Sunday, April 29, 2007

Just Another Day on the Farm

Wednesday April 25 2007


I was awakened early by a kookaburra! If I must wake up early, that’s a good alarm clock.

I was happy just to hang around the barn and take pictures, maybe get in a ride tomorrow or next day, but the riding started today! I was suddenly one of the farm crew busy getting horses for clients to look at.

Five of us saddled up, and rode horses down to the Fairgrounds about 2 miles away, for the clients to look over and try out on the bullring track. I got a young gray gelding Olymbus; we rode down the hill, past some dry paddocks of horses and cattle and onto the Fairgrounds. There I handed my horse off to Peter and Sharon, got in the car with the other 4 riders and rode back to the barn, dropped off the 4 riders so they could ride another set of horses down, and I drove the car back down. Not only was I reminding myself GAUCHE!! I was saying Oh S***, it was a stick shift, shifting with the left hand. Yikes! I managed not to grind gears or hit anything on the way back, and I was glad when Peter then handed me a big white mare to get on and ride back to the farm with Brooke. This mare had just arrived from New Zealand; she was a big (must have been) Anglo-Arab, with a HUGE walk, which left me wondering how huge her trot and canter were. I talked with Brooke while we rode back. She rode in the Junior Championships in Bahrain in 2004 when Australia got team Gold; she’s done the Quilty (the US equivalent of Tevis) twice, and she also did Tevis in 2004 at the age of 14 with Penny and Peter, and she loved it. She’d like to go back and do it again. On the way back, we met 3 more horses being ridden down, including Electra BP Murdoch, Peter Toft’s appaloosa endurance wonder horse. Murdoch wasn’t for sale; I think he was out to show his big spots off, because one of the buyers was a fan of his, and because it sounds like Murdoch likes showing off and being the center of (well-deserved) attention.

When Brooke and I got back to the farm, Sharon drove us back down to the Fairgrounds. Peter handed me my gray horse to get back on and take back. “Before you go,” he said, “take him around the track with these two guys.” Eek! As I was going onto the track, Peter said “Merri you keep your horse in front and don’t let these guys win.” EEK! My eyes got even bigger than they already were. I said “OK,” but then I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. I finally had to ask, “You serious or joking?” He said “Joking” even as he was talking to one of the Arabs.

Now, riding on a racetrack always brings to mind my first ride on a little bullring in Washington state, where a fit Thoroughbred racehorse named Fred ran off with me and completely scared the desire to be an exercise rider out of me. And here I was, 19 years later in Australia, vividly remembering Fred and the feelings he left me with (terror, desperately weak knees and arms, the distraught desire to fall off a horse galloping at 40 mph), moving from a trot to a canter with 2 guys used to running flat out in the deserts of the UAE… And did I mention I wasn’t completely comfortable in the saddle I was using, a dressage saddle that made me feel like I was perched up on a stool way above the horse, and I just couldn‘t quite get my stirrups the right length - they‘d been a wee bit short, so I let them out one, and now they were a wee bit long…

Well, none of the Arabian endurance horses I have been on have ever fun flat out on training rides except when I’ve asked them to (in the desert in Egypt, where I felt safe), and these guys had already cantered their mounts several times around, so those horses were in no mood to run off and take Olymbus with them and scare Merri. So Olymbus fell into a canter with them, staying with them, thankfully not feeling the need to get in front and race them. Once or twice he did put his head down as if he were going to buck - and with me perched high on this saddle with my stirrups not right I really didn’t want that to happen - but I snatched it back up. On the second lap, Brooke joined us on her horse, and as we went around again, and entered the homestretch, we picked up speed into a gallop. Whee! I was just at the point where my horse could have started running off, and that little prickly feeling of fear was beginning to tingle slightly through the center of my arms and legs (Brooke said on the way home, “Man, I thought we were going so fast!”), when the guys pulled up at the gap past the finish line. Olymbus’ brakes were slow to apply, I pulled and pulled. We came to a stop past the two guys, and Sharon said, “Yay! You won!” Well sure, Peter told me to! (It’s just a matter of not being able to stop your horse till after the others stop.)

Peter than sent me and Olymbus back with Brooke and her horse, and Jaimee on Murdoch. The appaloosa indeed thinks he’s special. He kept swinging his butt over in front of Brooke and I if our horses got too close and invaded his space.

He’s an amazing horse. Easily recognizable for being one of the few appaloosas in endurance, and certainly the only one competing at the World Championship levels consistently, he‘s got a saucy attitude to match his accomplishments. Peter had gone to Tasmania to look at another horse, saw Murdoch, and bought him. His sire is Arabian, his dam appaloosa. He turned out to be a phenomenal endurance horse - he has had only one vet out (pull) early in his career, and it was actually a vet secretary slip up. He’s had no vet outs since then; by 2005 he’d done over 3000 km in the middleweight/heavyweight division; he’s won top heavyweight and Best Conditioned many times; he’s done 16 straight 160 km rides, missing the top ten in only 2 of them. He travels very well - Murdoch has been to the US twice (finishing 4th and 6th in the Tevis; Peter would like to go back and do the whole trail on foot, studying it, because he’d like to win it with Murdoch), the UAE, Europe a few times, New Zealand, and Wales. And he’s only coming 11 years old. Needless to say, Peter adores this horse..

Toft Endurance

Tuesday April 24 2007


After leaving Brisbane, a city I will never love because I lost the Raven there, I headed for Peter and Penny Toft’s place. The Tofts live In the northeastern state of Queensland near Marburg, an hour or so from Brisbane. I took a train out that direction, and Peter sent Bob to pick me up. I arrived on a busy day, during a busy week, part of a busy month… but then I expect with such a huge operation, every day is a busy day. However, today, in the middle of things - clients looking at horses, vets vetting horses, employees moving horses in and out of the barn for inspection, phones ringing, Peter still took the time to step aside and talk to me for a bit. I was most worried about coming at a bad time, or being in the way, but I was told I wouldn’t be.

How big is huge? Peter and Penny Toft would be the other 2 leading endurance riders in Australia, (besides Meg Wade) and also 2 of the leaders in the world of endurance. How many horses do they have? Peter said he didn’t know - maybe 500 - not just here but all over the world in training. While they breed 35 - 40 of their own horses a year, Toft Endurance is in the business of buying and selling endurance horses. While Peter didn’t know the exact number, I’d come to realize later that he probably knows every horse, where it is and what it’s doing, what its race record and breeding is.

