Steve Hiatt never thought he would win an award for doing the thing he enjoys more than anything else in the world—helping horses. So when the 50-year-old California native was honored with the Race Track Chaplaincy of America’s White Horse Award for heroic service to the equine industry, it was understandable he was more than a little surprised.
“I am in awe,” said Hiatt, who was honored at a luncheon Nov. 5 at Santa Anita Park, just one day prior to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. “I have been hauling horses since I was 15. I never thought I’d get recognized with an award for it. The other nominees are just as worthy, if not more. This is very special.”
As with previous White Horse winners, Hiatt’s selfless service to the industry goes largely unnoticed by most. Since 1989 he has been a horse van operator for Hoofbeats Horse Transportation in Albany, Calif., a small town not far from Golden Gate Fields. Hiatt’s job is to take critically ill or injured horses to nearby hospitals in emergency situations.
Often times the lifesaving transports start at Golden Gate or Fairplex Park when horses are injured on the track, either while racing or training. In those cases Hiatt normally takes the injured animals to nearby University of California-Davis Veterinary Hospital where they are cared for.
In other cases Hiatt will transport sick horses—many of them with colic—to veterinary hospitals. Often times those medical emergencies occur in the middle of the night. During the presentation a story was told of how Hiatt drove more than 50 miles to assist another van driver who had had a flat tire. This year alone Hiatt has answered more than 20 distress calls of a similar nature.
“I was brought up to do this; I feel like it’s what I was put on this earth for,” said Hiatt, a resident of San Pablo. “It’s all I’ve ever known.”
Hiatt grew up around horses in Southern California where his father, Bert Hiatt, was a Thoroughbred owner for more than 40 years. When the younger Hiatt wasn’t in school, he was usually at the racetrack with his dad, learning all about equines. In the summer he worked at nearby horse farms.
“That’s when I started hauling horses,” Hiatt said. “I was only 15; I really wasn’t supposed to be doing it at that age, but I did.”
Eventually, Hiatt made his way up to Northern California to work for Hoofbeats, where he has been for the past 20 years.
“We haul all kinds of horses—show horses, backyard horses, broodmares, any horse that is in need of help, any time of day,” Hiatt said. “They are emergency situations, so the outcome is not always favorable, but my job is to get there as quickly as I can and give the horse its best chance to live. It’s rewarding when they return to live healthy lives.
“I’ve had a love of horses since I was very young. I don’t expect to be acknowledged for my work or win awards, so I’m very honored.”
The Race Track Chaplaincy of America, whose purpose is to serve all facets of the horse racing industry, also honored John Harris with the RTCA Community Award. Currently the chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, Harris also owns and operates Harris Farms in the San Joaquin Valley near Coalinga and has been raising and training Thoroughbreds for more than 40 years.