OTJIVERO ENDURANCE CLUB
had invited to
San Düne ride on May 17, 2014
This was my 13th ride and it went really well, not just because I had lost count and didn’t know it was No 13. Like most people, I’m not superstitious at all.
The venue had been shifted from Leonardville to San Düne near Gobabis and this decision was a good one. Nothing wrong with Leonardville but San Düne is simply perfect for endurance riding. All the trails are sandy, but not deep sand and without stones or rocks. We had been coming here since 2011 whenever Stefan had to make visits to the construction sites in the area. Here, I had met San people for the first time, walked in the bush with them and learned about their hunting methods, edible plants, roots that supply water for drinking when on extended bush walks and also those plants and berries that are used for making the poison the San use for hunting large prey like Kudu and Oryx. In a way it felt like coming home to “MY” lodge. Luckily we managed to secure a room and didn’t have to camp as the nights were quite chilly already. On the other hand I prefer to sleep near the horses, enjoy listening to their sounds of munching on the hay and to observe how they interact with their buddies in their kraal. At night often one horse is lying down and the other one standing guard close by. For these occasions it would be nice to have a horse box with sleeping bunks inside – easier than setting up our complicated huge tent and cheaper than lodge rooms.
Kraals for the horses
This time I would ride Asjas on a 60 km to accompany Peter on his first ride with his novice stallion. I had trained and ridden Asjas regularly since her near collapse at Anib Lodge on March 1 this year. She had been on an 80km with Peter and suffered from the so-called tying-up or Monday disease (exertional rhabdomyolysis) after only 20km. Research is not certain on the causes for this but findings point towards fatigue caused by exercise in excess of the horse’s training level, too much grain feed and/or a combination of these plus other things like an inherited disposition in certain breeds. In any case it is a highly dreadful thing to watch a horse in such pain and distress that was caused by people. Without our sometimes huge egos and selfish ambitions a horse would never get the idea to canter for 30 or more kilometers in one go, let alone 80 or 160 km! It is therefore our responsibility to diligently train and correctly feed the horses in our care, to know what they are able and capable of and not push them beyond their limits to suit our personal needs for status and fame. Trainer and rider must know the limits of their horses. From my own experience I can confirm that most of them do and take good care of their horses. As is recommended after an incident of tying-up I had started to carefully train Asjas after a two months rest period. The first ride was only 5km walking and trotting. Since the horses here in Namibia are mostly out in the field they always get some exercise. Therefore I rode her every second day, slowly increasing the distance over four rides to 8 kilometers, still walk and trot only. Asjas was bursting with energy so I added some slow canter extended the distance gradually up to 15km; keeping the speed we then went on to 18-20km per ride. She was clearly back to normal and I gradually increased the speed by extending the canter periods, but kept it at a moderate canter. The last five days before the ride I had rested her and kept her grain feed of 10% protein to 3 kg/day, spread out over two daily feedings. Since the ride I have reduced her grain feed to 2 kg/day as she is resting after the ride for a full week. I will experiment with further reducing the grain feed down to 1 kg per day. I have added some Enermol (molasses and wheat bran) to her daily feed to add fat and protein. As each horse is different I must wait and observe, but Asjas looks really good and in good condition now.
Back to our ride at San Düne. We started at 6:00 but it was already light as Namibia is on winter time now and 1 hour behind South Africa and Europe. Saddling was done in the dark once we had removed her night blanket. I had laid out the running Martingale and all other tack in order so I would not have tangled stuff and get hectic. First we walked her a bit, then saddled up and I stuck the addition to the saddle pad over her back plus a huge bathing towel. I was not going to take any chance of having her too stiff in the cold morning air. Stefan walked her around for a good 10 minutes while I dashed off to the loo before the start. After that I mounted her and continued to walk her with my added weight. The towel had fallen off by now but the velcroe attached saddle pad extension was still in place, covering half of her hind. This thing is really meant to protect a saddle bag from sweat and dirt but it is too huge to use while riding on the trail. I guess I’m the only person to ride with a saddle bag. It’s an extremely light-weight nylon bag attached to the D-rings in the back. I carry a scoop, cut off from a 2 litre milk can to cool my horse at the water troughs, small pliers to remove thorns (Namibia has thorns that can pierce car tyres), hoof-pick, riding glooves and my sunnies. The latter come on once the sun is fully out. Total weight is perhaps 200 g or less even.
