Ride of a lifetime: Nevada County woman and her horse Amigo to compete in Tevis Cup | TheUnion.com

Ride of a lifetime: Nevada County woman and her horse Amigo to compete in Tevis Cup

Marisa Dardis stands with her horse Amigo, who has completed the Tevis Cup endurance horse ride three times before this Saturday's ride.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com

locals on the trail

The following Nevada County equestrians and their horses/mules competing in this weekend’s Tevis Cup from Squaw Valley to Auburn:

Mykayla Corgnell – Penn Valley – Cody

Julie Eldridge – Penn Valley – Kismet

Susannah Jones – Rough & Ready – Ben

Jennifer Mather – Grass Valley – Sarah

Mark Montgomery – Penn Valley – Woody

Robert Ribley – Grass Valley – Sam

Melissa Ribley – Grass Valley – Ever Ready

Michele Rowe – North San Juan – Sage

Frank Smith – Grass Valley – Raptor

Frank Smith, Jr. – Grass Valley – Indy

Source: www.TevisCup.org

Imagine riding a half-ton Arabian horse over cliffs and rocks, across monuments with names like Cougar Rock and Devil’s Thumb, for 100 miles.

Your only companion is your horse, a silent but sturdy trail friend.

Marisa Dardi will be the first to tell you: endurance horseback riding isn’t a sport for the faint of heart.

This year Dardi will set out on the Tevis Cup for her fifth attempt at what is called by the Western States Trail Foundation “an endurance riding event of distinction, recognized as one of the world’s best tests of true horsemanship.”

The ride’s trail runs between Lake Tahoe and Auburn, giving riders and their equine companions 24 hours beginning 5:15 a.m. Saturday to complete the trail. Dardi, among several western Nevada County riders participating, said an average of 50 percent complete the course.

“It’s challenging,” Dardi said of the trail. “It’s hot, rocky, steep, a lot of up and down. Emotionally you go through highs and lows. It’s a true test of yours and your horse’s fitness.”

Throughout the race, Dardi will be on the trail with her horse, Amigo, a 14-year-old Arabian who has completed the Tevis Cup three times. Arabians, Dardi said, are the most common horse in endurance racing.

Dardi said that though the course is physically and emotionally demanding, the horse’s well being is always in the forefront of a rider’s mind. She said that there are numerous vet checks along the way to ensure that the horse is in a healthy physical state.

“You have to learn how to pace yourself, and you have to know your horse and when he’s getting tired so you can slow him down.”


Dardi’s passion for horses comes to her naturally. Her father, Bud Dardi, was an accomplished endurance rider. He won the Tevis Cup in 1966 and 1968, when he finished in a then-record time of 11 hours, 18 minutes. He also won the prestigious Haggin Cup in 1967 for having the best conditioned horse on the ride.

“He was a very accomplished endurance rider,” Dardi said of her father, who died in 2017. “That’s how I got started — my father was involved. I was around it my whole life, and as an adult I started endurance riding and got hooked. My sister has completed (the Tevis Cup) many times, and my father completed 10 times. He had that competitive mind.”

Her father was so devoted to helping her realize her dream of completing the Tevis Cup, he helped Dardi buy Amigo four years ago. They chose him specifically because of the excellence of his breed.

Dardi said her dad is her inspiration to attempt the often-grueling ride, but her motivation, she said, is simply to finish.

“It’s something on my bucket list I’ve wanted to do,” said Dardi. “It’s a challenge I want to accomplish in my life. I want to experience the whole trail in one day.”


The preparation for any endurance ride can be equally as challenging as the main event. Beginning months before the ride, Dardi and Amigo condition and train together, completing 50 mile rides and races.

Rider and horse form a bond, a partnership really.

“I think the cool thing is you have a relationship with your horse,” Dardi said, “and horses look to their owner as a partner. They look to us for guidance. It’s a team sport. It’s a partnership. I trust my horse implicitly.”

The oldest 100 mile ride in the world, the Tevis Cup is seen as the event which launched endurance horseback riding as a sport. Auburn — where the ride concludes — has been promoted as the endurance capital of the world, Dardi said. The annual Western States 100 Endurance Run also follows the course.

According to TevisCup.org, last year’s winner Tennessee Lane completed the course in 14 hours, 45 minutes.

In place of cutthroat antics and fierce competition, Dardi said those who ride in the Tevis Cup are extremely supportive of one another and that the environment is one of friendly camaraderie as each rider attempts to complete the ride in the allotted time.

“The motto of the American Endurance Ride Conference is ‘To finish is to win,’ said Dardi. “Endurance is a fabulous sport. It’s an incredible adventure.”

Dardi and Amigo will begin the Tevis Cup ride Saturday morning. Visit http://www.TevisCup.org for more information on the ride.

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@gmail.com or 530-477-4231.

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