Wednesday, December 31, 2014

At Endurance Horse Race in Chile, Feeling Thrills of a Fast-Growing Sport - Full Article and Video

Pedro Pablo Gomez trains horses that win—and fetch dollars from Middle East sheikhs.

Katarzyna Nowak
for National Geographic

CASABLANCA, Chile—There are compelling reasons for dismounting from your horse and running alongside it in the fourth of five loops in a 120-kilometer (80-mile) race through dusty hill country not far from the capital, Santiago. Especially on a mid-December day at the height of the austral summer, when heat waves are hovering above the ground. And especially when you're going downhill.

"The penultimate loop," says veteran rider and horse trainer Pedro Pablo Gomez, "is what makes Copa Chile [the Chilean Cup] a very difficult race. The horses have already run 80 kilometers, the fourth loop is the hilliest, and it's crucial we reserve energy for our last loop."

I'm in the Veramonte Vineyard, in the dramatic Casablanca Valley, the staging ground for the 2014 Copa Chile, rooting for Pedro and his horse, Otoño (Autumn). Pedro, in a long-ago race in coastal Peñuelas—which he had a crack at winning—chivalrously stopped to assist my friend who had fallen off her horse.

Endurance horse racing, with riders and horses stretched to their limits, is a young sport, like ultra-marathoning. It's growing faster than any other horse sport, with 90 races worldwide ten years ago, and 900 today...

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