As we followed the riders around on the final loop I was struck, once again, by the honesty of Endurance as a sport. His Majesty - Tuanku Zainal Abidin - King of Malaysia, was riding a horse provided by HH. Sh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum - a very good horse. He had been crewed and supported all day by Jaume (Juma) Punti's barn - probably the best crewing possible. He was given ultimate opportunity for rest and food at each hold. There were a dozen cars following His Majesty and Halim- Dubai police, staff, security, even his family was following along during this final 19km.
But still, even with the best that money and position can provide, it ultimately comes down to effort and determination and physical endurance. And this was an honest effort - no short cut - no special favors - man and horse - 100 miles of endurance. His Majesty was tired. As head of state his government duties are demanding, and time for riding and physical training is precious and limited, and as a rider in his late 40's he was older than most of the other riders out on the course. And he was in pain. Riding in UAE is different from any other type of riding. It is fast and physically demanding, and if one is not accustomed to hours of cantering it can be exhausting. Riding the gallop uses a different set of muscles to maintain the back and forth rhythm, a very different motion for every muscle group. And without sufficient core strength, it becomes difficult to maintain the balance and keep the column straight and still while the waist and hips do the work.
But his jaw was set, and his arm was clamped to his side, and only his endurance - determination - could finish this ride. Nobody could do it for him, nobody could make it any easier for him. The horse looked fantastic - Ibrahim Pascha Larzac deserves the 'horse saint' medal of the year. He was eager all day but smooth and steady, only doing what he was asked or allowed to do, never pulling, always changing leads, always 'happy'.
The tension was palpable - all those cars, idling along in sight of the riders, spread out along beside and behind, filled with all those people, all eyes glued on His Majesty and Halim. The pressure to finish, to represent his country well and honorably must be daunting. And if all the mental pushing and wishing could have been turned into physical power during that last loop, I think he would have been air born ...
They alternated walking, trotting and cantering. The crew walked along beside His Majesty and Halim between crew points when the pace allowed. They didn't crew, didn't assist, just walked beside them. Juma walked beside him also. A word or smile every so often, he was there for moral support. And Halim, young and fit and eager and always smiling - every step was a step for his King.
The loop was a big circle around the venue, and most of the time we could see the Endurance City lights off in the distance. As the horses turned the last corner, heading down the 5km track that leads into the venue, they asked to canter - and so they did. No vehicles are allowed on this final stretch, so we fanned out along the access roads. From our vantage point (Mark Dial was driving, Shri Kanth (DVM) with us) I could see the riders framed against the white railing, lights along the track illuminated the horses legs as they did a steady gallop into camp. The vehicle lights were fanned out - it was a little foggy with the cooling air and moisture from the rain. Very moving - an image and feeling I won't ever forget. And sometimes the immensity of the moment overwhelms me. Just a 'regular person' with the honor and opportunity - the cosmic circumstance - to be here in a foreign country - an Arab state - witnessing a phenomenal display of character, and endurance, on the part of a Malay King - a man who could have chosen an easier path, an easier sport, but didn't.
Mark dropped Shri Kanth and I off at the finish line so we could meet the riders and he drove around to the in gate to help with arrival and crewing. We could see/hear/feel the riders coming in. A third horse had joined His Majesty and Halim, a grey horse ridden by Jairo Rodriguez Berenguer of Spain, they came across the line together. There was hushed cheering, I think the 19km's of emotion and tension still had a grip on everybody... the riders took their horses through the ingate and the crews went to work. His Majesty watched the horses disappear into a flurry of blue tshirts and buckets and was reluctantly herded to the chalet by his staff. There were quite a few people left at the vetting area - the vets and officials and FEI folks... Halvard Somerseth (one of the vets) who always makes me laugh came up with a big grin on his face, and some silly comment about 'The King and You' . A good laugh... cosmic circumstance.
The horses passed the final check brilliantly - bouncy trot and Ibrahim 'the great' still looked happy. What a horse. The horse that Halim was riding , Ismael, a rangy tough horse, pulsed at 47 within a couple minutes. I never saw him over 49 at any of the vetgate presentations. He was not as easy to ride as Ibrahim - a lot more work for Halim - but tough and fit and I think an 11 hour 100 was a walk in the park for him.
Tuanku Mizan is planning to come back for the Presidents Cup. If he finishes this ride in CoC time he will be qualified to represent Malaysia in the WEC. It will be in 6 weeks - Juma said it would be no problem for the horses - and I don't doubt him after watching them all day. I suspect that for Tuanku Mizan, after the pain and fatigue wear off, the elation and sense of accomplishment will settle in. (this is what makes all of us endurance junkies). I suspect he will spend the next 6 weeks doing his King job on the surface, but perhaps his dreams will be out there in the desert...
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