An endurance adventure

August 20, 2001

by David Marshall
David Marshall, of Holly Farm Arabians, is an arabian breeder and endurance rider currently working in Abu Dhabi

I was on my way home when I started this but as you will read I returned to Holly Farm and now have gone again. Sorry if this is a bit long winded but it has been awhile and lots have happened.

David Marshall after a tough ride in the UAE
David Marshall after a tough ride in the UAE
Most of you will be aware I was able to accept the invitation to represent New Zealand at the UAE World Endurance Cup. I was New Zealand's highest World Ranked FEI Rider and New Zealand National Distance Rider of the Year. It was unfortunate that the then New Zealand National Champion, Garry Walker was unable to accept. Garry and myself had been nominated by the New Zealand Endurance Assn, along with Garry's mare Waimeha Zola, my stallion Simeon Sadir and as a reserve my gelding Euralea Joico.

So this past February I was given leave from the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club from where I work, to return home to travel with Sadir and Joico to Dubai. It was rather an emotional day at home, after being away for six months, but time didn't allow for many sentiments.

We were packed and on our way by truck up to Auckland, then by plane to overnight in Sydney where I took the opportunity to go see my Russian-bred colt, PRADAA. He had unfortunately met with a rather serious accident earlier and had been stabled with his very patient mum for some time. But for all this and taking this into account, he was the type of colt that I had expected and in time he will be taken to Holly Farm, whether sound or not as it was his breeding that was of interest first up.

David and Euralea Joico
David and Euralea Joico
Sadir and Joico had traveled well thus far and were reloaded and flew to Hong Kong via Melbourne where we picked up some of the Australian Endurance team and then finally onto Dubai where we were transferred out to the quarantine stables at the Seih Al Salam Endurance Village. On my birthday, I counted my blessings while being able to ride my own horses out in the deserts of Arabia. What a feeling ... we had arrived safe thus far.

The following weekend was to become one of those moments that will go down as unmatchable. I had entered to ride the Emirates Call 120km Endurance Championship on one of the Abu Dhabi Endurance Team horses Allura Park Star Minoan. We had struggled to get this boy right all season but felt finally that he was ready. How right we were. Not only did he settle into the ride with no issues, he stormed through the competition in the scorching heat to finish in second place. The team was ecstatic and we had just won a top line black Toyota Landcruiser 4X4 VXR V8.


David and Joico at the World Cup.
H.H. Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minoan's owner, was very pleased. At the first night ride of the season only one month later, we did one better. With Sh. Hazza recording his first win as a rider, thus giving Minoan and myself as trainer, all an entry into the list of UAE Champions.

Anyway I digress ... Everything does not always go as you would like. I was not only unable to start on Sadir in the UAE World Endurance Cup but had to withdraw from competition on Joico after only the first loop. This was a monumental disappointment for me, I guess you have to pay the price somewhere down the line. Fortunately this story has a continuing future. So as the horses spend the summer acclimatising ... with a bit of swimming, a bit of riding, turnout and loads of attention in their air-conditioned barn Sadir and Joico don't seem too upset. The generosity of the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club has been most appreciated and as I do my best to achieve their aims in their quest to be well represented. This is a challenge that I will give my best shot.

Somewhere during all this I was giving lessons to the grooms of the Sharjah Royal Stables on presentation of the horses for the upcoming UAE Championship Halter Show. Under the capable guidance of Julie Day, the stables are situated in a magnificent new facility and are very operational. They are now a feature of the Royal Palace grounds so that the family can be part of the goings on. With the correct permission, I was able to accept His Excellencies request for me to present his favorite stallion in the adult stallion class, which he duly won much to everyone's delight. This was his first presentation in the UAE and apparently will not be his last. The grooms achieved their own list of awards and did themselves very proud.

One of my next adventures was to travel to Egypt to help the Abu Dhabi Endurance team in one of the World's dream Endurance rides, literally around the Pyramids of Saqqara and Giza on the edge of the Egyptian Capital, Cairo. You can believe I have bruises from pinching myself. Our team comprised of four horses and successfully returned home with 100% completion with Sh. Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan placing 2nd., Sh. Mansoor bin Zayed Al Nahyan placing 8th., Ali Khaflan Al Jahouri placing 10th. and our own Director of the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, Adnan Sultan Al Nuaimi placing 14th.


David and crew at the World Endurance Championships.

