location is unbelievable,” Cognee, a France native and 14-year Tevis Cup photographer, said. “It’s a very special place for me on this planet.

“I go to sleep under the stars and wait for the horses to arrive.”

When Cognee first visited the United States, he was instantaneously engrossed in landscape photography. He said California’s redwood trees, beautiful ferns and geological formations present a unique opportunity to photograph natural treasures.

“I try to include a lot of nature in my photoshoots,” Cognee said. “Then I love to work in the connection between the rider and the horse, the team and energy of the horse linked together.

“In this competition I think I am able to do that really well. To see the horses on steep canyons is so amazing, because these horses would die for us.”

Cognee studied at Beaux Arts French National Art School and earned his photography degree in 1989. He said he developed a passion for the trade while photographing scenes from the Mediterranean Sea at sunset while living in Montpellier.

“That photo had so many colors, just using the natural light, and it hit me that this is what I want to be doing with my life,” Cognee said.

Cognee still shows a passion for natural lighting. His photos are often soft, candid and exude natural beauty.

When Cognee’s family moved to Southern France, he soon began to capture striking images of stallions and horses pulling carts, using the full moon to nab stunning silhouettes. His interest in equestrian photography grew when he moved to Marin County in California and stayed on an Arabian horse breeding farm.

Cognee began attending horse shows and shooting for the international magazines that promoted events. He returned to Europe for bigger shows, ultimately shooting the Arabian Horsebreeding Championship in Paris before departing for shoots in Germany and Poland.

Cognee first shot the Tevis Cup in 1999 after meeting a few members of the Western States Trail Foundation while living in Marin County. He’s been captivated by the ride since, and has found a variety of favorite spots to photograph the spectacle.

“It started on Michigan Bluff, then I explored the map, starting going to different places,” Cognee said. “The last few years I have gone to Robie Park for candid photos.

“That’s the best part. I like taking photos when they don’t know. I try to include the volunteers, because they don’t get a lot of credit.”

Cognee’s admiration for the animals is unmistakable as well.

“The stamina and heart they have to climb those hills gives me a lot of respect for those horses,” Cognee said. “It’s pretty amazing to take an account of that. Seeing the horse pushing, working so hard to get the rider up a hill — it’s magical, it really is.

“That’s what keeps me coming back.”