Mare Dies in Accident at Tevis Cup Endurance Ride

A mare named Ice Joy fell to her death at the Tevis Cup Endurance Ride in Northern California.  The horse was being led in hand by owner Skip Kemerer of Maryland when she apparently stumbled and fell down a slope.  A report at the Tevis Cup website’s Google group states that she suffered a fatal skull injury and died on impact.

The Tevis Cup (Western States Trail Ride) is a horse and rider endurance ride of 100 miles, held once a year since 1955 in Placer County, California (near Lake Tahoe).  The ride is sanctioned by the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC).

The accident is being discussed on a “Chronicle of the Horse” (COTH) forum entitled “Accident at Tevis ’09?”  

Posters to the COTH forum view the death of Ice Joy as either an “unfortunate accident that could have happened anywhere,” a “freak accident,” or the result of an “unnecessarily dangerous” organized ride.  One poster wrote that “no one forces anyone to enter Tevis.”  But that’s not true for the horses.  The horses are all “forced” to enter the Tevis (or, in the case of a rodeo, to leave a chute; or, in the case of thoroughbred racing, to gallop down a track; or in the case of dressage to do a pirouette, etc., etc.) because a human being decided for them.  

I am not suggesting the horses are unwilling to go down a trail (leave a chute, gallop down a track, do a pirouette) any more than my dog is unwilling to walk a trail, ride in the car or “shake hands” for a treat.  

The fact is that the horses are wearing bridles or halters attached to reins or lead ropes held by humans, and they are transported to the Tevis competition staging area (stadium/race track/arena) by trailer, and as far as I know the language barrier prevents us asking them if they want to go, so essentially they are “forced.”

Am I suggesting we do away with all the things domesticated animals are made to do by humans?  

Animal rights or animal liberation proponents believe that humans should not utilize, use or own animals, and that includes riding horses for entertainment or recreation.  Animal welfare or animal protection proponents, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), are not opposed to using animals as resources or owning them as companions, but take the position that animals should not suffer unnecessarily at the hands of humans.  I believe we owe animals in captivity more than just protection but I am not convinced that opening the gates and letting everyone run free (or euthanizing them to save them from being property of humans) is a just and fair option for healthy animals.

Should the Tevis Cup Trail Ride be made safer for horses?

7 Responses to “Mare Dies in Accident at Tevis Cup Endurance Ride”
  1. Susan Walz says:

    The Western States Trail is a historic trail. It is maintained as well as it can be done. I’ve ridden the sport of endurance most of my life. Never did I ride a horse that didn’t enjoy the sport. They are the fittest horses of all equine sports. True athletes of marathon level. Of course they don’t make the choice to run a ride like Tevis. We make it for them & do our best to condition & train them for the challenge of that trail. Accidents happen in all sports.

  2. Pam says:

    I’ve ridden almost every section of this trail for years! Every animal that I’ve taken down it has been happy to go down the trails and never once stumbled or took a mis-step. It is very unfortunate that such a thing happened to this mare, and I know she is not the first, but we enter things like this knowing there is a risk to ourselves and our animals. But we also get in a car every day knowing there is a risk, we walk down the street knowing there is a risk, in my case I joined the Army knowing there is a risk. Risks shouldn’t stop us from doing what we love! Tevis is a ride that is a part of our history and is loved by most who have ridden or attempted to do the ride, to discontinue it would be devastating to so many!

  3. D'Arcy L. Demianoff-Thompson says:

    Perhaps the question is not whether the ‘animal’ has the ‘freedom of choice’ but rather is the trail safe enough for the venue? Is the area that Ice Joy fell an area that needs to be visited for it’s overall safety, at the time of night, that the horses would be going through that area? Does the trail need to be widened? Maybe those are the issues that should be addressed.

    I have witnessed over the last 5 years, in the State of California, too many ‘do gooders’ trying to ‘save’ the animal. When in reality they are puppeters for the masses. Public figures that wish to covent the land. Land that can then be turned it into a tax revenue base by building homes on the land.

