Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Vilaformiu Endurance

Monday July 2 2007

I woke up... in Spain!!

More questions for, and answers from, Bernat Casals:

At first Bernat thought it was a good idea to breed, raise and train his own horses for endurance, but that's “too much work,” he says (though what they are doing now seems to me beyond too much work!). Now he buys horses, trains them, trains for other people (about 4 for W'rsan Stables in Abu Dhabi), and rides them. He keeps very detailed records of every training ride, how far, how the horse went, what saddle he wore. He in fact works with the man who makes the Zaldi saddles, reporting the hours of use with saddles, offering suggestions for improvement, and testing those models out.

Bernat is very happy with his job of training and riding endurance horses, riding them in the mountains, riding them in competition. Riding clears his head; he can relax, going out in the mountains on a training ride, and his wife likes to do them too. Neus doesn't so much care for competing. Bernat doesn't want to train a big stable for any shaikhs, doesn't need more, doesn't need the politics involved; he's just happy in his little world. Which really isn't little: I saw their brochure later, offering boarding, training, riding lessons, horse trekking, summer riding camps, and if you just think about the time and effort involved in just keeping track of and taking care of 15 horses, not including any of these activities, you get a picture of how “small” their operation is!

He's very attuned to his horses – the horse he rode in Florac passed the vet checks but he just wasn't acting normal, wanting to quit in the middle of a loop, so he pulled him. The horse felt good the day after the ride, and looked good too, none the worse for wear, but Bernat was wracking his brain to come up with a cause for his behavior. Was it just not his day? Did he need a vacation? Bernat had planned to give him a vacation for a while after Florac – maybe he should have skipped Florac and given him the vacation sooner. He was beating himself up about it.

It was Bernat's first ride at Florac, and despite not finishing, he loved the ride. “It was beautiful,” he said. “People in this area live for this ride; they come out to cheer, and to help, tell you 'take care of your horse, it gets steep here,' they like having you come.”

Bernat likes the challenge of a 160 km mountain ride, where you must know your horse. It's not just a flat race, where it appears you don't have to have much horsemanship, but still, he says, there must be something you know, that a mountain rider wouldn't know, if you do the flat racing all the time. He asked the same question I do: is it better to take 24 hours to finish a 100-mile ride slow, or to ride harder and get it over with faster so the horse isn't out there so long? (Or, same question for a 12-hour 50 miler).

He was surprised when i mentioned all our multi-day rides. Two years ago he did do an 8-day ride, 60 kilometers a day, alternating with two horses. He said ride organization is difficult because riders ask and ask and ask for things: “Every rider should have to organize one ride, and they wouldn't ask so much anymore!”

Bernat tried other horse disciplines – went to French riding schools for years as a youngster – but when he found endurance, he loved it. He likes being outdoors, especially here in the mountains; he likes seeing new places from horseback, he likes feeling his horse, and nowhere better to do that but on long distance rides.

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