An Event for Flathead’s Hidalgos

By Beacon Staff

Although less sand and more oversight will be involved, horses hoping to emulate Hidalgo will compete in several equestrian endurance races July 17-18 on a ranch near Marion. Sponsored by The Hooves and Company Distance Riders Horse Club, the races operate under the guidelines of the American Endurance Ride Conference and are attracting riders from across the West and Canada.

Now in their second incarnation, the races this year have a new setting as the previous location at Herron Park presented several logistical difficulties.

“It was really rocky, had a lot of climbs and very little water,” Sherrie Calaway, president of the Hooves and Company Horse Club, said. “We had to haul the water in, which was really difficult.”

Calaway said the uneven terrain also increased the chances of injuring the horses.

“This year we’re trying to make it easier on the horses and their riders,” she said.

The new location is the Thompson River Ranch, a 100,000-acre working ranch located 40 miles from Kalispell. The race paths, which follow old logging roads and cow paths, feature fewer climbs and gentler surfaces.

“We zip them across the hard pack to get them on the softer paths,” Calaway said. “You get some really beautiful views of the Thompson Ranch.”

Two races are held each day, in addition to a pleasure jaunt. First up is a 35-mile race followed by one of 50 miles. The 35-mile race has an eight-hour limit while the 50-mile race has a 12-hour limit, but Calaway expects many of the faster riders to finish in half the time.

The prize for the winner of the two 50-mile races, riding the same horse in both races, is a portable corral.

As of press time, 10 riders are registered, although Calaway expects around 50 will participate.

Most riders will bring Arabian horses, the preferred breed for endurance races, but Calaway says riders can register any horse they are comfortable with.

Riders with a gamut of different experience levels are expected to participate and the event will feature a little star power. Suzanne Hayes, an Ovando resident and former U.S. team captain for the World Endurance Championships, will compete as will Doug Swingley, the four-time Iditarod winner from Lincoln.

Endurance racing emerged from cavalry exercise to an organized sport in 1955. The most famous race is the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile race across California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

For those unfamiliar with equestrian endurance racing, the first across the line finishes, although riders must stop for veterinarian checks and one or more 30-45 minute holds.

At this weekend’s race, three veterinarians will be on hand to take the horses’ pulses, metabolics and check for sores and other injuries. During the holds, the horses are fed and watered.

“The vets just check their general welfare and see that the horses are fit to continue,” Calaway said, “although no good rider would ride their horse into the ground.”

In order to successfully compete, riders and their horses must build up strength and endurance months before they race, according to Calaway.

“It’s kind of like how you would prepare for a marathon,” she said. “You start out with nice long, slow rides and then you practice trotting because you have to trot for miles.”

Calaway says the race wouldn’t happen without the hours of volunteering by club members. While one club member has drawn maps of the course, marking natural obstacles and the veterinarian stops, others helped mark the physical trails.

“They’ve been great,” Calaway said. “They’re a bunch of really good people.”

The Hooves and Company Horse Club was formed in the 1970s as a competitive trail riding club and now puts on several events each year.

Calaway says the public is welcome to watch the start and finish of the endurance races or visit the veterinarian station, although she warns “it’s out in the boonies.”

For more information, visit www.hoovesandcompany.com or call (406) 250-0351