A main topic of conversation (with Bob also, who picked me up) is the obvious drought. It’s bad here also; the paddocks are brown, but at least visually it’s not as bad as Meg’s place. Here the trees are still green, and there’s still grass on the road shoulders - the stock hasn’t gotten desperate enough yet to graze that down. The windmill in the middle of one of their pens, that used to furnish water for the whole valley below (they have a nice perch up on a hill), has gone dry. Normally they have around 10 employees, but now they have a lot more just constantly putting feed out for horses. Hay is already $18 for a 50 lb bale of grass hay, and it may soon get up to $25 a bale. There’s some 100 or so horses at the farm here, horses in quarantine, horses waiting to go into quarantine, horses coming in from overseas, mares and foals, weanlings. Oh, and a camel.

Peter and Dr Kamal - here from the UAE vetting horses for clients - had some afternoon business at the Gold Coast, and Peter asked if I wanted to go along. Figuring it might be my only tourista item I do around here, I hopped in the car. On the 1 ½ hour drive, I asked Peter a few questions, and he asked me a few… but it was always between phone calls - on 2 cell phones. (Dr Kamal’s rang a bit too, and so I turned mine on because I have a cell phone too, but mine didn‘t ring.) Peter’s mind is always thinking: he has a hundred things going on in a hundred different directions in his mind; he’s always focused and he’s very sharp. Of course you’d have to be with such a business. He’d be about to answer a question I had for him, when his phone would ring; he’d shift gears to the topic of conversation, talk 15 minutes, then get off the phone and answer my question with a straight answer, right before the phone rang again.

The Gold Coast is a big tourist destination for Europeans, Japanese and Australians. About 30 years ago, the then-Prime Minister noticed the Japanese liked to vacation there, so, wanting to promote the region, he started direct flights from Tokyo to Brisbane. It went over so well, that the Japanese proceeded to buy the hotels, and the tourist shops, and then came in droves, staying at their hotels and shopping at their shops. The Gold Coast is now mostly owned by Japanese, some Europeans, a lot of Middle Easterners, and some Americans - Australians own little of it. But that’s probably how it is all over the world. How much American investment is in Miami Beach?

And though I haven’t been there, I expect the Gold Coast (and the Sunshine Coast just north) are about like Miami Beach - chock full of high rise condominiums along the beach, lots of shopping, high end and low end and souvenirs, lots of restaurants, lots of night life. I wandered around for an hour, sad the Raven wasn’t with me, stopped at an internet place to check emails, and whoa! The Raven condolences are coming in, and the Raven Search has taken a whole new life of its own! While it’s sad, it cracks me up! I walked onto the beach, and touched the Pacific Ocean, which seemed quite warm. The lifeguards were packing up for the day and people coming out of the water. I don’t know if it’s bad here, but up north there’s killer jellyfish (which sting), killer stonefish (don‘t step on them), killer octopus (which bite) and sharks (which eat, thought the last Australian shark fatality was 1937). Not to mention the crocodiles in rivers and swamps, and poisonous snakes and spiders…

Anyway, of course there was a Starbucks, and of course I had to sample it. I met back up with Peter and Dr Kamal, and we left as it was getting dark, about 5:30 - Gold Coast rush hour. Peter was back on the phone - picking up all those phone calls that he missed in his meeting.

Back home - I was put up at their house - I met Penny (actually met her in Malaysia) and their 2 horse-crazy girls Brooke and Alexandra. Really cool girls. Brooke started endurance riding when she was 8, and is well-traveled, having ridden in Bahrain and New Zealand, and strapped in the World Championships in Germany last year. Alexandra also started endurance riding when she was 8. I suspect both are way better horsemen than me!

I've been corrected on a big error. The last shark fatality was not 1937!

According to the Australian Shark Attack File (coordinated at Taronga Zoo and associated with the International Shark Attack File which is coordinated by the American Elasmobranch Society), at , as of January 2007, there have been 26 fatalities from shark attacks in the last 20 years.

As you can see they average about 1 a year, according to the the ISAF – International Shark Attack File, listed at

Monday, April 23, 2007



Monday April 23 2007

The Raven is gone. Jumped out of my shoulder bag in Brisbane. I'd only walked about 5 minutes, so I searched and searched and searched and asked everybody, every store and cafe around (all thought I was a nutter), even a policeman in the area. I am going to spend the night throwing up.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Road to Nowhere

Friday-Sunday April 20-22 2007

At 12:30 PM I climbed into the truck with Christy, and with 3 horses in the float, we left Castlebar Farm and headed off to the weekend Nowhere Creek endurance ride, an 80 km ride and a 40 km ‘training ride’ in Elmhurst, Victoria, put on by members of the Victorian Endurance Riders Association.

I was prepared for a 7-8 hour drive across a small part of Australia, and with 2 stops for gas and 1 stop to pick up Subway, it took us about 7 hours. At Subway, I was CRAVING a salad, after a week of no greens, so I got a Big Salad, and asked the girl, “You have a shovel with that?” She gave me a fork, anyway.

The drive to the ride was pretty much brown - brown trees, brown grass, brown fields with no grass; the rare green spots were from irrigation. Which may stop completely in the Murray River-Darling Basin - which includes most of Victoria and most of New South Wales, and a part of Queensland - unless there’s heavy rain in the next 6 weeks. The Murray-Darling Basin has 50,000 farmers and provides nearly 40% of Australia’s agriculture, 96% of Australia’s cotton, 80% of the grapes, 30% of the national cow herd, 45% of the sheep flock. Think of everything that will affect - fruits, vegetables, grain, hay, meat, dairy, wine, towns, etc - if there’s no rain. Everybody’s praying for rain.

We arrived at basecamp in the dark, 7:30. Chelsea, having come to ride one of the horses, was already there, having driven from the far side of Melbourne; Linda, who’d be riding another, and her husband Chris hadn’t arrived yet. We picked a spot under the trees, along the path outside a fenced-off round grassy field. We quickly set up the aluminum pens and unloaded the horses, set them up with hay and water. They were rug-less so we had rugs to put on them… let’s watch Merri try to put one of those rugs-with-the-neck-warmers-attached on in the dark with no torch, with new puzzle-piece snaps to boot! I think by the time I got the rug on my one horse, Christy had parked the truck and trailer and unhitched and had dinner and a shower and gone to bed.

And set up my Mondo Tent, into which I hauled my Swag, which is a thick cushiony sleeping pad encased in a canvas bag, into which you also put all your bedding and pillow. I crawled into my swag and curled up in it.

My first night in a swag was very warm and comfortable… but I didn’t get much good sleep. Mainly because somebody kept banging buckets around, flinging them here and there, bang bang, throwing them down, bang bang, on and on - enough already! In my sleep-haze, I finally figured out it was probably a horse making the racket, and later on, as the banging finally stopped, then picked up again, I figured it was probably one of OUR horses, but I couldn’t be bothered to get up and do something about it. Instead I reached over and pulled out a pair of earplugs that somewhat tuned it out.