    As far as ‘freedom of choice’ – I invite anyone to witness any endurance horse when they see their rider coming towards them. Witness the horses head motioning to come over and ‘let’s get going’ NOW attitude! Witness the horse that looks at you in a dumbfounded look when you take your truck and trailer down the driveway – WITHOUT them in it! The calling the running along the fence line bucking and kicking! As if to say, “hey, you forgot me!”

    If you haven’t tried it don’t knock it! Just because it may not seem unreasonable, too expensive, and a ‘black hole’ in which to never return. Does not mean that is the way it should be for all. Are there situations that horses are treated unhumanely? Absolutely, go to any ‘hobby breeder’ that thinks they are going to make a million in the breeding industry and see the conditions a lot of those horses live in. Then go to a few ‘equine rescue’ organizations and see the same horses that have been rescued, trained, and are now, what? You guessed it competitive endurance horses. Well fed, well cared for, and most certainly well exercised.

  4. theandbetween says:

    I am grateful for these comments from endurance riders. I wrote this post because I had questions; not because I had answers. I believe the vast majority of people who take part in the Tevis Cup or any horse-related activity would not participate if they believed harm would be done to horses. I only suggest that because horses cannot speak for themselves, we pay particular attention to non-verbal indicators of their willingness and fitness to participate, and investigate thoroughly and independently if harm is done. If they are clamoring at the gate to be taken along is a very different indicator than if they are hanging back and resisting the lead and I don’t know why that should not be considered. If, despite everything, bad happens, why not investigate? I don’t say end the ride or wring your hands or stop crossing the street.

    The mare who died this year at the Tevis Cup was a last-minute replacement for another horse. I don’t know how willing a participant Ice Joy was or how fit she was to ride, but I am not prepared to assume everything was done that could have been done to keep her safe simply because this was the Tevis Cup.

    There was no independent, public investigation into the death of Ice Joy, as far as I know. I still think she deserves it, and if I had been her owner I would have welcomed it.

    • Skip Kemerer says:

      It has been over a year since I lost Ice Joy. I still miss her deeply and hurt for her loss. While technically I owned Ice Joy, I consider it more that we share 12 years together. After reading your post, I needed to comment on your misrepresentations which frankly pissed me off. Ice Joy was not a replacement horse. She was fit and prepared to do Tevis and had almost 3000 endurance miles under her hooves. I became a new rider since the horse I brought for myself became ill, so Ice Joy’s rider had togive up her spot to me. Ice Joy new endurance and was the 2006 Heavyweight national champion. She loved being on the trail and in many instances “pulled” along other horses showing them the ropes. There was an investigation done and I provided an account to AERC officals. For the record, I was approximately 400 yds above the swingng bridge leading Ice in hand. She slipped and slid backwards down a slope for about 50 ft., when she came to the bottom she flipped over backwards and her head hit a tree. She died almost instantly and took her last breaths as I was stroking her neck telling her I was sorry and that I loved her. This was a freak accident for which neither Tevis nor I am to blame. I still do endurance and consider all rides challenging. So while we’ll never hear from the horses mouth, you’ve at least heard from someone who has first hand knowledge.

      • theandbetween says:

        Mr. Kemerer, I am sorry for your loss of Ice Joy. I share my life with two horses of my own. It was the near-fatal illness of my first horse that led me to begin to look more deeply into the human/horse dynamic. I appreciate your setting the record straight on what happened to you and Ice Joy at the Tevis. I wrote my account directly from the little information available at the time. If an investigation had been done immediately after the accident, and the results made public, your account would have made it clear what happened that day, who Ice Joy was and the history of her accomplishments. As it was, the public was told only that a horse named Ice Joy had died, that you were her owner and that she was a “last-minute replacement” for another horse you had intended to ride. Any questions about what contribution, if any, the competition itself had made to the accident were left unanswered. Thank you again for taking the time to offer your first hand account. Ice Joy sounds like one of those horses who love what they do and are lucky enough to have found a human who makes it possible. I wish that information had been made public at the time.

  5. Pam says:

    I agree that having an investigation done would be a good thing. And maybe that section does need to be widened… And maybe the educational ride needs to become mandatory, much like the minimum milage. Accidents will happen, but we can do our best to prevent them.

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