Katjapia Ride was the second endurance ride in my life and the last ride of the year. After this ride most of the endurance horses will begin their well deserved holidays. Before the rainy season starts they will be vaccinated against African Horse Sickness and other nasties and cannot be ridden for up to six weeks. After that it is getting hot, close to the Christmas holidays and people also take their vacations.
Katjapia was a very different experience than my first ride at Okahandja in July. As Raik had told me it was a lot more casual as it was the Windhoek Endurance Club ride. Instead of 90 riders and their horses there were only about 30 riders which made it more family-like. True enough it felt like being part of a big family, a friendly but very noisy one at that. The event was held at AB Wyks Katjapia Guest and Hunting Farm. A huge field bordering the dry river bed of the Swakop River had been prepared.That means slashed and tidied for all the people to set up the kraals for the horses, pitch their tents and park their bakkies and horse boxes. Yes, a bakkie is a pick-up and a horse box is a trailer for horses to travel in.
On the last day of September, Raik and me loaded his two horses El Sham Manne and Sprite and headed north towards Okahandja on the B1. This is the main road north towards the famous Etosha National Park, but also to Angola, and the Caprivi Strip, which looks like a panhandle that sits like an appendix on the north western tip of Namibia, bordering Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. As the major road north it is sealed and in a very good condition, so the police regularly set up their speed cameras just outside of Windhoek. This bit of information is useful for anybody travelling north and might save a lot of money. Speeding in Namibia is expensive!
To reach Katjapia we turned right onto the D2170 before Okahandja and travelled east on a well graded gravel road. However the condition of gravel roads can change quickly, especially after heavy rains. Certain districts have worse roads than others as contractors cut corners in maintenance because since BE (black empowerment) they can get away with it easily. In Namibia today it does not matter whether you are qualified for a job or carry it out properly, the only thing that matters is how well connected you are. There are many similar situations the world over, however in Namibia standards in public service are deteriorating on a daily basis. You could say: ‘We cannot complain about the service, because there isn’t any!’
We cannot change the road the black government has decided to take and our road was pleasant enough. The rocky hills of the Swakop Valley are quite scenic and worth while travelling at a slow pace. This road also takes you to the ‘Van Bach Recreation Dam’, a huge water reservoir. When we arrived at Katjapia some thirty minutes later, Dhyani and her sister Lizzy had already started to set up the kraal for all our horses. Raik had brought some fencing in the form of metal gates, and we added white tape to make enough space for four horses under the shady acacia trees. Dhyani’s horse Eli Hakim – half brother of lovely Asjas – and Asjas were already there. I had often ridden Asjas, not just at the Okahandja race, but today her owner Piet would ride her. Lucky for me that Raik has two horses, so I would ride his Sprite. It was good fun and exciting for me to see how a camp with horses was set up. Our horses all knew each other well so there was no problem to have them all together in one kraal. Asjas as the only mare was the boss from the word GO. On the day before a ride there are always a lot of water buckets to be filled. One lot of buckets goes into the kraal for the horses to drink and another lot of water buckets must be carried to the individual hold area. Here the horses are cooled off during the ride before they are presented to the vet for check-up. Usually we keep the horses in the hold during a ride and only put them back into their kraal when it’s all done and over with.
Dhyani had parked her 4×4 bakkie next to the kraal to keep an eye on the horses. Raik and Lizzy had pitched their tents in the river bed just below. After Stefan had finished his work in Windhoek he joined us and parked our bakkie bit further up the river under another large tree where we set up our tent. All the horses in our kraal respected the white tape, thinking it carried electricity – not so Asjas. She knew and went out under the tape whenever she felt like it. She didn’t go far, just to the end of Dhyani’s open bakkie to check out the horse feeds, push open a box and start munching.
In the early afternoon we presented our horses to the vet as is required. This is to ensure that no unfit horse is made to do the ride. There I met Shepard Sageni again, the nice vet from Zimbabwe who saved me from near collapse after the Okahandja ride. Back then, he had made sure I got some drinking water quickly when I had presented Asjas to him after the ride. When Frankie and me had finished at Okahandja I had been very exhausted and dehydrated as I hadn’t dared drink during the second half of the ride. I had feared that my wobbly legs wouldn’t be strong enough to get back onto a very keen and fit Asjas if I had needed another wee … so no more water for me. Now Shepard checked Sprite, and I trotted him up and down the 50 m lines so he could see that my mount was fit and ship-shape. All was well and later we got ready for the customary pre-ride test ride. For me it was a total disaster. My stirrups were all the wrong length, and on the roadside I couldn’t get them right as I was still not familiar with these long ends of leather that go with the trail rider saddles. Dhyani got off Eli and helped me. Then she and Raik took off at a faster pace as both of them are long-time-serious-endurance riders and would do 80 km tomorrow. That’s not too much for people and their horses that often do 120 or more, all in one day, yes. Lizzy and I stayed behind at a moderate trot. Sprite threw me like a ping-pong ball as he was excited and had a totally bouncy gait. At that point I was certain I wouldn’t survive tomorrow – at least not without being seriously sore.
Later we had dinner in the large tent that many industrious hands had set up. AB’s people and additional support in the form of black workers from a neighbouring farm, as well as his family and friends had worked hard to make it all happen. Over dinner we met Oom – uncle in Afrikaans – Hermann from the ‘neighbouring farm’ Natalia, some 90 km down the road. Hermann’s great uncle had built the famous Christus Kirche (church) which now sits in the centre of a large traffic circle in Windhoek. Hermann was most interesting to talk to, but my mind kept wandering off to what lay ahead tomorrow. I was worried and frustrated. So many people had assisted in making this all happen for little me and I felt like pulling out but couldn’t for all the things others had arranged for me. Stefan had only come along, because I had asked him to. Tomorrow he would be grooming for us together with Lizzy. He hadn’t known it, but that’s how these events run. Raik had given me his Sprite to ride, still I felt not able, frustrated and wished I could make it all go away.