When I finally started getting to the real sleep, it started to rain - rain!? For that I jumped up out of bed, because both my doors were wide open and my head and feet were getting sprinkled on. For good measure I moved my suitcase from the open to under a tree, and zipped up my tent doors, and crawled back in bed. The rain only lasted about 10 minutes, just a tease to the dry earth.

Just about to hit the snooze hard, I heard a bird go off, and within two minutes, tens of thousands of birds were going off not far away, and they were LOUD birds, piercing my earplugs. Once I was up later, I hiked over to the golf course, where the main cacophony was transpiring, and discovered billions of white parrots, in trees, hanging from trees, between trees, in the sky, on the ground - everywhere. Not quite big enough to be cockatoos, but corellas, I think they were. DESTRUCTIVE PESTS! Many Aussies say, but I disagree, they are impressive, vocally and visually! (Of course, they aren’t eating my grain or hay, or crapping all over my property or truck). Me and birds, what can I say.

The 80 km ride started at 11 AM and the 40 km at 11:30. Vetting started around 9 AM. Trot outs, instead of being out and back, were in a circle, and this continued throughout the ride. Good idea! They take horses’ temperatures here too, something I had heard of but hadn’t seen before. Christy also uses the thermometer at vet checks to help determine if the horse needs cooling down with water or covering with a rug. Entry fees were $75 for the 80 km and $45 for the 40 km. Other rides I noted in the Victorian Endurance Riding Association mini-magazine were: $80 for a 120 km, and $120 for a 160 km ride; these seemed to be about average.

There were 22 entries in the 40 km, and I don’t know the number, but probably about double that for the 80 km.

Here in Australia, a horse must do 3 80’s for horse to qualify with qualified rider; a novice rider must do 2 40’s then 3 80’s. If a qualified horse has been off 13 months, or has vetted out in his only ride in 13 months, he must do an 80 novice ride again. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong on all this?)

The sky stayed cloudy and cool and threatened rain throughout the morning, though nothing came of it. The atmosphere at the ride, as well as the start of both of the rides, was quite casual. No controlled start, and no herd ripping out of camp to set a torrid pace. Several riders lagged well behind the official start time to get their horses to relax and move out calmly. The 80 km had two loops of 40 km (loop 2 was loop 1 repeated), with a hold of 1 hour, vetting at the half hour of your hold. The vets will actually call your number at the appointed half-hour time, so you’d better be there waiting; you‘ll get a minute or two grace, but after that you may be disqualified. The horses riding as novices had to complete the ride no faster than 6 hours, and no slower than 8 hours (so, no faster than 3 hours on each loop, no slower than 4 hours). The qualified horses can go as fast as they want.

I talked with Linda’s husband Chris about FEI rides - I guessed that at least 80-85% of American riders don’t care about FEI. He guessed the same goes for Australia. Chris came along to crew for his wife and Castlebar; he said with only 3 horses, he wouldn’t know what to do with himself! He’s used to strapping for 10+ horses at one ride.

After the first loop, Linda’s horse vetted out lame; Christy and Chelsea finished the 2nd loop at 6:20 PM just at dark, and passed their final vet check in the dark. We ate a 4-course meal cooked by a club, and forgive me, I forget their name, but it was the best dinner I’ve had in a long time! (Not counting that shoveled salad the night before). They also had coffee and hot water available in the mornings, and they made lunch, and breakfast Sunday morning. And there were showers available!

Later in the evening during final vet checks, a stallion broke out of his pen and got loose, running around the field among the horses getting their vet checks creating havoc, knocking his human over in his determination to have his way with a good-looking mare. Fortunately he was caught before anybody was seriously hurt. Everybody I saw in New Zealand at Horse of the Year (if they didn’t put their horses in these tiny, scary, assigned pens) and Nationals, and at this ride in Australia, uses the aluminum pens or the electric fencing tape, whereas in the States (in the West and Pacific South, anyway) we mostly tie to trailers or to high ties or Sky Hooks. Of course, a horse will get loose no matter what, and a horse will hurt himself no matter what, but I prefer the Sky Hooks. The horse can move around a lot and still lay down. I can just visualize too many scary accidents with horse legs through the aluminum fence pieces and the electric fencing containing only the horse that wants to be contained. A friend from Nevada double-ties her stallion, the halter attached to the Sky Hook, then the lead rope from his halter tied to the trailer.

I had a good sleep in my swag, popping earplugs in immediately. Which was why I missed The Great Stallion Escape again. I think it was the same stallion, this time loose without a halter, and apparently half the camp woke up (I was in the half that didn’t) and was chasing him around. I finally woke up to lots of yelling voices, one calling for a vet, but they were on the other side of the field. Our horses were still in their pens and Christy was gone; I figured I’d be of no use, stumbling around with earplugs in the dark looking for a dark horse, so I went back to sleep.

BC judging was around 8:30 in the morning; here they judge BC for juniors, lightweights, middleweights, and heavyweights. And here they rode their horses only, didn’t show them in hand. Chelsea rode Oslo for the lightweight division, and he looked like he could easily do another 80 km.

We went back and cleaned up our camp, packed everything away, loaded the horses and quickly took down the pens before going back for the awards. A fair number of people were still there as the head vet called out the names of the finishers and returned their horse log books with a completion sash and wine glasses (and bottles of wine for the BC winners). Then we were off - Christy back to Castlebar with the 3 horses, Linda and Chris to their home, and I got a ride to Melbourne with Chelsea. She was kind enough to drop me off at the door of my hotel in downtown Melbourne, which I greatly appreciated, because somebody keeps putting ROCKS IN MY SUITCASE!! It’s ridiculously heavy.

I’m headed for another leader of Australian endurance, Peter and Penny Toft in Queensland up north, and the Imbil ride May 5th. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dingley Maze Paradise

Thursday April 19 2007

Dingley Maze is the name of the main Castlebar Farm property. The name Dingley comes from a valley in England, and there’s a maze of valleys here. Or so the story goes. While Meg is gone for the week, and Chris pops in and out, the business of a big horse farm rolls along daily: feeding, exercising, breaking, riding, trimming, cleaning stalls.

Andrew is the current breaker. He’s got a farm, but farming is getting difficult now with the bad drought, so he commutes 160 km a day to come out here and work with the youngsters. He prefers stock horses himself, but he respects the Arabians. “People think they’re dumb, but they’re not. They’re smart. They’re always thinking of ways to get you. If you heavy hand them, they’ll give it right back to you.” He breaks the horses in at the Glen, then brings them over to Dingley Maze, rides them for the girls, then rides them with the girls, to make sure everybody is comfortable riding them.

With this many horses, there’s always horses to trim and shoe. This week Jeremy, and sometimes Mark, have been systematically going through paddocks of horses scattered throughout Dingley Maze and the Glen trimming, while the girls catch and hold the horses and comb out their manes and tails and drench (worm) them. One day I watched them go through a group of about two dozen 4-year-olds; one day a group of coming-2-year-olds.

