Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Gubbio: Vet In Day

Friday July 4 2008

The clever logo for the Gubbio Endurance Nations Cup, designed by Grazia Fiorucci (Fausto's sister), is a stone horse emerging above ancient stone ruins of Gubbio, with, as its mane, flags from the countries that have participated in the Nations Cups over the years - 20 since 2003.

It is the fitting symbol of what this event, and the other CEIO Nations Cups in Europe (this year: Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal) are aiming for: a highly competitive endurance circuit for team competitions, which can only strengthen the sport of endurance throughout the world, by involving and developing more top class riders from all nations. Race organizers Nicolas Wahlen of Compiegne, France, Pierre Arnould of Belgium, Paulo Branco of Portugal, and Fausto Fiorucci of Italy, are strong supporters of this new aspect of international endurance.

The Gubbio Endurance Village, replete with its multi-nations' flags flying overhead, white picket fences, and bright flowers decorating the lanes and restaurant, filled with people and horses at 3 in the afternoon for the vet inspections. Coinciding with the beginning of the trot outs were dark threatening clouds rapidly filling up the sky above. It had been extra-clammy humid all day, so you could guess what was coming.

Half a dozen horses had vetted through when it started sprinkling; another few had just finished when it began raining, and then suddenly it was dumping rain, with gusty winds blowing down the finish line fences, and lightning bolts dropping among the old churches on the Gubbio hillside (guess who was the first one cowering under one of the tents!) and thunder that shook the ground. Some of the horses that had been leaping and rearing and otherwise misbehaving for their trot outs, were suddenly quiet and ultra-behaved, as they, along with some 80 other horses and 100 humans, were crammed like sardines in a can under every available tent covering, eyeball to eyeball, to avoid the worst of the downpour. The speaker announced that vet inspections would resume after the rain passed, and then a bolt of lightning knocked out the power to his microphone - not that anybody was budging from under the shelters anyway.

After fifteen minutes the blue-black rain clouds continued on to the north, and the horses and grooms emerged from the shelters for their inspections, some of the horses going back to rearing, or cantering beside their handlers for their trot outs, and the sun shone over Gubbio Endurance once again.

With the conclusion of the vetting in, (Italian Diana Origgi's horse Aisha Mia for the 160 km, and Giorgio Serfilippi's horse Zamir for the 93 km, did not pass inspection, and would not start tomorrow), the horses were put away and bedded down for the evening to rest up for their early starts (the 160 km ride at 5 AM, the 120 km ride at 6 AM, and the 93 km ride at 7 AM). Officials, riders, and crews headed for the Park Hotel ai Cappuccini - every year one of the main sponsors of the Gubbio Nations Cup - for the ride briefing and Welcome Dinner. And what a more understatedly elegant, comfortable venue to host a group of disparate yet homogenous group of horse-loving endurance people from around the world, than this hotel, which was once a 17th century monastery.

The ride briefing began with a short but excellent video chronicling Gubbio Endurance with scenes from the old city - an important participant in this event, lending its character, history and scenic backdrop - and previous Gubbio rides. Most important theme of this meeting was the idea of the main CEIO event itself and the passion that organizer Fausto Fiorucci feels for the CEIO, and endurance as a sport, and its continued development and forward growth. And sharing this passion, and addressing it with their own enthusiasm and ideas, were French Chef d'Equipe Jean-Louis Leclerc, and Belgium Chef d'Equipe Pierre Arnould. For endurance to grow as a sport, one must be open to new ideas and approaches, and these three men are endeavoring to help lead the way, to provide additional opportunities for riders and nations in a sport that has, perhaps in some ways, stagnated in its growth of developing new riders and obtaining sponsors and participants.

However, even with the verbal growing support of Nations Cup events, only 5 countries sent teams to Gubbio this year: Italy, Belgium, France, and the far-flung nations Argentina and Brazil. Portugal (whose CEIO is scheduled for September), had to withdraw a few days prior due to veterinary reasons. Dubai, whose Dubai Equestrian Club (established by Shaikh Mohammed, and presided over by Princess Haya Bint Hussein) is a principal sponsor of Gubbio, was also unable to send a team this year.

Two more nations were represented with individual riders: South African Lanel Ven Niewenhuizen in the 120 km Roman Theatre race, and Dutch rider Yvonne Van der Velde - last year's Dutch champion, riding her champion horse Joy Touch of Cherain - in the 160 km. Lanel and her mother Leonie had provided a horse for veterinarian Dr Marcello's wife to ride in South Africa; they were returning the favor by finding an Italian horse for Lanel to ride in Italy. Yvonne had heard good things about the trail and organization at Gubbio - and it was a beautiful place to spend a few days on vacation with her family afterwards.

The idea of sharing horses and rides between nations is not a new one - Steph Teeter of the US has begun organizing a WEE - World Endurance Exchange - but it is another sensible idea strongly embraced by Fausto. By sharing, or exchanging horses to ride - not just leasing them - it provides more opportunities for riders to be able to afford to participate in endurance rides around the world. With such an idea, Fausto was able to bring riders from Argentina and Brazil this year to Gubbio, finding Italian or French horses for them to ride. The South Americans will return the favor one day.

The pre-race meeting moved out of doors to the loggia where, under the watchful eye of two mounted cabinieri as honor guards, champagne and savory hors d'oeuvres were served to an appreciative audience. Then the doors were flung open to a great banquet room full of wine-glassed tables for dining, and endless serving tables covered with the most amazing food I have ever had at an endurance ride anywhere - a most top class meal I'd put up against any top restaurant anywhere in the world, for its flavor and variety. Each table - and there were at least 6 of them, 10 meters long - had something different on them. I couldn't even try everything. And the desserts! Well, now, I should have just started with those and then worked my way to the food tables.

And of course good food tastes even better in good company, and we were surrounded by it, a couple hundred horse people, come together from around the world to the historic city of Gubbio, Italy, host to the 5th Nations Cup Italian CEIO Endurance Race.

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