|Wednesday August 8 2007|
There's about 1000 endurance riders in Holland, and maybe 25 of those who regularly do 160 km rides. One of those riders is Anita Lamsma. I went to visit Anita and her husband Eric (and Jarmilla Lakeman, who stays with them) for a few days. They have a nice place with a few acres and 7 horses on a somewhat busy road by a somewhat busy canal outside Vriezenveen. Surrounding them on all other sides are farms, and canals, and the myriad bike paths transecting Holland.
One of the seven resident horses – now retired - is Salomo Djinti, a now 18-year-old white gelding who took Anita on some amazing rides over the years. Anita started endurance riding around 1986. She was an au pair in Germany, and where she worked, she was allowed to keep her horses at the family stables. Some people at these stables rode endurance – which was riding out in the forest and the countryside like she was already doing – she said, “This is my sport!”
Anita had one horse that she rode up to 100 km, but that was as far as the horse could go, and her dream was to ride 160 km. So, she eventually looked for another horse. She and Eric searched and searched, didn't see anything particularly exciting, but when they saw Salomo Djinti, they both said, “That's the horse!” Before she ever got on him, she knew that was a good horse – you just know when you've found the one you're looking for. Djinti was 5 at the time.
So Anita's dream was to ride 160 kms? She did 8 on Salomo Djinti, including the 2000 World Championships in Compiegne, France, the 2001 European Championships in Italy, the 2002 World Championships in Jerez Spain, the 2003 European Championships in Ireland (where they finished 7th, and helped win Netherlands Team Bronze), and the 2005 European Championships in Compiegne. (He also finished the 120 km 1999 Junior Championships in Germany with Anita's niece Karin, and the 2004 Dutch Championships and the World Championships in Dubai with Joan Eikelboom riding).
One time Djinti dumped her off during a ride and ran off, didn't want to be caught – Anita got a ride on a motorcycle with one of the Shaikh's escorts. They chased Djinti, and finally caught him, and she got back on, but he was still really spooky going down the trail, which was abnormal, so she quit the ride on him. Later they drew blood and found his blood work abnormal, so he likely would have been pulled anyway if she'd continued.
And one ride they were pulled at the finish of a 160 km in Belgium for lameness - heartbreaking it was, (and questionable), but that's the way it goes. Six weeks later Djinti became Dutch National Champion, and that's how it goes. Djinti was twice more Dutch National Champion in his career.
Anita wanted to ride him in one more big race, the 2006 World Championships in Aachen, but he just wasn't the same horse. He'd go willingly and very forward down the training trail, but that was it – he wasn't playing and spooking like he usually did – he was not the real Djinti. So she retired him. Now he's pastured with his young unbroken sister, hopefully whispering to her the secrets of his success.
Anita's now riding an 18-year old mare Layla Ara Francina. She got her in 2004 from a Dutch rider who didn't get on with her so well, but Anita did. Layla and Anita finished the 160 km at the World Championships in Aachen last year, and another 160 km in Hachen, Germany. They are headed to the European Championships in Portugal in September.
With Layla, Anita also brought home the 13-year-old gelding Sattarov – the gal still owns him but is still not sure what she wants to do with him. And so Anita started riding him in endurance rides; he's finished a 150 km in Denmark. Three times, however, he's tried a 160 and not finished. One of the 160 kms he did finish, but vetted out lame at the final vet check - argh! You have to work hard riding him, keep him together and collected much of the time because he's so long (dressage training helps) and will get too tired if you just let him go all spread out the whole ride. He's very willing and always does everything you ask of him. Anita thinks he'll make a great horse for juniors because of that – he's so willing. Jarmilla will be riding him in Kreuth in the 120 km this weekend.
Anita and Jarmilla try to take dressage lessons once a week. They offered to let me join them, but oh, no thanks! I'd rather watch and take pictures. (Or, I'd rather not show off my true dressage riding colors.) It's good for the horses to learn to round up and use their back, says Anita, and besides, you can always learn something, from the instructor or the horse.
Anita's husband Eric doesn't ride, but he does crew, and he's put on the Dutch National Championships for the last 6 years, designing and marking the trails and organizing everything.
Endurance for the Lamsmas is a family affair: when Anita's parents aren't helping to crew, they will house sit the rest of the horses; Anita's sister Marjolein rides endurance, (is headed to Portugal also); Anita's neice Karin rides endurance; and now, so does their 8-year-old daughter Imke. She recently finished her first endurance ride: an 8 km ride on her little Shetland pony Panter. The whole family turned out for it to help crew. In fact, Jarmilla had just finished an 80 km ride (winning Best Condition on Sattarov), and she went right along on the 8 km ride, running beside Imke and her pony. (“There were hills there, it was tiring! Holland is normally flat!”) Eric said they took about 200 photos of Imke's first ride (they did, I saw them all!) Dutch Chef D'equipe Mechteld's youngest daughter rode her pony with Imke, and Mechteld biked alongside her. The girls loved it, as did the little endurance ponies. Imke's grooming team won the Best Groomed award! Imke is horse crazy and wants to do a 25 km ride next. You can already see how she sits a horse that she's a good rider, she's a natural, and is going to have success on whatever horse trail she chooses to take.
In fact, endurance in Holland seems to be a big family sport, and indeed a community activity. (The Libramont ride in Belgium was similar.) Families and friends of families seem to turn out for the rides, helping crew and helping volunteer, and people in the villages come out to watch and wave at the horses and riders, and offer water and help for the riders. It's a little spectator sport cosmos of endurance riding that the FEI officials seem to be clamoring for. Here it's not the people sitting in the big stands waiting for a galloping finish, it's the families and friends out on the roads, on the trails and in the fields, visiting with friends, filling water jugs, handing jugs to the riders and holding water buckets for horses, waiting in the vet gates for their family to cross the finish line, and enjoying a family day outdoors with horses and humans.