And there's always horses to ride: I’ve had the pleasure of getting on one or two a day. The Raven rode twice! Favorite horse? Difficult to choose... but if you pick by names, how can you not like a horse named Demon? Which was my favorite ride? Hard to say… all were enjoyable no matter how long or short they were; all were beautiful rides to my eyes, whether we were up high with views or down low just following a logging road through the forest, the horses were all fun in their own way, and the company was always excellent.

One day we did a good long 2 ½ hour ride for some of the fit working horses. We started up a long uphill climb through the forest, then up on top we wound around the maze of logging roads (? That's what I'd call them, but I don't think the eucalyptus are harvested, at least not in this area), trotting, cantering the flats and uphills, walking the downhills. It was mostly eucalyptus forests, with a few areas of pine trees. Nasari was tough, chugging right on up the hills like they were nothing, wanting to get ahead - he just wanted to GO! He has a lovely canter. There was one long uphill stretch, about a mile or so, that we just cantered along up the gradual climb, and while I could hear the other horses huffing and puffing behind me, and dropping further back, Nasari didn’t seem to be breathing at all, and he left them behind with his easy rocking chair canter. I was in dreamland bliss or something on my horse, because apparently a wallaby hopped across the road right in front of us, spooked the other girls’ horses, and I didn’t even see it! I think the Raven did though. I can’t believe I missed it! But no matter because man, what a great ride that was.

We were in and beside a state park, so all of this was state forest land, all nice footing and few rocks. Even though it hasn’t rained in ages, it wasn’t dusty. Once we started back downhill, we eventually got to a steep road where we had to go over a bunch of downed trees that had fallen over the road from controlled burns. Nasari doesn’t step over anything, he jumps, and he likes to turn on the gas as he’s going downhill. Yeehaw! Much to my dismay, I had these big thick rope reins, and I put my gloves on for most of the downhill because I’d already rubbed a few holes in my fingers!

What a great ride! It wasn’t too hot, and on the last bit coming home, we got a strong breeze for a while. It felt good and it eventually cleared the air a bit of the persistent smoke always hanging in the air, though the fires are still going pretty well on that one mountain in the not-so-distance.

Then there was the day of the Reserve ride - a group of us just cantering a couple of miles on the side of the road and back, and I had this great little gray gelding Deviate that had this great Go attitude, and he was push-button to ride. Miles of lively cantering past scarey cows and screeching cockatoos (and over cockatoo feathers - somebody had a cockatoo for lunch). Always the cockatoos everywhere - flocks of them!

Wildlife spotted besides the ubiquitous parrots (never get tired of them) were a wedge-tailed eagle, a kookaburra (!! This one was just sitting by the acorn tree inhabited by green and red parrots), a marmot, a black snake, a deer; and the Raven and everybody else saw a wallaby. Oh, and flocks of kangaroos at night time in a pasture of a nearby resort, where they probably throw food out for them.

Another highlight of the day is bringing the 2 foals into the barn in the evening. The little chestnut filly tore her mouth apart in a ghastly wound (really glad I didn’t see that one, or the Before pictures) months ago - you can’t tell anything happened it healed so well. The little bay is an orphan and she’s so sociable. She likes to investigate everything on the way into the barn; today she was sniffing the saddles so Chris threw a saddle pad on her. It about swallowed her up it was so big, and she just stood there sniffing the saddle like she wanted that too!

I’m going along to an endurance ride this weekend with Christy and 3 of the horses. I asked Jeremy how far away it was, and he said “It’s close.” How close? “7 or 8 hours.” Close! To me, close is 2 hours. Not so in Australia! I’ll be sleeping in a Swag. Stay tuned for that!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Castlebar Endurance

Thursday April 12 - Monday April 16 2007

Castlebar Endurance - Further, Fitter, Faster

From the some of the smaller, more casual breeders/trainers/riders (I believe we are humbly known as "Dregs") in New Zealand to the big operations: first stop is Meg Wade and Chris Gates' Castlebar Endurance in Victoria, Australia. Meg is one of the world's top riders from Australia, and Castlebar Farm is one of the leading breeders of top endurance horses.

Near the little town of Walwa (about an hour from Albury), they have three farms of over 2500 acres, with some 300 horses, more than four breeding stallions, 25-40 foals a year, and horses in all stages of training and endurance racing. Meg trains for Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai, and has done so for about 12 years.

The hobby of endurance racing turned into a business when Meg and Chris found that they couldn't find enough good endurance horses to buy just anywhere, so they started breeding their own. There's no doubt that the UAE is driving the market for endurance racing - it's a prestigious sport that the shaikhs can participate in themselves. The Middle East desire for endurance has created this huge market where Australian breeders (and other countries) can't meet the supply. Sheikh Mohammed is a leader in the endurance industry as well as the Thoroughbred racing industry, with stables in both sports all over the world. He once said, "Horse riding is more than merely sitting on a horse's back. It is nobility and chivalry.”

A number of racing and breeding stock at Castlebar belong to Sheikh Mohammed. Of those owned by Castlebar, Meg and Chris keep the good ones, or the ones they think will be good, campaign them, and sell the rest. Those that don't work out to be top endurance horses, they sell. Those that don't fit into their breeding program, they sell. The mares that successfully compete will be retired to their broodmare band if they fit into the program; the others are sold. If the horses don't work out in endurance, they are sold or given away. Meg and Chris have a variable number of stallions they use, all depending on the mare and the combination of bloodlines that they think will work best, always working toward breeding the best heart. It's like the breeding adage in any discipline: breed the best to the best and hope for the best. The stallions that they are actively endurance riding, they breed AI. All the stallions I've seen here are very quiet and well-behaved. Some stallions they have frozen semen stored for future use. They have mostly Arabs, some Anglos, a little bit of stock horse blood, but always at least half Arab. Sometimes they'll cross a full Arab back to a Thoroughbred line to get a little more size.

I was put up in the Staff House at the Glen - a nice old farmhouse with about 30 bedrooms. Well, maybe it was only about 10 bedrooms, but I could get lost in there. Right now over the Easter holidays, there's 3 people living there, Jude, Anna and Jeremy. Jude is from Christchurch, New Zealand and has been working here for 3 weeks. She started riding when she was 8 years old, where she participated in Pony Club, and she worked on the racetrack with Thoroughbreds. I asked her if she did the Mounted Games, and she said Yes! Loads of fun! Anna is from this area, used to work for Chris and Meg when she was 15, went off and rodeo'd around Australia, worked for a big racehorse trainer, has broken and ridden lots of horses. She loves her quarter horses - give her a quarter horse any day - but likes working here riding the Arabians. Jeremy is a young shoer from France.