We returned home thinking that we were to repack with a new team to travel to Syria but as it happens this was changed. A new ride was added to the calendar, another night ride, the weather was becoming very hot. The UAE Equestrian Federation was rather concerned with the timing of this ride but it was proved unfounded. I was part of the Ground Jury this time around and hats off to the participants. The results were as consistent as any of the top competitive rides held during the season. The finish was unequalled with literally noses between the first three placed. Sh. Mansoor was to win this time, and alongside his ecstatic brother Sh. Hazza, placing second. The official UAE season was finally over.

The endurance team was put onto a summer work program, which was welcomed by horses and personnel alike. Now, what for the future ...

As my contract was coming to an end, thoughts of returning home to Holly Farm where coming into focus. So much had been held over and as the Resident Manager, Iris Amann, had accepted another position, the farm was being held together by trusted friend Tania Nolan. Along with Tania was the ever-dedicated crew of Andrew Collier and Jennifer Low as well as Jennifer's sister, Catherine, who had offered her help too. My Mum was coming over to visit me in Abu Dhabi, to see what I was up to. We spent some great days together along with Jeannene Marchand, a very close family friend. While there we traveled to Al Ain, one of the oldest civilized oasis towns, in lower inland Arabia. Part of this small city is in the United Arab Emirates as well as the Sultanate of Oman, a very interesting adventure was enjoyed by us all. I had never spent any time there myself and with the help of a local friend Dr. Kamal Hassan M. Hassan, as a guide we were treated to a cultural visit you couldn't have appreciated better. Besides all this however, I think Mum found it all too hot, as we were already consistently reaching the 40 degrees and more.

Then it was on my way home via South Africa where we were treated to three and half weeks of an extraordinary country, most hospitable people and horses as substantially functional as this harsh country requires. We were able to attend several endurance rides and by the time we left we had a very clear understanding of the differences in their national rules to ours. I had the pleasure of riding many wonderful horses and through some spectacular scenery and wildlife, certainly this part of Africa has much to offer, besides wonderful food.

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Two of David's young charges -- Sh. Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Sh. Zayed bin Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The boys are members of the new Abu Dhabi Junior Endurance Team
Back in January, I was given a most enjoyable privilege. Being asked to help a 13-year-old young man, Sh. Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to learn to ride. He had decided he wanted to take up endurance riding. We worked very hard together using every available moment, as we had only three weeks to learn to ride and compete. Each day Sh. Hamdan made strides in leaps and bounds, literally at times. The day arrived as calendered and Sh. Hamdan didn't only qualify but did so with distinction and with much approval. He proved to be quite the ambassador for the young riders of the future. After this success, Sh. Hamdan was accompanied to his lessons with his cousin Sh. Zayed bin Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan to add to this ambitious new Abu Dhabi Junior Endurance Team. With education being at the heart of these very dedicated boys, study and end of year exams didn't leave a lot of spare time. So a summer programme was suggested during the holidays in Europe. For this to be achieved I had to agree to be available which I have gladly accepted.

My arrival back at Holly Farm was somewhat of a roller coaster. The AGM's of the NZ Arab Breeders and the NZ Endurance Assn both being held the weekend I arrived home in Christchurch. I was without time to take a breath. Being able to catch up with many friends and associates all at once was great. In the back of my mind I was plagued with the fact that I had agreed to be back in Abu Dhabi by the 1st of July and it was now the 17th of June. As luck would have it, I meet a Mrs. Jean Court on the Sunday. But I am going to let her tell you her own story.

Tania Nolan fortunately was able to continue in the position of Manager through to the 1st of September. This has been much appreciated, Jean was yet to return to the UK and wouldn't be back until then. So in essence, the hard question had been sorted. The coming season will be just as busy as usual, with around 10 foals due and another full endurance season to support.

To be able to VISIT my own home was strange. Naaddel was looking great for his 29 years and all the new foals, now weanlings, were a delight. One of my own highlights was to be able to go riding with Traask, one of the endurance geldings, and although my old dog Bruce had retired, he insisted that he come along, just like old times.

I had to come to the realization that I was now likely to be away for quite some time again, so further restructuring was going to be necessary. Jean had come out to the farm to become more familiar with the place while I was home. We spent some valuable time together, putting a new sales list together, introducing Jean to all the horses, branding foals, drenching, the new seasons calves had started to arrive, we started horses for the coming season and generally, it allowed me to feel very confident that all will be well.

