Endurance the most high-tech sport of WEG

New Zealand endurance team member Susie Latta and Tkiwa at the trot-up.
New Zealand endurance team member Susie Latta and Tkiwa at the trot-up.

One of the most technical courses in recent championship history will greet riders in the endurance competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which gets under way at 7am local time on Thursday morning.

All 173 horses from 47 nations passed the trot up for the 160km race at Sartilly, just over 100km from the main games venue in Caen.

The race will be run over five loops, instead of the usual six, and one of the loops takes competitors past Mont Saint-Michel, one of France’s most iconic landmarks and a world heritage site.

New Zealand's Georgia Smith and Glenmore Vixen.
New Zealand’s Georgia Smith and Glenmore Vixen. © Diana Dobson

This will also be one of the most closely scrutinised endurance competitions in recent years, coming hot on the heels of major changes to the rules of the sport.

High-definition video cameras, tamper-proof GPS devices, an approved heart-rate system, and a specialist timing system will be in place.

There will be 24/7 video surveillance of the stables. Cameras will also monitor the cooling area and rest areas, not to mention the entire vetting area. A new FEI vet gate timing system will send horses to vet lanes in strict order of arrival time, automatically diverting horses away from their own nation’s veterinary officials.

And organisers say it is one of the most technical courses in recent championship history. Loop one, La Lucerne, is 37.9km long and stretches to the north of the venue. Loop two, Avranches, is 35.8km long, and includes Mont Saint-Michel. Champeaux, the third loop, is 32.8km long and covers ground to the west of the venue. The penultimate loop, Jullouville, is 33.1km long while the final loop, Dragey, is the shortest at just 20.4km long, stretching out to the south-west of the venue.

Where to go – and when – to see the riders

Rain in the region means that the terrain may be more challenging than some nations are accustomed to, but that won’t bother the likes of the New Zealand team, where riders battle varying conditions to participate in their sport.

New Zealand endurance chef d’equipe Tony Parsons reckons the competition will not be “a straight foot race”.

“(That’s) great for teams like us. It’s going to require a lot of mental toughness.”

There was plenty of rain when the team arrived at the endurance stables on Monday, but that didn’t bother Parsons.

“This is endurance riding,” he says. “It rains … we just get on with it.”

The Kiwi team was based in Brittany in the lead-up to the Games, which had been hugely beneficial, Parsons said. And team member Andrea Smith rode the test event at the Sartilly venue last year, gathering vital intel for the team.

“We’re in as good a shape as we could be,” he says. “Anything can happen on the day, and we are well prepared for that.”

Lining up for New Zealand in the one day marathon are mother and daughter Andrea and Georgia Smith (Mangaweka), Alison Higgins (Nelson), who makes her second WEG team, Braden Cameron (Wellington) and Susie Latta (Otago).

The Smiths are the first such Kiwi combination to represent the sport at an equestrian championship together, and at 17 years old, Georgia is believed to be the youngest ever. The Smiths are not alone;  six other teams boast similar connections.

All passed the trot-up, but Andrea Smith’s 11-year-old gelding Glenmore Tariq had to trot out three times before the vet commission, while Susie Latta and her 10-year-old Arab standardbred cross mare Tkiwa were sent down the lane twice.

The discipline has the greatest range of rider ages taking part among the 173 starters from 47 nations. At 72, Russian rider Rouslan Gekiev has the seniority, and the youngest is Italy’s Constanza Laliscia, who is 14.

Hundreds of spectators turned out to watch the trot up, and about 5000 visitors are expected on the course.

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