There's always new and old staff coming and going, but mostly people stay on a while, or they go away to another life then come back. Meg and Chris are well-liked and popular to work for. Several more employees came on during and after the Easter holidays: Shelley, Jessica (former strapper for a big Thoroughbred racing stable), Christy, Asher, Amily. It's mostly girls - Chris says girls are, in general, just better with horses. I agree. Guys just naturally tend to be more heavy handed, though you find exceptions in both cases.

A typical day on the farm is: feed all the stalled and paddocked working horses morning and evening; there's about 40 scattered all over the main farm. The stalls get cleaned 3 times a day. About 3 sets of horses are put on the walker, which holds 10 horses at a time and takes at least 30 minutes to load (gather the horses, many of them fetched on the quad), then maybe an hour on the walker (20 minutes of walking, 20 minutes of trotting one direction, 20 minutes of trotting the other direction), then about 45 minutes to unload (bathe the horse, then return them to their stall or paddock). Usually two sets of horses get ridden, one in the morning and one after lunch, and sometimes a third set goes out. This is when there are more than 3 girls working. Normally there's 6 to 10 workers, which makes the days go quicker and smoother, and more horses get ridden. After an endurance ride, the horse will get a few days off; then he'll go back to being ridden, or exercised on the walker every day.

This is a typical day, but those are really rare. Something unusual usually happens. One morning the neighbor shows up to say 10 horses got out into his paddock, Paul radios to say some cows got out onto the road, and the construction company arrives at the same time an 18-wheeler full of feed arrives at the same time you find out UAE visitors are coming to look at horses for sale and horses must get shuffled around. But nobody gets overly excited, and things get chipped away at until they are done, and Meg comes and goes in her helicopter.

I've gotten to ride every day I've been here (the Raven had his first ride in Australia!), and am impressed with the beautiful countryside (and the abundant wild parrots!) everywhere we go, despite the dull brown colors from lack of rain, and the smoke in the air from controlled burns. It's a great area for training - hundreds of miles of eucalyptus forest land to ride in, and good tough hills to climb.

Tomorrow: a long scenic ride for some of the horses going to an endurance ride this coming weekend! (I believe the Raven will accompany us.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Australian Arrival

Thursday April 12 2007


My first stop - after landing in Sydney - is Meg Wade's Castlebar Arabians, in southeast Australia, on the border between New South Wales and Victoria. It's near the Snowy Mountains, where the Man From Snowy River came from (he was a real person), in a beautiful setting of rolling mountains along the valley of the Murray River. Unfortunately the area here, and in fact much of eastern and southern Australia is in a severe drought. It's been very bad here for 3 years; the Murray River (Australia's second longest) is low as is the dam near Meg and Wade's place. Everything is brown. There's severe water restrictions, and crop production is about 15% below normal. Everything is getting terribly expensive - namely animal feed, and with little grass to eat, some farmers are having a hard time making a living, and are culling their herds. Many of the tree-covered hills are turning brown - the eucalyptus trees are shutting down. Their roots are shallow and there's just no moisture. There is a lot of smoke in the air from controlled burns. Creates a lot of haze but pretty fabulous morning and evening light for photography.

We'll get on to endurance next, but first: the fauna, ohmigod! There are wild parrots everywhere! Fields of white cockatoos hanging out with the cattle, like egrets, picking through their hay - but they aren't egrets, they are parrots! Like we might have crows or ravens or magpies flying around cawing and squawking, here there's parrots flying around screeching very loudly. There's red ones (king parrots I think) that gather to roost in the evenings in the nut tree in the Meg's back yard; there's smaller red parrots, white ones with pink breasts, and yesterday while riding in the eucalyptus woods, we came across a whole flock of black cockatoos, which have yellow on their tails. There's the noisy magpies everywhere also, but they can't compete vocally with the screeching parrots.

Oh yea - and the kangaroo. Meg and Chris raised this one as an abandoned baby - Whinny Woo is her name. The Raven got to meet his first kangaroo! (Me too!) She came up to the fence to sniff him - smell is a big sense for them - and after a few sniffs she retreated quickly! I am sure it wasn't that she didn't like the Raven; I think she was just overwhelmed with being in the presence of such an avian celebrity. Whinny hangs around the house, mostly in the back yard, and in fact, lets herself IN the house. I was sitting at the kitchen table talking with Meg, and there's a commotion at the door like someone is coming in. Well, someTHING was coming in. Whinny was working at the door handle. Meg said "Come on Whinny, open the door." And Whinny got the door open, and came right on in. It just cracked me up. Meg gave her a few treats (she said "You don't leave biscuits or cookies sitting out or they're gone!"), then she crawl-hopped back out the door. Now, I've heard of miniature horses in the house... but kangaroos?!

On my first Australian ride, we saw loads of parrots, a big black snake (it was Jude's first snake sighting), and a wombat! At night driving along the road, we saw kangaroos! They are pests to many people, and hazards on the roads, just like deer are where I live in the summer. The second ride produced a wedge-tailed eagle!

And now, it's time to go ride again amongst the screeching parrots and wombats and 'roos Oh My!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

New Zealand Endurance Conclusion


A month wasn't nearly enough time to get to know New Zealand endurance intimately, but I thoroughly enjoyed all the people, places and horses I met. A month was way too short! These are just my opinions and observations of the small slice of New Zealand endurance that I saw along the way.

Since New Zealand decided to go with all FEI rules 10 yrs ago, that means everybody who rides endurance in NZ goes by the FEI rules. This means to all members higher fees and more rules to follow. Some people I talked to are completely for it, because the higher fees take care of the necessary insurance and the rules (should) keep everything and everybody on a level playing field - they are (should be) the same rules followed by other countries. Of course, this does not stop the rare or occasional lame horse from winning or completing a ride (depending on the importance of the rider), but this can happen anywhere, not just New Zealand, and not just FEI or non-FEI. On the other hand, having to follow every single rule all of the time can seem a bit ridiculous at times - especially when a blind eye might be turned on one or two but not another.

For those not wanting their sport to be at the FEI level, they felt the fees were just too expensive, and it put more pressure on what could just be a fun sport. They don't have a choice, like America or Australia has. As an option, there are the training rides, (which don't count toward qualifying horse and rider) so they don't have to worry about competing, though they still must be club members.

Whereas in the States we can look up on the AERC website the records of any horse and rider, that is not available in New Zealand (yet). Here in New Zealand all endurance horses have log books, which record every ride they've done, with the results of each vet check recorded. These are quite convenient in that you can look back and see from ride to ride over the years the horse's recovery parameters, the lag times (how long it takes the horse to come down to criteria - where the riding strategy and strapping techniques come into play), comments and results on gut sounds or soundness or soreness. The book always accompanies the horse - if the horse is sold, the book goes with it. If the horse is sold without the book, he doesn't do endurance anymore.

