Valley woman wins riding award | RecordCourier.com

Valley woman wins riding award

by Susie Vasquez

The freedom of an open trail is the best thing about equestrian endurance competitions for both the rider and in many cases, the horse, said Carson Valley resident Suzanne Ford Huff.

“I grew up in Montana and tried showing, but I didn’t like being confined to an arena,” Huff said. “It’s more natural for a horse to be out in nature than an arena. They’re happier – at least an Arabian is.”

She has a right to that opinion. She’s an avid competitor and this year won first place in the American Endurance Ride Conference 100-mile category for the 2006 season, a national award.

Endurance riding is a controlled long-distance race that can take up to 24 hours, the top-level races 100 miles or longer.

Huff said she is goal-oriented and loves the challenge. Fifty-mile competitions are a little too tame, so right now she is concentrating on the 100-mile.

Easy-going and petite with blonde hair and dark eyes, she spoke from an expansive porch in front of her house. A scattering of Arabian horses in a nearby pasture grazed and when approached, three gathered at the fence. A friendly, solid-looking sorrel named Chase, Huff’s choice for these competitions, is one of them.

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The breed is ancient, once used for desert warfare and known for their ability to go long distances without food and water. Arabs and half-Arabs dominate this sport, Huff said.

“For flat terrain larger horses are more popular, but they have more leg problems due to their weight,” she said. “In the mountains, smaller horses can better negotiate the mountain trails.”

The American Endurance award is based on points accumulated over the season, which extends from December to the following November. Competitions are slated across the country, 12 in Nevada each year, Huff said.

“The award is based on placement and the number of 100-mile races completed,” she said. “I won a first, came in second on two races and took a 5th and 7th place.”

Unlike other sports, younger horses are not allowed to compete. They must be at least four years old to compete in the 25-mile runs and five to compete in the 50-mile or better. Veterinarian controls are strict and the horses checked every 15 to 25 miles to make sure they are fit enough to continue.

Huff said it can take two to three years to build a top competitor without compromising soundness. The sport is about proper pacing rather than pushing the horses, but there can be real challenges.

For example, when traversing trails with straight drop-offs, a bee or snake can send a horse over a cliff. Lack of water will mean slowing a horse down to finish the race, she said.

“Most competitions try to provide water, but things happen,” she said.

The weather can be very hot or, as occurred recently in the Mojave, horse and rider can get drenched.

Huff and husband Darryl live just east of Foothill Road in Carson Valley, on property they share with 13 Arabian horses. Following her big win, Huff expects to start working with her 12 other Arabians and possibly grooming a successor for Chase, who will soon be 17.

Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 211.