Foreign riders add international prestige to Tevis endurance ride

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
When South African endurance rider Charles Currie sets out on the trail with his horse near Johannesburg, he’s not dealing with mountains, rattlesnakes and mountain lions. While he noted Wednesday that any African lions are safely in wildlife preserves far from his hometown of Pendale, he’s still watching for snakes on the trail – including deadly puff adders. And the hills in his part of South Africa are not as steep as the Sierra Nevada peaks he’ll be crossing on his way from Squaw Valley to Auburn on Saturday. The endurance ride – a magnet for long-distance equestrians that started in 1955 – has been a n elusive goal for Currie this year. In June, he was set to go, only to have the event postponed from July 16 to Oct. 8 because of snowy conditions in the mountains that organizers considered too dangerous for horses and riders. Three months later, Currie is part of a field of 200 riders from across the United States and around the world ready to earn a prized Tevis finisher’s buckle – continuing the tradition of the ride as not only a national but international event. This year’s roster includes riders from at least six foreign countries – Japan, Australia, Canada, South Africa, England and the Netherlands. Currie, a steel fabrication company owner, said his interest in the Tevis ride was piqued when he saw an online photo at of a rider going over the ride’s landmark Cougar Rock – one of the most spectacularly scenic stretches of the ride and a favorite photo op for participants. Needing a horse half a world away, Currie was steered toward 21-time Tevis finisher Potato Richardson, who has hosted riders and provided mounts for several foreign visitors at his Sliger Mine Ranch in Greenwood. Including two previous trips to the U.S. – one for a “boot camp” last December that was cancelled because of weather and a visit in the summer for the postponed Tevis – Currie said he’s already spent into the five figures in his quest for a Tevis finish and prized belt buckle. “If I don’t come home with a buckle now, my wife is probably going to kill me,” Currie joked. Richardson is a past Tevis winner and he breeds horses for success on the ride. His ranch off Highway 193 between Cool and Georgetown has played host to Tevis riders from France, England, Wales, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Brazil and German as well as South Africa. “The ride is world-renowned,” Richardson said. “The buckle is what people want and once you get one, it’s contagious, like the measles. I’ve got 21.” Richardson, 68, said he’ll be back in a quest for No. 22 on Saturday, while helping his international visitors also finish the grueling, epic journey. Sally Toye, from Hampshire, south of London, England, is a six-time visitor to Sliger Mine Ranch and a two-time Tevis finisher. An airline pilot with Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Toye said the Tevis for her is not a relaxing time on the trail. She does that at home when she rides in England, she said. Instead, she’s focused as she rides and cognizant of the trail, Toye said. “I’m an addict to Tevis and therapy doesn’t do what this ride does for me,” she said. Also from England, Essex-area resident and Endurance GB magazine editor Cindy Russell said the appeal of the Tevis ride lies in its unique route. She’ll be following Russell’s journey and writing about it. “You ride where you can’t normally go, on trails that aren’t normally accessible,” Russell said. “It’s a challenge for you and your horse.” The Tevis ride is considered the premiere endurance ride in America by Europeans, Russell added. “It’s an old fashioned test of endurance,” Russell said. “Some rides now are endurance running for horses and – not to denigrate that, because it’s a different sport – but it’s not riding 100 miles in 24 hours over testing terrain.”