One thing I am absolutely astounded at is the fact that the minutes of the Board meetings are not readily available to anyone. I did hear some murmurings of disgruntlement about different situations from several people at the rides and yet they only had conflicting rumors of decisions made. (It's surprising what wandering ears will randomly pick up.) If an individual wants the minutes, they can go through the process of requesting the information on that particular subject, which they will eventually probably get, perhaps with persistance, but only on that subject requested. It begs the question, Why would the board not want their members to be involved enough to know what exactly is going on and everything that was discussed, and who voted for what? American endurance riders have some of the same diasgreements or discontent with things that are decided, but the minutes of every meeting are published in the AERC magazine all members receive and are readily available on line. I sure want to know what my board members voted on, and who voted how, since I elect these individuals. And I certainly expect my board members to be approachable about any subject.

Nearly all horses in the rides wear shoes, and some wear pads on some rides. The barefoot trend is starting to catch on a little bit here. I did see one barefoot horse in a shorter race, but so far a barefoot horse has not completed a 160-km ride, and really, what would be the point?

As to feeding, most hay that is fed is meadow hay. It it isn't very green, and it doesn't look nutritious, but it is. Little alfalfa is fed because it's expensive, and chaffage is cheaper and easier and provides the same nutrients. Beet pulp appears to be common, as are vitamin supplements and electrolytes. Electrolytes appear to have pretty heavy use for the longer rides, in the horse feed and syringed before going out on every loop.

If my observations are off base, I'm sure that's because I did not spend enough time in New Zealand. In fact I'm sure I didn't - I must return!

Casa Enduro Endurance Racing

Monday-Tuesday April 9-10 2007

I set my alarm for 4 AM to get up and leave with Paul Jeffrey and ... my alarm DID NOT GO OFF! I either turned it off in my sleep, or I turned it off after I double checked it. I had a knock on my window at 5:00 - 5:00! - from Jo and I flew out of sleep in a panic. Well, their alarms went off at 4 AM, but they lingered over coffee and packing up, so I wasn't in the doghouse.

Paul has been around horses all his life, and competes with his endurance horses nationally and internationally. He's qualified for WEC Malaysia on his horse Chinook, who last completed the Horse of the Year ride. Paul is instrumental in New Zealand endurance as a board member and as a sponsor of many of New Zealand's rides - for the Nationals he sponsored Carlos and Mariola as the foreign Spanish FEI vets. He's also influential in getting a lot of outside sponsorship for New Zealand rides. I heard some of the Ruahine Organizing Committee members talking about the Nationals - it cost them some $26,000 to put on this ride. Paul came forward with his funding of the foreign vets, and with organizing much of the outside sponsorship, including the main sponsor CopRice. He's absoultely committed to the betterment of New Zealand endurance, and is willing to take figurative blows to get the sport there. He's also responsible for being over here for Horse of the Year and Nationals. He may come off to some people as stern and uncompromising, but they don't know there's a great sense of humor lurking underneath. For example, his offering to share my RAVEN with his ripping-stuffing-out-of-stuffed-animals DOG.

We did get away from Rangiwahi at 6:20 AM, and in all it took us 7 hrs to get to Paul and Madonna's home outside of Auckland. That included stops for coffee (20 min), letting the horses out for a stretch and grass (20 min), and filling up with petrol (15 min). Their float is a nice big one, smooth driving, and the horses are standing in the stalls right behind you. It's funny to hear them snorting right there and be able to turn around and look at them.

It was a beautiful drive, right by Mt Ruapehu (couldn't see it on my quad ride yesterday because it was in clouds) and Tongariro National Park. Mount Ruapehu at 9176 ft is an active cone volcano. This was New Zealand's first National Park, and one of the world's earliest, created in 1894. Chief Te Heuheu Tukino gave the land to the people of New Zealand because they were sacred lands and he wanted them always protected.

Just a half hour north by bird, or an hour by horse float on the very winding roads over the volcanic ground covered by thick bush, is Lake Taupo, the world's 9th largest caldera. It's a huge lake that we drove alongside of for a while. There were a number of sailboats out on the still water, and the blue-gray lake blended into blue-gray fog and clouds in the distance.

The Spanish veterinarians Mariola and Carlos arrived at home (anywhere I open my suitcase is home now) just after we did. We had drinks on the lovely porch with Madonna in the mild weather and talked. I sat and half listened and half chipped away at the multitude of emails and photos I was two weeks behind on.

We all went out for Indian food in the nearest town, Pukekohe, where, as usual with Indian food, I ate myself silly. I am the only person I know who, despite all the stress and hassles you constantly face, gained weight travelling in India because of all the food I consumed. I still can't control myself!

I was planning a nice relaxing week on the North Island, seeing more horses and endurance people and finally catching up on my internet work, when Paul told me I'd get a ride to the airport Wednesday morning with Carlos and Mariola. "Why am I going to the airport with them?" "You leave tomorrow." "No I don't!" "Yes, you do." I disagreed, so I went up and dug out my flight schedule - and I discovered I did NOT have a week left in New Zealand! What the heck! I threw away my organizer because obviously it wasn't organizing me one bit. I need my usual little calendar. Everything written in pencil, of course. That was the shortest month I've ever had - I am not ready to leave New Zealand!!

So my only look at horses on the North Island were Paul and Madonna's horses of Casa Enduro Endurance Racing. As if New Zealand weren't Paradise already, they have a bigger farm 25 minutes away, right on the Tasman Sea, and I mean right on and above the sea. Oh my god! A 170-acre slice of Extreme Paradise on the rolling grasslands about 500 feet above the ocean, with 2 trails down there to ride along the beach forever. Great climbing work for the horses, uphill and downhill to the beach, then great sand training along the ocean. Trevor had said his beach was the best beach in the world to ride on ("Much better than Paul's"), but I really would have liked time to have to compare and prove him right! From the highest hill overlooking the water you could see miles up and down the coast of the Tasman Sea. Stunning! My pictures were nice, but completely inadequate to show the grandeur of the place. And the clouds for background sculptures were dramatic. Everywhere I turned I kept saying, "Oh my god!"

And the horses - they have about 16 or so, and I didn't see one horse I didn't like the looks of. They are all Arabians or at least half arabians, and they are all big and strong, well shaped, and they're all very personable. Paul took us on a little driving tour and showed us a grassy plunge that they see the horses charge down once in a while, so steep they are afraid to watch. Man From Snowy River cliffs! I didn't want to leave! I didn't get nearly enough photos. At sunrise or sunset, and with some more stormy clouds in all directions you wouldn't be able to take a bad photo. I will have to come back, because the Raven hasn't seen it yet.

