Opening Statements

Canadian lawyer saddles up to test the limits of her endurance

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Heidi Telstad raced 621 miles over 10 days in the Mongol Derby. Photo Courtesy of Dominique Cognee.

Heidi Telstad, 43, enjoys her job as vice president, general counsel and chief legal officer for Pacific Customs Brokers in Surrey, British Columbia, where she handles imports and exports, tariffs and contracts.

But for Telstad, office life can’t compare to the excitement that begins when her four weeks of vacation roll around.

Telstad has an unusual hobby: She likes to race horses. Most recently, she won the 2016 Mongol Derby in China, crossing the finish line with two other riders.

“Mongolia was my first time racing semi-feral horses. I enjoy adventures and always need something to look forward to,” Telstad says. “I must admit, I am a thrill-seeker, as there must be a dangerous element to it.”

The Mongol Derby certainly fits the bill with a grueling 10-day, 1,000-kilometer trek (that’s more than 621 miles) through inhospitable terrain. First, riders choose a horse.

“The horses did not like strangers,” Telstad says. “They would bite us, turn around and kick us. And one particularly aggressive horse struck my partner in the face. That was all before we even mounted.”

Then there was the weather. Telstad rode through blistering heat of 100-plus degrees. Sometimes she had to dismount and lead her horse, with little access to water. Hours later she found herself riding up the mountains into a snowstorm. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.

“It was terrifying when packs of big dogs were chasing our horses and biting at our legs. We knew if our horses stumbled that the dogs would tear us apart,” Telstad says.

Telstad, who grew up on a farm in Canada, has been riding horses almost her entire life. Despite her equestrian experience, she says one of the hardest parts about the race was getting over the fear of being hurt. About 40 riders competed, but only 23 finished. Competitors’ injuries included a dislocated shoulder, fractured spine and brain hemorrhage. Telstad says all riders had GPS tracking devices so they could be found if injured.

Telstad is happy she can check the Mongol Derby off her bucket list, and she is already considering what her next feat will be.

Her cousin Kimberley St. Pierre wasn’t surprised that Telstad was willing to sign up for such an extreme experience.

“I was thoroughly impressed that she chose this as her next adventure and knew that this was going to be an extremely tough test,” St. Pierre says. “I mean, a 1,000-kilometer race on horseback—who does that? It is a true testament to Heidi’s character and drive.”

This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of the ABA Journal with the headline "Winner’s Circle: Canadian lawyer saddles up to test the limits of her endurance."

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