|April 19 2008|
Framing the central arena and square of Golegã are stately Portuguese mansions - and hidden behind almost every one of them are big stables. Through a tunnel in the middle of one of these, the "Clube do Criador", the endurance horses for the Golegã ride were stabled.
This year's Portuguese Championships were put on jointly by the City of Golegã, the Feira Nacional do Cavalo, and the Federação Equestre Portuguesa. Thirteen horses and riders were entered - 10 from Portugal, 2 riders from Japan - Mitsuko Masui and Yanada Yukio, and Valerie Clark, who rides as British, though she's been living in Portugal since she was in her teens - she is in her 70's now and still enjoying endurance riding. Reining Portuguese endurance champion for the last two years, Ana Margarida Costa, was returning this year on a different horse. She said "Not this year!" when those successes were mentioned. Turns out I knew one of the horses in the ride, and in fact had ridden him in France on a training ride. Jasmin De Lap, one of two horses owned by Stephane Chazel, arrived with Gaella and two grooms from France after two 10-hour days of driving. They brought Jasin and Kiria for the 2 Japanese riders.
There was no mistaking team Trovador had arrived: Antonio's red stallion Trovador ("singer") da Oliveirinha trumpeted and hollered his presence to the whole city of Golegã. Vasco and Antonio and Manuel bedded him down on shavings in row of stalls completely separated from each other, so he wouldn't get into trouble. Trovador had recently completed two 120 km rides; this would be his first attempt at a 160 km ride. He certainly looked fit and ready, dragging his handlers around everywhere - and bellowing whenever appropriate (which was often).
All day we were dodging heavy rain showers. When it rains in, say, Seattle, you don't need an umbrella. When it rains in Europe, it RAINS - dumps buckets, big fat raindrops. Portugal is no exception. Some years in April here it is dry, some years it is wet, and this was one of those wet years. It had been like this for days, and that was the forecast for Saturday also - wind and rain. It rained much of the nights, and dark squall clouds continuously passed through and dumped 5 to 15 minutes of rain during the day. Riders were concerned it would make the trail conditions challenging.
Entry fee for the ride was 150 Euros, plus 50 Euros for the stabling. There would be 6 fases, the first one 30 km; the second, fourth, and sixth fases would be the same loop repeated at 26 km; the third and fifth loops would be repeated (and cover much of fase one) at 25 km. The last few kilometers of each loop would zig-zag through the same vineyards 8 times - up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down... it sounds monotonous on paper, and would become a mental challenge for the riders and especially the horses repeating this, when they could see that the vet gate was just over there, but they had to keep trudging through these vineyards. The footing through here would became more challenging as the day went on, also. Time limit for the ride was 15 hours 50 minutes (which included 3 hours and 10 minutes of hold times); pulse criteria 64 bmp after 30 minutes.
Some of the horses went for short rides around the arena, or were handwalked before the vetting in, which began at 4 PM, in another stable hidden behind the big doors of another mansion. The stalls here were full of Lusitanos who were quite excited by the presence of the Arabians walking around. The vets examined the horses inside an arena further inside the hidden stable area, the horses being called in by number in order.
The rider briefing was supposed to be at 6:30, but was moved back to 7:30; some of us hadn't eaten all day, so we went to a little bar near the square. Vasco ordered ham sandwiches for us, which turned out to be the size of small Volkswagons, and 7 of us were unable to finish 3 of them. The beer was nice and cold, and the talk was all horses. At the meeting, the officials presented the specifics of the ride with a power point presentation; and afterwards, tapas (though I don't know the word for them here in Portugal) and wine were provided.
Then it was back to the
Hotel Rural Quinta de Torre, and early to bed... start time at 6:15 AM, which meant getting up at 4 AM.