BOISE – An Idaho girl earned local recognition and a national ranking after riding hundreds of miles on her horse over just a few days in a series of equestrian endurance competitions known as the Idaho IronHorse.
Olivia Valtierra, 11. of Eagle, began endurance riding this year. The sport involves riding long distances on horseback in organized events, sometimes covering as much as 50 miles in a single day.
It’s a sport Olivia’s mother and grandmother did, and Olivia, along with her 19-year-old Arabian gelding Tai Juan, followed in their footsteps this summer and fall. Olivia completed three three-day events (known as Pioneer rides) across Idaho, covering 25 to 35 miles each day as part of the “limited distance” category.
The sixth-grader is one of only a few juniors, or riders ages 15 and younger, to compete in the Idaho IronHorse. This year, she was one of only two riders – including adults – to complete the Limited Distance IronHorse, finishing three of the four IronHorse Pioneer rides on the same horse.
Her accomplishment also saw her nationally ranked – Olivia was No. 2 in the American Endurance Ride Conference’s limited distance championship for juniors. Together, she and Tai Juan covered 290 miles in nine days.
“My favorite part was getting places people can’t walk to and four-wheelers and bikes and cars can’t go,” Olivia said .
OLIVIA’S ENDURANCE RIDING WAS IDAHO IRONHORSE ACCOMPLISHMENT: Jessica Huber, founder of the Idaho IronHorse and ride manager for the final event in the challenge, said there are several factors that make Olivia’s accomplishment so impressive. Huber said in the three years the IronHorse has been running, only three juniors have completed a category.
Olivia is the first Idaho resident to do so, while the other two juniors who completed the course were from Oregon.
“She’s definitely our youngest one to complete,” Huber said. “To do what she did is not easy for an adult, much less a kiddo her age.”
According to Huber, only a fraction of riders complete the IronHorse each year.
“Usually at the end (of the first event), we have 40 people in contention,” she said. “This year we had four complete in different divisions. It’s not easy. It takes some forethought, some planning. You gotta go out and condition your horse.”
Huber and Olivia’s mother, Jessica Valtierra, said each ride involves multiple vet checks, as well as excellent horse care from each rider.
“Those horses get taken care of pretty well, and Olivia’s out there rubbing ointment (on her horse) after each ride,” Jessica said.
Olivia said she first heard about the IronHorse from friends she met at a horseback riding camp. After completing the first ride in the series, a three-day ride through City of Rocks in June, she decided to try to finish the limited distance category – even though her mom wouldn’t be able to ride along with her as originally planned.
Olivia also rode in the Top o’ the World event in July, which follows the Continental Divide along the Idaho-Montana border, as well as the Autumn Sun ride, which took riders through the high desert near Gooding in early October. (The fourth ride, in which she did not compete, is called Old Selam and takes place near Centerville in September.)
Huber said weather conditions were challenging at each of the rides Olivia completed. “At City of Rocks, temperatures were over 100 degrees,” Huber said. “At Autumn Sun, we had snow. We had everything in between.”
Jessica said that didn’t deter her daughter.
“She came in with red cheeks on the last ride, freezing but still wanted to get out there and do it,” Jessica said. “She’s one tough cookie. We’re really proud of her.”
ENDURANCE COMMUNITY PUSHES FOR JUNIORS LIKE OLIVIA TO COMPETE: Huber and Jessica Valtierra said the endurance riding community is focused on getting more young riders like Olivia involved.
The IronHorse events, which cost between $110 and $200 per day for adults to enter, are free for juniors. Even with that incentive, Huber said, it can be tough for juniors to get the support they need to travel to each competition.
The Valtierra family pitched in to go on rides with Olivia and transport her and Tai Juan to each event.
“(I want to give) a big shout-out to parents,” Huber said. “Someone Olivia’s age can’t just haul her horse on her own.”
Huber also said endurance competitions tend to shower junior riders with prizes and swag as yet another incentive to keep up with the sport.
“It’s really a joy to see those kids participate,” she said. “As an event manager, they are our future of the sport. To give them goals like this keeps them involved.”
Olivia said there was always at least one other junior rider on each trail during the IronHorse. She said she loved talking to the other riders, but the best part was spending time with Tai Juan.
“It was fun – just cool,” she said. “I like riding horses and being around them and taking care of them after the ride.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.