Most of the time, if you are on your horse and the bridle is not, something has gone wrong. But for veteran endurance rider Jeremy Reynolds, who on July 29 won the one-day, 100-mile Western States Trail Ride, popularly known as the Tevis Cup, for the fifth time in his career aboard his Arabian mare Treasured Moments (DA Adios+—Hidden Treasure), going sans bridle was all part of the plan. Reynolds, 43, completed the oldest—and what is often regarded as the most challenging—endurance ride in North America with “Treasure” wearing nothing more than a neck rope.
“She normally goes in a really thin rope halter,” said Reynolds, who along his wife and fellow endurance rider Heather Reynolds operates Reynolds Racing in Dunnellon, Florida. “I’d like to say that I’m that good of a horseman, but really, I just have that good of a horse, and I’ve been able to listen to her and see what she likes.”
Jeremy initially planned to use the neck rope only along the first portion of the Tevis route, which travels along the notoriously rugged and occasionally treacherous Western States Trail in California’s Sierra Mountains. He began prepping his 13-year-old equine partner for this unique challenge earlier this year; after many trial ride successes, Jeremy decided to use the neck rope from start to finish.
“This horse is just so sensitive, and we are in tune,” said Jeremy, who has represented the U.S. on several international endurance squads. “She’s a very fast horse. I’ve won overseas with her. She listens to me so well.”
Jeremy’s relationship with Treasure may have solidified over the thousands of miles and 10 years they’ve spent together, but he admits that for him, it was love at first sight. He met Treasure when she was just a 3-year-old race horse, and he was working as a farrier for a racing barn.
“I remember that day distinctly: She stood beautifully, and I just loved everything about her, from her build to her attitude,” he recalled. “She kind of looked through me, and I just loved it. I was enamored with her then, and I was able to purchase her after her 3-year-old campaign. I was very fortunate to be able to get her.”
Treasure made her Tevis debut with Jeremy in 2017, finishing third and earning the Haggin Cup for Best Conditioned Horse. Jeremy’s friends Bob Gauthier and Sarah Hunt then rode her to completions in 2018 and 2019, respectively; with Jeremy in the irons, she won the ride in 2021. With this year’s success, Treasure’s name has been added to the prestigious Robie Cup, honoring those horses who have finished the ride a minimum of five times.
In preparing for 2023, Jeremy initially experimented with a traditionally designed neck rope. Although he was able to steer and stop effectively, it offered no way to lead Treasure when Jeremy was unmounted, a requirement for the vet checks held along the route. Instead, he collaborated with his friend Pamela Collen at Untamed Tack in Greenwood, California, to create a customized hybrid neck collar/lead rope.
“I can unclip the middle section—the reins, so to speak—so I can have a lead,” Jeremy said. “[The lead] is long enough I can get off and run. It’s been an adaptation over time.”
Jeremy’s custom creation has a loop in the center to clip the collar to, and then when he clips the other end back to it, he has a pair of “reins,” although they are quite short.
“To slow her pace, I lightly lift and bump her neck up and down, and to steer, I use a neck reining type of feel,” he said. “I have listened to her, and when I noticed I’m getting a response to this much pressure, I just lightened it over time, to get that communication.”
Jeremy then put Treasure and her neck rope to the test by simulating during their practice runs many of the types of situations they could expect to encounter at Tevis.
“I had done some true tests at home, with fresh horses, and people who would help me if I told them to ride a certain way,” Jeremy said. “In practice, I set myself up for failure, and every time I did it, I ended up getting braver and braver, like, ‘I can do this.’ ”
Jeremy’s faith in his horse was challenged right at the start of the Tevis race.
“She is world class, speed-wise, and I can put her wherever I want at the start,” he said. “There were other horses running away with their riders at the beginning, and she just turned an ear, waiting for me to tell her, ‘Do we go, or do we let off?’ She listened to me fully. I never felt out of control or unsafe.”
Jeremy attributes some of Treasure’s success to her outstanding work ethic, a trait she passed onto RR Super Cool, her now 7-year-old filly by TH Richie.
“You put the saddle on, they stand there, and then they are ready to go,” said Jeremy of the mother-daughter duo. “They want to march to where the track is, or to where the trail is. They just want to go to work. They don’t fuss or stress. They want to do the right thing.”
Although Jeremy doesn’t anticipate using the neck rope in future international races (he said his rope halter has already caused enough controversy), he plans to stick with it for national-level competition.
“There’s no reason to not ride in it, because she’s so good about it,” Jeremy said. “It’s just so much fun. I like the attention, but I think the horse deserves the attention, because she is just that special.
“I am very fortunate, and I feel like everyone needs a Treasure,” he added. “I really wish everyone could find a horse like this. It’s not that she is the best at everything, but that I’ve learned to read her, and she kind of communicates by just using a flick of her ear or turning her head a little bit. She has taught me so much.”