Mitchell's Emma Christopherson conquers Tevis Cup, featuring 100 mountainous miles on horseback in 24 hours
One girl and one horse conquered the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range on a 100 mile trek in less than 24 hours.
TRUCKEE, California — A Mitchell native and her horse have conquered what's widely regarded as one of the most prestigious endurance equestrian contests in the world.
Emma Christopherson, 19, and her trusty Arabian steed, Diesel, completed the Tevis Cup on Sunday, July 24, successfully navigating a 100-mile strech of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in under 24 hours.
Beginning in Robie Equestrian Park in Truckee, California, Emma and Deisel were one of 131 teams who took part in the event. With a time of 23 hours and 13 minutes, she was one of 59 competitors to complete the trek in under 24 hours.
By completing the difficult trek through mountainous terrain, Christopherson checked of a memorable trip that was seven years in the making, which stemmed from an invite to go horseback riding after church.
“She first got into horse riding when she was about 12,” said Emma's father, Burl Christopherson. “She got invited to go after church one day and pretty soon we were driving her an hour away just for training. We really had no idea what she was getting into.”
After her trainer mentioned the Tevis Cup during a riding session, Emma’s excitement became a passion to complete the ultimate endurance race.
“After doing research, I wanted to see if I could just get there,” Emma said. “It only had a 50% completion rate, and it was so cool to know that I had a horse that was good enough to attempt it, let alone finish.”
Now a student at Dakota Wesleyan University, Emma began training for this competition over two years ago.
“I’ve ridden over 20 miles a day in state parks to try and prepare for similar terrains and climates,” she said, citing weightlifting as another necessary preparation for this long of a race. “I have to be able to get on and off my horse efficiently, because we’re only allotted 24 hours to finish the race.”
After her horse sustained an injury in 2021, her plans to compete in the Tevis Cup were postponed, but determination drove her to continue her training, working harder than ever before, despite the minor setback.
In order to qualify for the Tevis Cup, a rider must complete at least 300 endurance miles — overseen by the National Endurance Conference — and the horse entered must be 6 years old or older.
However, despite how tough qualifications are, conditions during the competition are even tougher.
“Where it wasn’t rocky, it was dusty,” Christopherson recalls.
Visibility was minimal. At one point, the canyon temperatures rose to a sweltering 115 degrees. In some sections of the race, the altitude soared to a whopping 9,000 feet. The incredibly steep terrain combined with thin ledges and rocky terrain leading into and out of the canyons can be extremely dangerous, even fatal.
“On the first canyon, there was a horse that must’ve misstepped. It fell down one of the cliffs, hit its head and died,” Emma said.
The hardest part for Emma, though, was what is known as the California loop. She recalled this section of the canyon featuring some of the biggest drop-offs and only two-foot-wide trails — all of which she navigated in the dark.
“I just remember hoping and putting every ounce of trust I had into Diesel to just stay on the trail,” she said.
After 11 vet-checks and two one-hour holds, Emma and Diesel crossed the finish line just before 4:30 a.m. Sunday, finishing 40th out of 59 remaining riders.
She credits her crew members and her family for getting her to the finish line, specifically pointing to her parents, Sandy Byrd and Burl; crew members Janet Sarver, Deb Moe, Janet Cram; as well as her trainer, Sarah Mass.
“It was the most miserable and exhausting thing I’ve ever done in my life," Emma said, "but it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and I 100% want to do it again.”
When she's not with her horse, Emma studies equine sciences at Dakota Wesleyan University, hoping to one day become a horse trainer.