Monday, June 9, 2008

2008 Ermelo - Vet In Day

Friday June 6 2008

Ermelo - Vet In Day

Come to Holland to ride endurance and you get it all: good competition, a broad medley of rivals, an efficiently conducted ride, a congenial and homey atmosphere, and fun. While you may be in it to win, there's nothing wrong with having fun with endurance, too. For some there will be disappointment, but if that's in store for you, maybe this is one of the best places to have it.

Held on the grounds of the Dutch National horse federation near Ermelo, The Netherlands, the 2008 Dutch National Championships attracted riders and crews from all over: Austria, Denmark, Germany, France, Lithuania, Russia, Luxemburg, Italy, Belgium, and of course Holland; and officials from Holland, Germany, Austria, Lithuania, Great Britain, South Africa, and Botswana.

The grounds (stalls, paddocks, indoor and outdoor arenas, a cross-country course) are used for many horse disciplines - this week a driving clinic took place, and even as the endurance horses began moving in, the carriage horses were pulling their last rounds. There's plenty of space for parking and camping - in this part of Europe, many people bring caravans and tents to stay in - and stalls for 90 horses. Since 96 horses were pre-entered, organizer Eric Lamsma had to arrange for temporary stalls to be added.

The grounds began steadily filling up from Thursday evening on; by Friday noon everything fell seamlessly, and seemingly effortlessly, into place: the office, registration, timing system, vet and crewing areas in the new blinding-white sand arena. The veterinary inspections began in the stables at 4:30 PM, moved along quickly, and then the horses moved to the arena for the trot outs down the lanes.

Lots of familiar faces greeted me, riders and veterinarians and team coaches, and all of the Dutch riders I spent a training weekend with last summer. A couple of old equine friends were there too: Anita Lamsma's mare Layla Ara Francina, and Carmen Römer's half Akhal-teke gelding Eddie R - both of whom I rode last year - would be carrying Anita and Carmen on the 160-km ride; and Danagul, an Akhal-teke mare owned by the Van Kasterens - whose farm I visited last year - would be carrying Peter Van Kasteren on the 125 km.

There were in fact 4 part or full eye-catching Akhal-tekes entered in the rides: Eddie R, Danagul, Janet Lam's black mare Bugainvillia, and the gray Genghis Khan, ridden by Dutch rider Hendriena Ritsema (and sold to her by Janet Lam). Janet and Bugainvillia finished the Dutch Championship last year; they then went to the European Championship in Portugal where they pulled after loop 4. Bugainvillia was looking exceptionally well here, strong, fleshed out and with that bright metallic sheen the Akhal-teke has.

Dutch rider Jeanne Lineweever arrived; I also stayed with Jeanne and Charles last year. She wouldn't be riding her horse Riki's Macho Man, because he is temporarily out with an injury. Instead, they'd be crewing for the lone Austrian rider, Marguerita Fuller and her young Arabian gelding Komet.

While waiting on their number to be called for the trot-outs, I visited with Jannet Van Wijk, and her boyfriend Mark, while her little gelding Latino attempted to chew on my foot.

Jannet has had Latino - now 12 years old - since he was 5. "When we got him, he knew absolutely nothing," Jannet said. He was running around in a field, owned by a man who didn't ride but liked to look at his horses. "He really knew nothing," Mark added, "he even spooked at a parked car at when he first came to our house because he'd never seen one. The only thing he did know was a hand in a pocket, because the man fed his horses treats." Now Latino is familiar with everything - he's been to rides in France, Germany, and Portugal, but he still does spook once in a while, in play. And guess what he does spook at: purple flowers! At least one horse does it here in Europe, too, not just in America! Jannet thinks it's the smell; when the heather blooms purple here it gives off a strong aroma.

However Latino performs tomorrow, at this point Jannet is not interested in going to Malaysia for the World Endurance Championship in November. She knows something about physiology, and says, "it takes too much out of a horse, and maybe they never completely recover." She picks her races carefully, and she is intrigued by a longer-term goal: Kentucky 2010. "We are definitely interested in Kentucky," said Mark. And I would certainly love to see them there!

It was tough luck trotting out for the vets today for Sammy Seigers of Belgium with Selma, who trotted out lame and would not start tomorrow. It was painful luck for Carmen Römer's father Lei, who trotted out Eddie R for the vets. Back home, Lei and Eddie worked on trotting/running in step for the vets. I'd never heard of this, and even though this might seem a trivial or silly thing, or too much work, it immediately made sense when you watched the other trot outs, some of which were all over the place. There are those grooms or riders who run out smoothly, and then there are those lumber, or sprint and try to drag their horses along by a bit, or swing back and forth like a metronome, or bounce up and down like a bunny rabbit, or chop along like a pogo stick, all of which are distracting (I wonder which one I am?) against the horse (which can be good or bad, depending on how your horse is travelling). Even with the people who run smoothly, there can be 6 legs flying around all at once. Running in step with your horse, now - there are no distractions, nothing for the vet to look at but your horse. Lei and Eddie had rehearsed this and had it down... but trotting back in step, Eddie got irritated at something, and without missing a beat, whipped out a hind leg and kicked Lei in the thigh. And there was no more in-synch trotting... there was one sound trotting horse and one badly limping man with a white face and bugged eyes. "I thought I was going to have a heart attack!" Lei said. He would use a fair supply of drugs and liniment on himself that evening to get through the night.

Jarmila switched from her organization shoes to her riding shoes, and vetted in 14-year-old gelding Sattarov for the 100 km ride, then went back to organizing work. Jarmila, at 19, is a smart, careful rider - one you could be confident of putting on your horse, and knowing your horse would be well taken care of. She's learning everywhere she goes, from riding in races in Holland, Germany, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Bahrain, Hungary, and Australia. She spent 6 months of last year with Brooke Sample in Australia, getting an insider's view of how a top Australian endurance rider does things. She's smart enough to see what's good and bad, to know the difference, and to be able to incorporate some of what she learns into her own methods. She's more on the conservative side, not needing to go for a win every time she sets foot in a stirrup; she's always concerned about the welfare of the horse she's riding. "When I finish I'm happy. Next day, if the horse is not fine, I'm not happy anymore."

At 8:00 PM, Technical Delegate Zulu Liebenberg conducted the ride meeting in English. Main point of the evening was that the 160 km ride would start a half hour earlier, at 5:30 AM, not the 6 AM as planned. There were groans all around. It seems that a couple of other events were taking place on the 35-km Loop 1 of the course: a sheep shearing event, a walkathon, and a motorcycle race (the last of which Eric was informed of on Wednesday evening). By starting earlier, the endurance ride would be sure to miss the other events. And anyway, I heard there's plenty of light that early, and the sun doesn't go down until after 10 PM - and it stays light enough to see the trail till near midnight, though so far I'd had no intention of getting up that early (or staying up that late).

Many times throughout the day, I joined the Family Sturrus and their circled wagons (campers), for tea and coffee and snacks, when Mom Sturrus and daughter-in-law Angela weren't out in the field plying the family/volunteers with goodies. Every time I walked by, Mom Sturrus yelled, "Hello Merri! Tea? Coffee?" To which one can only reply "Ja!" - to the drinks and the company. Their camp became more festive as the day went on, with carpeting and chairs (and relatives and friends) multiplying around an expanding table, and orange balloons and orange flags (the color of Holland!) rising from tent poles, and orange Tshirts - which are bright enough to see from space - adorning more bodies.

Tomorrow, we'd see which orange Tshirt would be on the new 2008 Dutch Champion.

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