Endurance is alive and well in the far-flung reaches of the FEI empire. Neil Clarkson reports.
Nine-year-old Robbie James was a young man on a big mission. As he closed in on the finish in last weekend’s 80-kilometre endurance ride run by the Mount Linton Endurance Club in Southland, New Zealand, it was clear he would be battling his sister, Jorja, 13, for first place in the junior section.
The pair pushed their mounts up, and Robbie’s mount Glendaar Amira Fire eased clear to win the contest ahead of his sister on Kilarney Fire. Robbie’s ride on Amira Fire also earned the prestigious Best Conditioned title overall.
Sunday’s racing, through the coastal recreational park at Sandy Point, near Invercargill, perhaps illustrates why endurance is the fastest-growing FEI discipline.
In all, 29 riders turned out for the event, with participants given the option of 25km, 40km or 80km rides, with junior divisions in each category.
They set off around the course loop, which follows trails, quiet roads, sand dunes, and includes about 10km of beach riding, in near-perfect conditions – a mild overcast day with a light breeze off the ocean.
They trotted from the start line and quickly found themselves passing a row of seaside holiday cottages, where an interested local out watering her garden asked the passing riders which distance they were tackling. Others offered them a wave.
Just five minutes later, they emerged on to the beach. But this is not beach-riding as most around the world would expect. Where else do you find miles of flat, sandy beach with hardly a soul on it?
Some consider this to be one of the best endurance rides in the country.
The day’s riding is completed in the spirit of co-operation.
No-one, it transpires, employed the five strappers allowed under endurance rules. Most were do-it-yourselfers, but other riders were happy to help out when extra hands were needed for cooling horses, checking heart rates and getting to vet checks. Officials also stepped in to lend a hand when required.
The club is so small, that club members take turns to fill official ground roles required under endurance rules so the rides can be staged.
The sport in this part of the world is not the domain of professional riders with a string of mounts, trailed by support crews in four-wheel-drive vehicles.
The horses were mostly Arabs and part breds, but several ponies performed with distinction, as did a part-draught horse.
Observed one rider: “I don’t know where else in the world you’d find riding conditions like this – and sport with such camaraderie. You can be as competitive as you want – or not. Everyone mucks in and helps each other, and there’s a real sense of achievement at the end.”