Tuesday, July 3, 2007

4 Rides - 4 Continents - 1 Rider

Tuesday-Wednesday June 26-27 2007

In the evening I left with Stephane, driving out of Sanippooleedufwuah (Saint Hippo) to a big old hotel/restaurant surrounded by vineyards. There for dinner, outside in the fresh cool French countryside under a bright coming-full moon, we joined for dinner 3 Brits, who are here in the area to horse-shop at La Masselle.

Joining us were Chris Yeoman, a gung-ho British endurance rider (she's waiting to hear which one of her two horses will be picked for the British team for the World Championships in Portugal in August); her brother-in-law David Yeoman (he and his brother were previously polo players); and his partner Lesley (when I asked if she rides, she said, “Oh no, I crew for David”). David was looking to buy an endurance horse from Stephane.

Over a nice dinner, with French wine, scrumptious dessert and espresso, we talked horses; telling stories of endurance rides, unforgettable endurance horses, and memorable places to ride, like the UAE.

Stephane sometimes takes horses over there for the winter to train. His training methods over here are pretty darn successful I think, but, he says, “I go over there to learn. Not necessarily to copy them, because I don't agree with everything they do, but to watch and learn from them.” Every weekend in the UAE there's a ride – 1 week Abu Dhabi, the next week Dubai, back and forth. It gets boring because the course never varies – same flat groomed racetrack picked clean of stones by hand – but there is good prize money.

I ws curious about spooky Arabians in the desert in the UAE – do they spook there, when there's nothing but 160 km of flat sand? “Yes, at camels! And their shadows!”

All of us there believe in the “To Finish is to Win” motto of endurance riding. If the FEI wants to make endurance riding into a spectator sport, says Stephane, they're going about it all wrong. It shouldn't all be about speed, and Formula One finishes to end the rides early. In some rides this can have a place, but in others it IS about finishing the ride, and that is how the sport should be promoted. Maybe someone has dreamed about riding 100 miles in one day. (Chris wanted to, ever since she was little). That there is the story. Then, in keeping with this To Finish Is To Win idea, he had a great idea to promote the Four Rides on Four Continents concept. An award, or recognition for the rider who has completed the 100-mile Tevis Cup in America, the 160-km Quilty in Australia, the 160-km Florac in France, and the 160-km President's Cup in the UAE. He thinks there may be one rider from the UAE who has done this, but perhaps no other. THAT takes some kind of horseman to be able to complete the 3 hard mountain rides, and the UAE flat speed ride.

Next morning the Brits came out to La Masselle for David to try a few horses. One was Jasmin, the gelding the Raven and I rode yesterday. David echoed my comments, “his canter's terrific – it's like a big rocking chair!” Jasmin is a half brother to Chris's horse Farouk, who just won a 120 km ride last weekend in England. David really like the little gray mare he tried (“wow – she's like driving a Ferrari! Not that I've ever driven a Ferrari...”), and another gray gelding Stephane was planning to ride at Euston Park in England the weekend after Florac. David tried to tempt Chris into riding, but seeing as she has 17 endurance horses at home, this was a mini-vacation from riding for her. And, she didn't want to be tempted - “I don't need another horse!” Lesley took pictures of David on the horses, and waited to see which horse she'd be strapping at a ride next. :)

After a hack off into the countryside with 2 of the horses (Stephane accompanying him, while talking on the phone), David decided on the third gelding. He and Stephane shook hands on the deal over coffee on the patio. (By the way, Stephane is building a Bed and Breakfast just below, so horse visitors don't have to stay far away in a hotel.) David's eyes lit up like a kid with a great new Christmas present as they all discussed possible rides for his new horse.

I expect I will see them at some ride in the coming weeks!

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