Jody Wyatt competes in an endurance sport that requires help from a four-legged friend.
Five to six days a week, she and her 11-year-old daughter, Leyla, rigorously train with their horses in open space preserves, often in Los Altos Hills. They do this to improve their endurance riding – an equestrian sport that requires riding horses anywhere from 5 to 100 miles over difficult terrain.
Because of the sport’s demanding and often dangerous nature, intense training is necessary to create a strong bond between the rider and the horse. According to Wyatt, trust is imperative.
Wyatt’s three years of training recently culminated in the 100-mile Tevis Cup. She and her horse, Amira, finished in 23 of the 24 allotted hours. Out of 175 starters, the pair was among 50 to finish the ride across Squaw Valley to Auburn.
The connection between Wyatt and Amira was crucial to their success.
“I think Amira knew that she was at Tevis, that it was a unique ride and that it was her time to take care of me,” the former Palo Alto resident said.
As the two ascended Cougar Rock, a craggy precipice, Amira made the decision to turn and jump downward. Wyatt placed her faith in her horse and let Amira take over.
The pair often have “discussions” through foot nudges and direction shifts. According to Wyatt, Amira and many other horses can sense heightened nerves and read body language, making them versatile partners for a sport where communication is key to bodily safety.
The Tevis Cup pioneered this type of endurance riding event in 1955. The event is hosted annually by the Western States Trail Foundation, which awards engraved metal belt buckles to those who complete the ride within 24 hours. The horses’ health is monitored throughout; volunteer veterinarians are stationed at several rest points.
“It takes a team of people to get you to Tevis and through Tevis,” Wyatt said.
Leyla was on her mother’s team this year, helping check Amira’s health at rest points and watching the live GPS of Wyatt’s position during the 24 hours. She also would have participated in Tevis with her horse, Fixxer, but Leyla was one year shy of the age limit.
Wyatt attributes much of her improvement in endurance riding to the terrain in and around Los Altos Hills. Public open space preserves such as Rancho San Antonio give her – and the many other endurance riders in the area – ample training ground.
However, the city is quickly expanding into those spaces, too; the barn where she kept her horses is being torn down for renovation. In August, the Wyatts and their horses moved to a 22-acre horse farm in Maine, where they would have more than enough resources to train.
Wyatt and Leyla nearly always ride and compete together. Each horse and rider has its own strengths that bolster the other’s weakness, according to Wyatt. For example, Leyla and Fixxer are better with water, so they’ll lead in front of Wyatt and Amira when riding through ponds or creeks. In a way, endurance training time also could double as mother-daughter bonding time.
When asked whether endurance riding was a family sport, Wyatt laughed and said, “We make it one.”