After dinner was the pre-ride briefing which is usually about special features on the ride, like water points, at which the horses must be allowed to drink etc. and the colour coding for the different distances marked along the trails. My Afrikaans is very poor and I would like to warn other foreign guests to watch out for certain clues or key words because at some point they will always have a brief prayer, asking for all horses and riders to get safely throught the ride. It can be embarassing to miss this. As the colour codes are mostly the same on all the rides: blue for the 30 km, followed by red, green and orange for the 60, 80 and 100 km, nothing was new so it didn’t matter that the entire talking was done in Afrikaans. Rudolf, the club president, had asked if there was anybody who didn’t know Afrikaans, when Ronelle, who knew me from Okahandja, raised her arm but I quickly pulled it down again. Later, Rudolf smiled and said, ‘well tough luck for those who don’t understand’, and everybody laughed. Knowing Plattdeutsch helps a lot and I got the gist of everything. AB came by and listened to my little worries and assured me that he’d ride in our group of the so-called ‘day-riders’ too and would look after me himself. His entire nature of good-heartedness and calm assertiveness finally gave me some relief. We all went to bed early as the morning started at 4 am for people like Dhyani and Raik.
Our starting time at 6.30 was in day light and Stefan helped me with a mug of tea and saddling up Sprite. We were five in our group and Hermann had assured me that we would stay together during the ride because the ‘Day Riders’ or 30 km distances do not count in the NERA log. People ride this to try out endurance riding, to test a horse or simply for the joy of doing it. Still, I was quite nervous as I hardly knew my horse Sprite and he was quite hard, not like Asjas, the one I ride more often, she’s like a lounge and a really good girl. Anyway, the only other female riding in our group was quite young and kept losing her saddle blanket!!!!!! So she had to stop often, and we all waited around for her. Finally, one of the guys got off his horse and started walking and I joined in – walking in a race, ha, ha. Nothing to worry about because for the short distance of about 30 km you don’t get any points and it’s purely for fun. Hence our overall time at the end wasn’t so good, but I wasn’t so exhausted either. We even made Sprite’s owner Raik proud by coming in 1rst. He had told me that Sprite had so often made No 2 or 3 as he can get afraid when there’s no other horse tail in front of him. So I pushed him forward in the end, he started shying and jumping about, but I stayed on top and we got in first by a slim 4 seconds. This made Raik and me both happy. Sprite’s pulse of 44 showed that this ride had been a mere warm up for him. Sprite is a terrific horse and yes, this ride was much easier for me because I had got myself fitter by zooming up and down the stairs in the garden where we lived, swimming without using my arms etc.
Unfortunately, Asjas showed signs of lameness during this race and was pulled out. Asjas has been doing endurance races of 120km – up those high dunes in Walvis for several years now – with her owner Piet in the heavy weight category. Perhaps she’s paying the price for his ambitions. Still he’s a nice guy and lets me ride his horse because he’s often busy, being a lecturer at uni etc. I mostly enjoy bush riding by myself like I did this morning: steady and carefully, I don’t want to make her worse. All the riders here love Asjas, she’s such a wonderful spirit and gentle, but got so much power in her …. At Okahandja, she bolted with me up a steep hill after 25 km!!!!!!!!! Not even a bit tired …. She wanted to get to the finish line and fast, but my legs were jelly by that time and I hung on for dear for of falling off and then what? Walking was not an option at that stage – distance to stables at least 15 km!! After that I hit a concrete wall – mentally – was too exhausted after having been doing nothing much in Windhoek for three months and then a bit of a flu as well. That’s the hard part in any endurance thing, to get beyond that wall, to the other side …. The prize is, when you cross the finish line, cool your horse down and pass the vet exam at the end (you’ll get disqualified if your horse is lame, pulse too high etc.) you’ve come through and made it, that feeling is teeeeeeeeeeeeriffic!
Personally, I believe that those extreme long distances of 120 and 160 km are too much strain on the horses’ joints in the long run – quite literally. On the last leg, which is about 30 km, those ambitious riders have their horses ‘flat out’, meaning full speed gallop. It’s insane. Sometimes the horses go on strike and then the riders walk. You still qualify if you pass the finish line on top of your horse, as long as the horse is then still fit and not lame. On pictures from endurance rides you will see that the riders all wear tackies, tennis shoes, it’s more comfortable and if need be, you can jog in them alongside your horse. Many riders do this once they notice that their horse is getting too tired. I had met a woman at the Okahandja ride; she had lost her horse, after falling off and had to walk. I gave her my cell phone, as I was with a friend who also had one. Thing is even when you are totally tired, in the middle of the bush on a huge game farm, walking home is even more exhausting than riding on.
At the end of the day I came first in my category, Senior, No weight and also won the Day Rider 30 km distance by 4 seconds. We were only five in our category, but still, 1 is 1 and I was very happy. I had a superhorse, Sprite, he has a top 10 ranking in Namibian Endurance on the NERA results list which is pretty good. His top speed is 50 km/h which I didn’t do with him on that day. The owner, Raik, a young German IT guy, rode his other horse El Sham Manne to receive Silver in the 82 km. He could have made gold, but feared for his horse’s pulse and didn’t want to wear him out totally.
As Katjapia is not that far from Windhoek we all had a late brunch Sunday morning including a Kudu antelope roast that Stefan had produced on our camping braai (BBQ). We all had had a great weekend, except Asjas and Piet, had spent some time riding in the wonderful scenery around Katjapia Farm, shared food and drink and enjoyed another simple but wonderful time camping in the Namibian bush with our horses.