Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Namibia: Victory in 60 km Endurance Ride

Tuesday, July 07, 2009, 11:00

Not content with just going on a Safari Riding Holiday in Africa, veteran endurance rider Sue Speed competes in a 60 km Endurance Ride and wins

On Arrival at Windhoek, Namibia, I was met by Ingeborg Hernes, my host at Okapuka Horse Safaris. My destination was Okapuka Ranch, which is set in countryside ranging from flat savannah to sandy valleys, mountains, rugged cliffs and dry river beds.

The ranch was established as a private game reserve in the mid '80s, by Fritz and Monika Flachberger. It covers an area of more than 35,000 hectares, which has become the home to a wide variety of game that continue to breed well.

Okapuka has a herd of mainly purebred Arabian horses. They live in sandy paddocks and are stabled during winter nights. There is very little grass in the dry season so they are fed hay and lucerne. For hard feed, there are oats, barley, maize and lucerne, all ground to a meal with added minerals and electrolytes. The safari horses do a week on and a week off and after six months' work are turned out in the bush.

On the first afternoon we met at the stables for an afternoon ride to Baboon Post. The saddles were South African, made by Leon Liversage. They are based on stock saddles and are some of the most comfortable I have ever ridden on. We rode with longer stirrups and a more upright position than I am used to (like a cowboy!).

My safari horse was a mare called "Desperanza El Nabilah". She was gorgeous, very forward going and liked to lead. When she settles, I am sure she will make a fantastic endurance horse. During the ride, we saw a huge herd of eland at the water hole, which was a fantastic sight. We also came across black wildebeest and giraffe.

The next morning, we had an early start to The Windmill, following the flat sandy tracks along the ridge of the mountains. We rode through fields of Namibian lavender to see blue wildebeest, giraffe and a whole family of bat-eared foxes. We also saw two resident crocodiles sunbathing.

On my second day we began Endurance Training, consisting of 13 kms of trot in just under an hour. It was lovely in the cool of the morning. My endurance horse was Farrasha, a black nine-year-old Arab mare. She was very like my own Yakamin in personality and a joy to ride.

After breakfast, we set off for another safari ride with nice long canters along sandy tracks. We saw a herd of rare sable antelopes, springbok, oryx and wildebeest hiding in the thick acacia bushes. It was a shorter ride today as we went shopping in Windhoek, in preparation for Saturday's endurance ride.

On the third morning we went on a Picnic Ride to a beautiful valley, full of exotic birds such as the Lilac Breasted Roller and Crimson Breasted Shike.

We rode Farrasha and Ameer and met the pick-up for lunch, drinking wine in the shade of an umbrella acacia.

On Thursday's safari ride, Ingeborg rode Jacosa, her best endurance mare. She is in foal so is not competing this year. There was a moment of drama when she nearly stepped on a Puff Adder. Ingeborg lost two horses in the velde last year from snake bites.

On Friday morning, we loaded the landrover and trailer with enough gear to last the two horses, Ingeborg, myself and the groom Pontiamus, for three days. We set off to Katjapia; a farm north of Okapuka, travelling across difficult terrain through the mountains.

We were both competing in 60 km classes, I in a "No Weight" division, and Ingeborg in a Standard Weight Novice class.

The following morning, we changed into our riding gear and, after an unexpected delayed set-off, took the horses for a quick spin.

At the ride briefing, Rudolph, the route master, went through everything in Afrikaans. No one carries maps on these rides, you just ride from arrow to arrow!

Saturday morning brought with it cold temperatures. We were up at 3.45 am, ready for our start time of 5:30am.

The massed start in the dark was very exciting. Farrasha was calm but Ameer was hyper. We had planned to start last but it didn't work out like that, we caught the others up much too quickly.

There were water bowsers every 10 km or so but the horses didn't drink much on the first loop. I was pleased to be on Farrasha, who just pulled a few faces at Ameer to tell him to behave but kept going steadily.

The first leg just flew by. We covered the 28.2 km at 14.5 kph. We vetted after 41/5 minutes, followed by a 40 minute hold and then we were off again on the second 32.5 km loop.

Ingeborg overheard that the leaders were only 21/2 minutes in front. We decided to go for it! Ameer was behaving perfectly now and Ingeborg took photos as we rode. We overtook five riders and increased our tempo to 22 kph. Smiles all round.

In the intense morning heat, we stopped at every watering place. With no sponges to hand, we used our hats to pour water over the horses!

We were at the last watering hole when another rider appeared out of the blue. Ingeborg told me to get going but I was on the ground and there was no handy termite mound to mount from. Eventually, I clambered aboard and set off while Ingeborg kept him talking! Then I heard galloping hooves and it was Ameer catching up fast.

Seven hundred metres from the finish, three more riders were coming up from behind, so we urged the horses on and flew over the finishing line at full speed. We'd done it!

We only had to get through the vetting and both horses were fine, with Ameer's heart rate dropping to 61 bpm in seven minutes and Farrasha's in ten minutes. She had covered the 60.7 km in 3.48 hours at a speed of 15.97 kph despite the heat and the dust. Both horses won their classes!

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