My last evening there, Carlos and Mariola made tapas and an outstanding salad for us while Paul roasted lamb, and with Madonna we Salut-ed each other. Cheers to Kiwis and Spanish and Americans and good food and drink, cheers to endurance that got us all together, and cheers to New Zealand!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

New Zealand Nationals 100 km

Sunday April 8 2007

I moseyed out of bed and into camp about 7 AM, fog lining some of the valley, a nice sunny day after it looked like it might rain all night. It was cold and crisp and some of the warm horses were steaming.

I kept my eyes and lenses on the strappers and some of the riders coming off loops and going out. As the day went on, Linda and Trevor finished together, 8th and 9th. Picksy did very well. Go little Lord of the Rings horse! Gemma Haywood won the ride, and 16 minutes behind her, Tony Master and Angela Doel had a flat-out sprint down the lane and around the corner on the short run in camp over the finish line, to the entertainment of everybody in camp, with Tony finishing just a length ahead. Angela won Best Condition in the judging later. Sandie's horse Mateus vetted out lame after the second loop, and David finished successfully on Zaandel, his first ride since his accident 2 years ago. Lois Hosking finished on her gray horse Cyden Sharif. Sylvia Ireland finished on her hose Miami; Sylvia was taking a break from her duties on the organizing committee: directing arriving rigs for 3 days (the first one in the dumping rain) and cooking breakfasts and dinners for hungry people on very little sleep! 40 riders started the ride and 26 completed.

Also on Sunday was the 80km Junior ride starting at 6 AM; 9 started with 7 finishers. Winner was Michael Wakeling, finishing just a few seconds ahead of Lewis West. I was standing in the lane when the first 5 Juniors came in, and they were flying by me like hurricanes!

I was bumming another cuppa coffee off Trevor and Company, when Leon the South African saddlemaker came by and said he'd just been on a quad ride with Sheldy (I think it was - he's on the quad in the picture), one of the landowners, and I just HAD to get out there and see the trail and the surrounding countryside. I tracked him down, and he happily took me out to see the first part of the first loop of the 160km (they actually did this twice, both in the dark) and the 120 and the 100 (done in the dark). 15 landowners allowed the ride to take place on their land. My driver was one of them. "Do you ride?" I asked him. "No. I don't like horses, my wife is allergic to them, and my mother is one of the top dressage judges in New Zealand. But when you live in a small community, you're involved whether you like it or not. I don't mind it at all." The track we went on was pretty amazing - it went up and down, up and down, some STEEP ups in there, and some steep drop offs to the canyons far below - all of this traversed in the dark. Thank goodness there'd been no rain overnight because some of that would have been treacherously slick. The scenery was just amazing, and most of the riders missed it because of the dark.

Then the big dinner/awards presentation started about 6 PM. Big catered 4 or 5 course dinner, and lots of good dessert. Yum! I was sitting with Trevor and his gang. When dinner was over, 250 people plus all crowded into the hall, and not everybody fit. The RiffRaff (like me) sat in the outer hall where I couldn't see anything but I could hear. Paul Jeffrey handed out the prizes. He individually called up the 1st-5th place finishers in each of the rides. Here, you don't just come up and get your award and get clapped for: 1st thru 5th places all got to say their Thanks pieces. And I was told EVERY finisher used to get to say their Thanks. Oh my lord! It's a nice idea, but my God, it goes on forever. I was getting sleepy, and I could see other heads nodding off and eyes closing. At the last 3-day ride I rode in, in Nevada, the Duck asked if everybody wanted to hear the finishers' names read off. The loud chorus was "NO!!" We of course don't have strapping crews that do so much work, either. And the endurance awards were over, then came the awards for the Competitive Trail Rides.

I didn't even stay for any of the entertainment - singing, dancing, DJing - because I was getting up at 4 AM to leave with Paul Jeffrey and Jo to head off to Paul and Madonna's home near Auckland, for my last days in New Zealand. I said my goodbyes to the great friends I've made here, and I headed off to bed.
I set my alarm for 4 AM, and double checked it before I crashed.

It was really set for 4 AM, and I really did double check it!

Monday, April 9, 2007

NZ Nationals 160km and 120km

Friday April 6 2007

Oops! I didn't quite make it up for the start of the 160 km New Zealand National Championships. 44 riders started the 160 km at 1 AM, and 11 Juniors/Youths started the 120 km at 4 AM.

It was a chilly morning when I got out on the grounds at 7 AM. There was a frost, but clear, no clouds. It was too cold for the strappers to be too busy for the first part of the morning, but as the day warmed up, they got busier.

Strapping's a fine science here. Whereas I usually ride slow enough in the States to just walk right into the vet check, here in the FEI rides it's usually serious business, even if you aren't competing for top ten. There are radio number checks 4 or 5 km from home on each loop, and an announcer broadcasts when the riders pass these. I thought it was just a nice way of letting everybody know what was going on in the ride, but no, I believe it's for the strappers to be ready for their horses when they come in. The rider will cross the finish or in-timer line and get a time, then they'll jump off their horse, unsaddle while several people grab their horse and start dousing him with water and/or cool towels. The idea of course is to get the horse down to the 64 criteria as quickly as possible and present it to the vet immediately to stop the clock. You don't want to take your time in getting the horse's heartrate down; nor do you want to waste the time getting the horse's heartrate below 64. If you've spent an extra minute, or 30 seconds getting your heartrate down to 60 or 54, you've wasted that time. You clean the horse's feet before it goes in the vet ring in case there's a stone that might cause it to be slightly off. It's an art, knowing the horse and presenting it at the precise time. Me, heck, I never have to worry about that because Gretchen and I don't ride that fast in the States, and I'm just happy if we have a crewperson there to hand me a sandwich and a Dr Pepper over ice. (Which, by the way, I have not found ONE in New Zealand.)

And of course you don't want to put too much cool water on the horse, or in the wrong places, such as the back and hip, where it might cause them to cramp up. You do put lots of water on over the head and neck and shoulders, and scrape it right off. Cool water under the hind legs, then more over the neck and scrape it off. I haven't seen anybody riding with rump rugs here, though Trevor said a few people do. Most people I've watched give electrolytes in feed, as well as dosing at the beginning of every loop (as long as the horse is drinking). The strappers also clean tack after every loop (um, I clean my tack well about once a year). Jo, who straps for Paul Jeffrey is always busy with the horses and gear, never stops working. The strappers also provide the rider with food and drinks, keep the horse supplied with food, blankets if needed, and carry the tack back and forth.

As the day went along, the same 4 or 5 riders stayed up front setting a quick pace, including Kylie Avery, who on her stallion Silands Jasark won the Horse of the Year ride. The Juniors were clipping right along in their 120 km ride - here they don't ride with sponsors - and to me they look pretty fearless.

