|Sunday June 8 2008|
You don't just pack up and leave a CEI endurance ride in Holland when you cross the finish line; your horse has to stay overnight and get permission from the veterinarians to leave. And you still don't just pack up and leave: if you are a finisher, you are strongly encouraged to be present for the Awards Ceremony, which comes after the Best Conditioned judging. One to four horses in 6 of the 7 races showed for BC (the 60 km Junior ride had no finishers of two starters), getting examined by the veterinarians, and trotting out, up and down in a straight line, and then in a circular pattern. (The same patterns varied widely among the handlers!)
Then every finisher who was still here - only a few snuck away - dressed in their nice white riding tights and team colors, and mounted their horses and filled up one of the indoor arenas, while the stands filled with people and the officials took their chairs at the front of the arena behind the table filled with awards.
First, time was taken to honor Joan Eikelboom with a moment of silence - Dutch endurance rider, organization helper, and good friend to many - who died suddenly earlier this year. We all fell silent; a dog barked, a horse neighed, and then it was quiet again; and I'm sure that somewhere Joan heard us all.
One by one, the finishers of each of the rides was called forward to receive a ribbon or a prize - pinned on or handed out by the different officials - from one of the many sponsors, who, without their help, rides like this cannot be put on. Havens, one of the main sponsors, gave, among other things, a free bag of grain to every competitor. Massimo was giving a saddle to the winner of the 160 km ride... and we already knew who that was. : )
Getting sponsors for endurance rides the world over is not an easy task. Endurance rides are expensive to put on, and expensive for the riders. Entry fees for Ermelo 2008 were Є210 for the 160-km, Є160 for the 25 km, Є125 for the 100 km, and Є100 for the 60 km, with (obligatory) stabling extra. Grass fields were available to put up paddocks (ropes or tape) for the horses during the day. Due to the expense, it's not a ride to enter lightly. Eric is working on getting more sponsors next year so the fees will be less.
Fortunately, getting volunteers for this ride is not difficult (so far). Of course it helps when you can recruit the in-laws! But there were plenty of other hard working volunteers, such as Lidwien and Kim, two girls who ride horses (but not endurance), who just called Eric up two weeks before the ride and offered to help. Eric put them to work right then, and they were constantly on the go the whole weekend, finally sitting down and heaving a big breath near 6 PM on Sunday.
Then came the announcements we didn't know: Best Condition winners. On the 60 km ride, BC went to the winner Leshiek, ridden by Helene Baayen; on the 100 km Juniors it was winner Stein Lina with Elisabeth Loresch; on the 100 km it was winner Antares and Stefan Zoeller; the 125 km Junior BC horse was winner Gitano Sumaya and Yara De Boer; the 125 km was the winner Paradise Ox and Blanca von Hardenberg; and for the 160 km ride, Best Condition went to the 4th place horse, Priceless Gold and Gabriele Förster.
Overall, an average of 51% of the horses finished the races, with the highest percent (2 starters, 2 finishers) in the 100 km Junior race, and the lowest percent (6 finishers of 17 starters) in the 125 km. 56% finished the 160 km. Of the eliminations, 30 were due to lameness, 6 to metabolic, 3 to the rider retiring the horse, and 1 error on course.
Why so many lamenesses on such a flat, kind course, on a day that was not so hot and humidly punishing to the horses? Some of it is bad luck, some of it is just a horse not having a good day. Part of it probably was the fact that there was so much good footing - you can easily be tricked into travelling faster than you should, and, though the sand was not deep, if your horse was used to rocky ground and harder surfaces, sand could add up to be a problem. And, one official observed later, some of it was "maybe lameness going on metabolic." With the qualifications for the WEC in Malaysia requiring NO metabolic pulls in the last 24 months, you can only have an "L" instead of a "MET" pull by your horse's name, if you have any designs on getting to Malaysia.
In general, though, the veterinarians were pleased with the riders and horses. Dr Juliette Mallison said, "I was impressed with some of these horses trotting out - all day! That Akhal-teke of Janet Lam's, Jannet Van Wijk's horse, many of them! And there were a few metabolic issues, but no major crashes... it's been a good day!" At the Closing Ceremonies, head veterinarian Dr Frans Arts also announced his satisfaction with the ride, and the good care the riders took of their horses, having no major metabolic issues to deal with.
As the finale, Jannet Van Wijk collected her prizes, and posed with her horse underneath the flag of The Netherlands, and the 2008 Ermelo ride came to a close.
During the day, the competitors gathered up their gear and tents, and loaded up and pulled out, and gradually the grounds emptied of horses and people and trucks and trotting lanes and officials' booths. We spent a fair amount of time and effort really cleaning up the sand arena (Eric may have cleaned it too well - the KNHS commended him later, "Nobody has ever cleaned up this well!") and the hay piles left in the grass paddock area. It's the same everywhere - endurance riders don't quite get around to cleaning everything up all the time. Eric said, "Maybe we can take a deposit next year - if you leave your area clean, you get your deposit back when you leave." I suggested, "Maybe we can take their van keys! They clean up and they can leave with their horses!" But it was a painless cleanup during a relaxed day, with breaks taken during little rain showers (and thunderstorms!). One thunderstorm stuck - or should I say, struck around a while, and dumped heavy rain for a good hour, during which time the Sturrus family gathered in the ride office for coffee, tea, conversation, and a sausage and cheese snack left by the Lithuanian riders.
As the evening wound to a close, we went out to dinner at the same restaurant Eric had taken a group of us to on Thursday night, when the waitress had enjoyed our table of Dutch, South African, German, and American subjects. The same waitress asked Eric tonight if he'd brought the same mixed crowd along. "No, it's just family tonight." He'd forgotten about me, still the foreigner... or maybe he didn't. They feel like my extra family in Holland.
A successful ride it was on the Fasna Trail again, by all accounts, from the view of the organizers. The few glitches that always come up during a ride were handled efficiently, the officials made a good team, the riders appeared pleased with the ride and trail and venue (if the numerous thank you gifts to Eric were any indication).
Eric is always thinking of ways to improve things, and is already thinking ahead to the Fasna Trail and Dutch Championships for 2009, and, another far-reaching goal: hosting the European or World Championships.
Eric laughs: "Like maybe in the year 2040. Or maybe 2050!"
Or maybe sooner than that. The Fasna Trail will be ready.