Award winning endurance rider Heidi Hilton plans return to competition

So much depends on your horse, she says

Heidi Hylton competing in an endurance race on her horse “Crazy Horse.” Steve Bradley/submitted photo

OROVILLE – Oroville’s Heidi Hylton has been competing for two years in horse endurance riding and for a relative newcomer has racked up some impressive results.

“I got into it indirectly through Kim Black, but more directly through John Newton, who is our farrier,” said Hylton.

“Kim, from Tonasket, has competed for several years. John doesn’t compete, but he is the one who encouraged me to try it.”

Hylton says she has a lot to thank Newton for and that there are five endurance riders in Okanogan County and they all use his horseshoeing services.

“The sport is super hard on horses, if your horse doesn’t have a good footing under you, you can’t compete,” Hylton said.

The competitor says endurance riding takes lots of time conditioning your horse and riding at least three times a week, five to 25 miles, to practice.

Hylton and her husband Tony have nine horses on 40 acres outside of Oroville. Her husband also competed for the first time last year. He rides a full brother to her horse.

“As a stallion he can be more difficult to deal with,” she said.

In 2011 Hylton and her mare ‘Crazy Horse’ completed fourteen 50-mile competitions and one 75- mile distance. Of the 15 rides she placed first seven times, receiving three Best Condition awards. Crazy Horse was never out of top ten placing other than one ride where multiple riders got lost and rode 10 extra miles. Heidi and Crazy finished 2011 as the first place Featherweight rider and the second place in overall points. With 775 miles they were second in regional mileage, as well.

Races vary in length from 50 to 100 miles. A veterinarian checks out each competitor’s horse prior to the event and they have to pass the exam to compete. There are from one to four stations where the horse and rider must “hold,” take a rest break, on a typical 50-mile course depending on the terrain, she said.

“There are more on 75 and 100 mile courses depending on the difficulty and the weather. If the weather is very cold you don’t want to hold there long because the horse can cramp up from the cold,” she said.

Horses are also given physical exams by veterinarians at these holds – checking metabolic rate, pulse, digestion and dehydration. If the horse doesn’t pass any of these exams the rider cannot continue in the competition.

She said she was disqualified at one of the 16 races she was competing in.

“It was the very last race I completed the time to the finish line and at the completion my horse had a muscle cramp I didn’t get to complete the race,” she said. “The sport is very big on the health of the animal.”

There is a lot of time committed to your horse, which has to be in top shape, according to Hylton. She took the state championship in 2011 in the Featherweight Division.

“Last year we didn’t have enough money to do a whole lot of races, so we didn’t take the championship. Kim did excellent and took a state championship,” she said.

The Pacific Northwest region includes competition in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Western Montana, Alaska and B.C. The closest race is held in the Vantage, Wash. area.

The 75-mile competition in the Yakima area is considered by many to be one of the most challenging in the Pacific Northwest, according to Hylton.

That was Hylton’s first 75-miler and she won it and also got the Best Condition award, she says.

The races are gender neutral and men and women compete equally in the same race. Some races are multi-day events, where there might be five 50-mile races each day.

So much depends on the rider’s horse, although Hylton doesn’t ride a typical endurance mount. Hylton said Crazy Horse is a big and heavy paint quarter horse/thoroughbred cross in a sport where Arabs dominate. Endurance horses need to have extremely high metabolism with a muscle type that burns energy efficiently. They also have to have the ability to keep their pulse low and to cool down quickly after a race.

Hylton said, “My horse likes to race, she’s extremely competitive. She likes when we are actually doing the race, but doesn’t like work… she thinks if there’s no competition ‘why do this?’ She’s extremely smart; she likes to race too much. I spend a lot of time trying to hold her back.”

Hylton’s says she’s learned a lot about taking care of her horse since she started racing her.

“There’s a lot too do, lots of time learning your horse and what to feed her. You spend so much time just trying to keep your weight on the horse. They burn a huge amount of energy.”

To do that Hylton says she feeds her horse a diet that includes vitamins and minerals and fat additives.

Even though she says her horse has changed a lot as it get’s older, she still

pulses down quickly and cools quickly.

“She’ll be nine this year, I am so lucky to have a her, she’s like no other animal. She has a reliable spirit,” she said.

The next riding season starts in April and Heidi and Crazy Horse plan on competing.