There were 6 loops; loop 1 at 30 km was done twice (in the dark); loop 2 at 30 km was done twice; loop 3 was 20 km, and loop 4 20 km. There was a 40 minute hold each loop, with 10 extra minutes added to the hold times of I think the 4th and 5th loops for a represent of the horse just before going out. All those loops and hold times are a far cry from the 100 mile rides I know, with maybe 3 vet checks spread out among 3 30+ mile loops, or a 65-mile and a 35-mile loop. But FEI rules require 6 loops with these shorter hold times. Doesn't give the horse much of a good rest, and, I believe it removes some of the horsemanship from the ride. I'm not saying it's good or bad. If you can go out and gallop 30 km, have a break, go out and gallop 20 km and have a break, etc, you can do just that - gallop along, slowing near the vet checks for your heartrate and letting your strapping crew take over to get your horse down. That would be a different way or riding than if you had a 60 km loop where you had to manage and ride your horse a bit differently, to get him along further, rate him with a bigger plan in mind before he could have a break. Just an observation.

Lois Hosking and her chestnut Highlander, the Best Condition winners at Horse of the Year, vetted out (pulled) after the 4th loop for lameness. Well, he's still the handsomest horse on the grounds. Linda Pullar's horse Razzy was going very well for Linda Meredith (Razzy's first 160 km), and Vanzant was going well for Sandie, as was Gemstone and Paul Jeffrey.

Just after 3 PM the winner Mark Tylee came across the line first on his mare Class Act, with the next 3 finishers within 2 minutes of him, including Kylie on her stallion who came 4th. An hour later in 8th place was last year's National Champion, Jenny Champion on Freckles, and a minute after her was Linda Meredith on Razzy. We watched Razzy vet through - well, I don't know if Linda Meredith watched her: "The last vet out is always too hard to watch!" But Razzy passed with flying colors, and there were happy hugs all around.

Another horse that caught my eye was a dark brown gelding with a light colored mane, Blackjack Davey, ridden by Rupert Kurghan. The reason he caught my eye, besides being a pretty color, was that he was a purebred Thoroughbred. You don't see too many Thoroughbreds doing 100-mile rides... and he finished with a 14 1/2 hour ride time. Hmm... I wonder if I could get Stormy fit for 100-mile rides...

Sandie and Vanzant went out on their last 20 km loop just as it was getting dark. They kept company with 2 other riders, Robyn Peters, and Mariaan Liversage from South Africa. Her husband Leon is a saddlemaker, and would donate a saddle to the Best Conditioned winner of the 160 km. At about 8:15 PM the announcer broadcast the riders had just passed the checkpoint and were less than 5 minutes from home. "Everybody come out and cheer for them!" A good-sized group of people gathered 'round the finish line and waited for sight of bobbing headlights to turn the corner into camp. There they came, and a big cheer went up, clapping and whistling and yelling (which spooked the horses) for the last 3 riders home.

A completion for all of them, Sandie and Vanzant's first 160 km ride! Their ride time was 15 hrs 32 minutes (not including vet holds) - less than 30 minutes off the cut-off time. In most New Zealand 160 km rides, you have only 16 hours (ride time) to complete the ride. It's the Organizing Committees of the rides (the rides are put on by riding clubs) who make this pretty standard rule, because they figure you really don't need to be out there for 24 hours, and if you do, the ride is really too difficult.

Consensus from the riders was that it was a fairly tough ride, plenty of hills to climb. Paul Jeffrey said according to his GPS information, there was 3650 METERS of climbing in the 160 km ride. Garry Walker, president of the Ruahine riding club that put on the ride had said the ride has "undulating hills and flats." Paul told him "I must have taken a wrong turn because I never found the undulating hills!" Of the 44 starters, there were 26 finishers and 18 vet-outs (pulls).

Of the 11 starters in the Junior-Youth 120 km ride, 8 finished. Natalie Bickerton finished with a 7 hr 34 minute ride time, 4 minutes ahead of Tessa Deuss.

Two big rides down, more rides to come!

Vet In Day for Nationals

Thursday April 5 2007


Apparently Julia slept at the fence by the horses all Tuesday night, because when we got up, she was still there and the horses seemed unbothered. In fact Zaandel was in the middle of his pen, and when I went to pet Julia, he slowly crept forward. If the pig wasn't eating me, maybe she wouldn't eat him. He got close enough to almost sniff her, and while he snorted loudly through his nose, Julia just kept grunting happily. Later I saw Zaandel actually walk to the fence on his own and sniff noses with Julia. Maybe Sandie and David will have to get him a pig of his own when they get home.

We were among the first 4 horse floats to move into ride camp about noon yesterday. It slowly filled up during the day, and the clouds slowly built up...

Around 4 PM it started DUMPING rain. The North Island had some trouble with torrential rains in the last week or so, and I could see why. It poured for a half hour, then rained for another solid half hour, and rained on and off all night. Hopefully things would dry out for the ride, or else there would be some slick footing out there.

Thursday morning dawned bright and cloudless - for a few hours anyway. Ridecamp kept steadily filling up with horse floats from the North and South Islands.

Lois Hosking and her handsome chestnut Highlander were parked right next to us; Linda Pullar arrived with her mares Razzy and Abigail; Trevor arrived driving Chris's float with a load of horses. Lois is riding the 160 km and the 100 km on another horse. Linda Meredith from Australia will be riding Linda Pullar's Razzy in the 160 km, while Linda will strap for her and then ride her own Abigail in the 100 km on Sunday morning. Trevor was going to ride Picksy in the 160 km, but Picksy didn't feel just right after the ferry ride, so he's waiting till the 100 km on Sunday. Paul Jeffrey arrived with 2 horses, Gemstone that he will ride in the 160 km, and Gazelle who a girl will ride in the 100 km. Both horses completed the Horse of the Year ride a few weeks ago.

At noon, dozens of riders saddled up to do a mini-parade down the street and back. Some New Zealand news channel is here to film the ride.

Vet-in for the 160 km and junior-youth 120 km started at 2 PM. There are 4 New Zealand veterinarians, and 2 vets from Spain.

I watched Sandie getting her saddle ready for the 160 km. Since it's a 160 km FEI ride, she has to carry minimum weight of 75 kilos. She rides with 3 saddle pads, one of which has pockets to slip weights in. She also wears one of those vests that you get wet to keep you cool and carry extra weight.

At 6 PM the rider briefing started. There was some discussion over rules to sort out the time slips and horse logs, the represents on two of the loops, the weighing of riders (usually every rider has to weigh with tack in coming in from every loop; this time it will be 2 random loops for all riders, and individual random weighing of riders) and there was a suggestion that there should be some follow up of riders on the first loop. The first loop is 30 km, in the dark (and it's going to be a cold damp night), the first part up a hill, with no number check till about 26 km. What if a horse tied up out there after 8 km? It was decided that a motorbike would follow along a half hour or so after the riders left, for safety.

A big filling meal was served, and riders went to get ready for the ride and grab some quick winks before starting to saddle up around midnight...