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.”
Jorja James, left, on Killarney Fire, and Robbie James on Glendaar Amira Fire.
Suzie Latta, left, on Dundevale Cruiz, and Ian Gray on Sunny Brae Red Lace in the Novice 80km.
Kevin James, on Sahara Fire, comes in with his 7-year-old daughter, Kate, riding Glenvar Kit Kat.
Judy McGibbon and The Irish Connection return after their 25km ride.
Robbie James, 8, waits for vetting with Glendaar Amira Fire. The combination won the ride and also won Best Conditioned overall.
Warren Dickie and Molly, with Judy McGibbon and The Irish Connection, at the finish line for their 25km ride.
Robbie James with Glendaar Amira Fire.
Ian Gray with Sunny Brae Red Lace after finishing the 80km open.
Kate James, 7, with Glenvale Kit Kat waits to vet.
Ian Gray untacks Sunny Brae Red Lace
Robbie James with Glendaar Amira Fire, who won their 80km ride and best Conditioned.
The office girls worked tirelessly all day. From left, Mt Linton club president Marie Smith, who was TD for the day; vice-president Rachel Napier, who also rode on the day; Secretary Lisa Simpson was also on the ground jury, as was timekeeper and club member Lyn Marshall.
Kate James in the junior 80km, riding Glendaar Kit Kat. Kate, 7, is now an open rider.
Kimberley Crack, 14, trots out Aurora Mystique for vetting after their 40km novice ride.
Janina Brenner from Germany trots out Aurora Reniah for vet John Doddy.
Jo Elder takes Dell Wahid (bay) on his first 40km ride, with Elfi Menpes and Dell Halima leading along the beach.
Warren Dickie leads Molly out for the vet check.
Robin Marshall with Aurora Reniah after the five-year-old mare’s first 40km ride.
Suzie Latta and Dundevale Cruiz cool off after finishing the 80km ride.
Janina Brenner from Germany riding Aurora Raffeah for Aurora Stud, in the novice 40km.
Kimberley Crack and Aurora Mystique in the Junior 40km.
Pure Crabbet full sisters Aurora Raffeah and Aurora Reniah, with Janina Brenner and Robin Marshall up. The two mares were on their first 40km ride.
Claire McAlinder and Milo, in the 25km.
Barbara Mulder on Abbey in the 25km.
Young Alexi James gets friendly with her future mount, Glenvale Kit Kat. Her mum, Sarah Hamer, was working on the ground strapping for the family. Alexi is nearly six months old.
Most riders are their own strappers, here, horses are prepared for vetting. At front is Lynne McKenzie and JA Khudos (30).
Mt Linton club president Marie Smith shares a quiet moment with her pure Crabbet mare, Aurora Clouded Moon (by Boomori Finale). Cloudy did a 40km at the last ride in October, but Marie was grounded for this ride as she was TD (Technical Delegate).
Club secretary Lisa Simpson brought her horse, Summersdale Zac (by Silver Omen), along for some education while she was working on the Ground Jury.