At the start we waited for all the other riders in our group to depart, as Peter was worried about his stallion’s behaviour. It was his first ride after all. The first leg was slow in the end with only 13.8km/h as we stopped at each and every water point. Our speed was quite ok for a first novice ride, especially since the stallion had never done a 40 km before. Asjas did not drink at first but only at the last water trough. I did not give her any electrolytes during the break as it can backfire if the horse does not drink properly. From experience I know that in winter she does not drink on the first leg or only very little. When one gives electrolytes the horse must drink properly not just have a quick sip at a trough.
The break flew past as if it lasted only 10 minutes not 45, but as usual there are things to take care of. In endurance it is all about the horses – otherwise we would have nothing to ride. Still getting used to my fairly new running Martingale cum saddle holder, I got it tangled and when saddling up, I opened the reins to sort it out and promptly one of the rings slipped off and fell into the weeds. For some moments I almost panicked as without it I would have to ride without the Martingale. Not so bad on the second leg when the horses have let off some steam. San Düne has no hills and I the past I have always ridden Asjas without a running Martingale, but her owner believes I must use it. In any case I was finally ready and still had a minute to wait before we could start on the yellow trail.
On the second and last leg Peter made sure we rode much faster. It was canter all the way except for the water troughs. There at least we slowed down in our approach and as we rode off. It is only common sense to set off at a walk or slow trot after the horse has been drinking. I wondered how the stallion would go as he is quite small and Peter rides in the heavy weight category which means 95kg minimum. Something I personally do not like and/or understand fully about endurance riding is that you get benefits from being heavier than your doctor would recommend. I know that they give more points to a horse that has to carry a heavier load, but still it seems unfair to people who are slim. In the past they did not have a light or no weight category and slim people had to carry led weights on their saddle. It’s ridiculous, seems to stem from a culture of the past where being fat was considered something to strive for as it meant your family could afford plenty of food and/or had successful hunters. The age categories for riders make absolute sense, but all others should ride in one and the same category, as it’s your own decision how much weight you wish to carry, be it on your tack or in the form of body fat. Further to this I believe there should be a limit to how heavy a rider is allowed to be. The welfare of the horse must be paramount. We ride because we decide to do so; the horse has no discretion and it is our responsibility not to cause lasting damage.
Both our horses passed the final vet check and all was well. The stallion took some time to get his pulse down; Ajsas was in good shape and ready after 2 minutes. After some carrots and rest for her and myself I fed her a grain meal in addition to the quality hay and water she had access to all the time. Later I hosed her down to get rid of the salt in her coat. She had been drinking well now so I gave her an oral dose of electrolytes. When I led her to a lovely sandy spot, she had a good roll in the sand and was nicely coated in yellow sand. We then went for the evening walk so she could stretch her legs and loosen her muscles. On this walk she spotted her first wildebeest, stood and stared at it. It was the resident bull on his patch. Asjas was satisfied when he finally ran off as we approached.
Later in the evening we sat around the fire chatting to fellow riders and I enjoyed my first beer again. As usual I had stopped drinking any alcohol two weeks before the ride. It’s a good training in discipline, gives my poor old liver a holiday and perserves my energy. At my age I need all the help I can muster, but I came through this one alright – 60 km is not that long and is not even endurance strictly speaking. Endurance proper starts at 80km.
After dinner I went out to check on the horses again, made sure their water buckets were all filled. After a ride the horses will drink a lot during the night.
All in all it had been a very good ride, even though I came only 3rd, but then I don’t ride to come first, that’s just an added bonus. To Finish Is To Win! So far I’ve finished 12 times out of 13 and I am very happy with that result.