This is my first blog post about endurance riding. The following posts will continue my journey into this sport.
A journey into what you can achieve – not just for horse lovers and
– a journey through Namibia – not always on horseback
Years back I had met endurance riders in Australia and when they mentioned distances of 80 km plus, I thought this would be totally out of my reach not only because I was well over fifty. Well, I was wrong and nicely so.
It all started by chance. My husband had taken up a position in Namibia and after I had finished setting up a new household there, I really needed to do something. Work was out of the question due to the strict policies of not giving out work permits to foreigners unless they came with a skill desperately needed in Namibia. This did not trouble me too much as I am a writer. I can work anywhere. That took care of my brain but my body was yearning for something to do as well. When the next field trip as part of my husband’s work was due, I googled the surrounding lodges for horse riding activities. Horses have been my passion since forever. I discovered a wonderful lodge not far from Omaruru where we would stay overnight and made arrangements for horse riding. The following morning I climbed into a taxi with a driver from pre-hell who overcharged me and was blind on one eye which made him do things that passengers do not enjoy. New to a country, one always has to go through the learning curves. It was worth it though. I had a wonderful ride at Roidina Lodge with Saki the groom through a spectacular landscape on a frisky horse. I learnt two things on that ride: Saki spoke German, my mother tongue which was a nice surprise and the horses are used to being ridden on a long rein. Saki spoke Afrikaans, German and Ovahero. In Namibia most people speak at least three languages! English is the official language, but Afrikaans is still the lingua franca used by nearly everybody, except for a few British people.
It was my first ride through the Namibian landscape and it was truly fantastic to zoom over a dry, sandy riverbed on a horse that enjoyed running. Some two hours later I got a lift back into town with a young Italian guy and it turned out he was going to hold a workshop in natural horsemanship in a few weeks time. I wonder when someone will complain about the females being left out here. My husband was conscripted to come along to Roidina Lodge near Omaruru where the course was held. He loves the peace and quiet time in the country too. Gianluca, the Italian instructor really knew his stuff. The seminar was based on the Parelli principles and absolutely new for me, but highly interesting. Participants were two black men, one of which was Saki, whom I knew from my previous ride and the other was Fillemon, the groom of Frankie. Frankie had brought her two horses from Brackwater, near Windhoek. Two other women, a young girl from Walvis Bay and a lady from Otjimbingwe who rides in the Namibian National Endurance Team completed our group of students. While we were mostly standing or walking with our horses in the arena during the midday heat, my husband was enjoying the beautiful desert gardens, the pool, the cool shade of our thatched cottage or the ample landscape to wander around in.
At the end of this weekend I had learnt a lot, but was thoroughly exhausted too. When you try to learn the skills of natural communication with your horse, it is amazing how fast the horse will catch on. Still a lot of practice and patience are required and I am not sure if I will ever get the proper hang of things. But I will certainly try. The next best thing about this seminar was that I met Frankie. She somehow got the idea that I could do endurance riding and she signed me up for the upcoming ride in Okahandja, to which I crazily agreed. I had never trained for endurance; got the flu the week before the event and instead of jogging around the block in Windhoek to get fit, I was in bed with a fever.
Frankie was an old hand in endurance riding and looking for a rider for one of her horses. That’s how it all started. Suddenly I had a horse to ride and near Windhoek too. Perfect. However, horse and rider should match, click, and fit together whatever you wish to call it. I really tried hard, but it did not work out with me and Frankie’s mare Phoenix. Then she put me on to another young German guy who had two horses near Windhoek and I started to ride Sprite, one of his geldings in preparation for my first endurance ride.
The beauty with endurance riding is that it offers beginners the chance to try out this sport without any financial or other commitments. You simply sign up for a ride as a so-called ‘Day Rider’ on a 30 km ride. Most horses can easily go 30 km with a little bit of training, starting from 5-8 km and slowly working your way up over roughly a two-months period with three training rides per week. Just remember to never increase the distance and the speed at the same time. Check the resting pulse of your horse before you set out on the trail, then check again when you return, and 5-10 minutes after that as well. In endurance the pulse or heart rate of your horse must not exceed 64 beats per minutes (bpm) at the vet checks. So make sure, your horse’s pulse is well below 64 bpm about 5 to 10 minutes after you finish riding. Every horse is slightly different so taking the pulse every time prior to and after a ride will give you a good idea of what is normal and how your horse improves its fitness. It is a good idea to check all the vital signs of your horse before each ride. Keep a notepad and pen with your tack box and jot down the vital signs of your horse. This way you will become familiar with what is normal for her or him and be immediately aware if something is wrong. It can save you a lot of heart ache and money to detect problems early.
Vital Signs adult horse
Temperature 37.2 – 38.3
Pulse 28-50 bpm/resting, 240 max walk, trot, canter = 80, 130 and 180 respectively; gallop – 220-240
Respiration 8-24 breaths pm
Gums moist healthy pink
Capillary refill time back to normal in 1-2 sec or less, when you press on the gums, the normal colour should have returned after 1-2 seconds
Gut sounds gurgling, gas like growls, tinkling sounds (fluids)
To be continued in the next post.