So after many visitors, plenty of visiting and plenty of phone calls an uncerimonial end came to my short time at home. Repacked a few less kg, I returned to Abu Dhabi as agreed.

Sadir and Joico had dispensed with their unwelcome winter coats and were looking great. We had arranged two of the horses from the Abu Dhabi Endurance team to be in quarantine ready to fly to Europe for the summer. All was in place, arriving in France where we stayed overnight in Chantilly before reloading and going by truck to Germany where I am presently based.

The property is a racing stable owned by Jutta Schultheis, wife of the late Willi Schultheis, one of Germany's top equestrian riders and instructors. It is situated in northern Germany, just outside the very beautiful township of Warendorf. The countryside is agricultural but home to many equestrian endeavors including the location of the German Olympic Training facilities. The riding trails are just perfect with the local properties allowing free access around and through their tree-lined fields of exceptional heavy crops, anything from asparagus to wheat. Wild deer and pheasants abound and being summer it is rather enjoyable.

Just to keep me on my toes and off guard, after less than a week of settling in I was off again, this time to attend the South African National Endurance Championship. The 200km ride is held over three days. Better known as Foresmith, where 260 odd horses started this arduous competition. The township of Foresmith, an old diamond mining town, is transformed. I understand that this week is its most busy, once every year. Of interest is the fact that the same course is used each year and so many details and statistics are used by organizers and riders alike. Teams from Namibia and Botswana come to compete against South Africa along with all the National teams. It is quite an involved time which was most impressive. Even the minus 8 night temperature was least on the each camps' minds as they all plotted and schemed on how to outdo the opposition.

Back in Germany I found that Thorsten Kaiser, I think he is Treasurer for the Canterbury Endurance Club among other things, he had arrived to visit family and apparently saddle break a horse, which he had successfully completed. Thorsten was one of my crew for the World Championship last August in France, now nearly 12 months ago. I was arranging a visit to Marbach, the German State Breeding Farm, home to many great individuals and with history going back to 1473 AD. Home of the likes of Mustafa, sire of Nahda (Imp/Exp) -- Mustafa is also the grandsire of my new colt, Pradaa. As Thorsten was based over that way it was a great opportunity to catch up. Together with his father we all had a great day. We stopped for lunch at a trout farm where we were treated to a whole smoked trout each before making our way to Marbach. Dr Helmut Gebhardt, the director, was our guide, so we spent the afternoon feasting on beautiful horses.

The property was most interesting with oodles of history. The management is very traditional and functions as a tourist venue, hosting shows and presentations daily. We were treated to a private example using their senior purebred breeding stallion Motassem. A most impressive individual, so with his very apt handler they gave us an introduction to many tricks and pranks that both of them enjoyed and we appreciated with a good few photos to try to capture the spectacle. Each group of horses were managed in exceptional fields of top quality pasture.

The broodmares with young foals proved a great study of the past breeding program and the future. It was great to see the famous huge open feeding barns that I had seen featured in different articles over the years. The horses in their various groupings share these nightly and are no doubt appreciated greatly during the winter. Being able to visit a breeding program based on generations of dedication and purpose is very valuable, given that today you are lucky to see a programme put together within a single lifetime.

We left suitably impressed and so while into history we visited a local real-life medieval castle, Liechtenstein. Perched high on the edge of a sheer rock face we could imagine the life of those in power. Or probably Blackadder, more like it. Getting back to Thorsten's parents we decided to go to the neighbouring town to experience a true German tradition a fest. It seems that every town in Germany over this period of time have these and so everyone gets together in the streets with local groups selling all sorts of local fare and appropriate refreshments, some local music and plenty of people and you definitely have a fest. If I understand it correctly this is all about the peasants overthrowing the local landlords to claim their rightful deserves.

Now back to work. The horses have settled in well and have now been in work for three weeks and the two boys are coming over shortly to experience first-hand a new type of endurance riding. There is a ride to go to every weekend from where we are based so it will be all go.

This past weekend we took two horses to a small local ride. I just need to get a good handle on the national rules of Germany and it should be just what we are looking for. Getting to know the differences between each country not only adds a different perspective and understanding, but certainly highlights the importance of the FEI rules -- to standardise competition and help define what the sport of endurance represents.

So that is about were we are at for the moment. Please, it is great to hear from you, which you can do via email hollyfarm@horsetalk.co.nz