Tuesday, April 06, 1999

Our First 100 Miler, South Africa - Cindy Budler

After a sleepless Wednesday evening worrying about whether I had packed everything , my 2 sons and I loaded Shaliekah and set off at 8 am for the Platorand 100 miler in Machadodorp , Mpumalanga,South Africa. The 350 km trip went fine considering we were already competing with Easter weekend holiday traffic and we arrived at the venue at 12. Machadodorp is situated in the heart of forestry and trout fishing and the scenery is stunning with dams and fast flowing mountain streams. We were one of the first groups to arrive and set up camp right next to a small flowing stream under 2 large Oak trees. Some 50 milers entrants had started to arrive and it was time to socialise and hand walk horses through the lovely green grass and streams. The rest of our group started to arrive that afternoon and we all went out for a short ride through the town(population 1000 and a real 1 horse town!). Shaliekah was absolutely impossible , bucking and prancing and spooking at every rock and puddle. I knew I was going to have my hands full!!.

This 100 miler was a brave experiment by the Platorand Club to try and encourage 100 milers in our 50 miler season. Historically 100 milers are only held after our national finals in July and there has been a lot of negativity towards 100 milers prior to Fauresmith. We have all been encouraging this as there are many riders who wish to only concentrate on 100 milers and we would like to ride throughout the year!!. The club was offering the 100 miler and a 50 miler on the Saturday. My friend Sue Walker was to ride with me on her novice horse and my mentor Johanni on her very experienced mare Zaleyah. Sue and Johanni have almost 10 000 km in competition and Zaleyah was doing her 8th 100 miler. Rex(Sue`s horse )and my mare Shaleikah are only 2nd season horses and this was to be there first 100 miler. We were only aiming at finishing , while Johanni would ride more competitively.

On Friday morning we all went out for a warm up ride and then late on in the day we were taken out in bakkies(pickups) to see some of the course for the first time ever. At this stage there were 15 entrants, but after this drive only 7 entered!!!!. This is definitely THE most difficult ride on the calendar - of the 160 km . probably 50 km is flat and some of the hills were over 6 kms in length and at an angle of more that 45 degrees. We started out on the drive very noisy but slowly it got quieter and quieter on that bakkie as we all wondered what we were letting ourselves in for. The 3 of us decided we had to start , for the clubs sake, and just try to finish.

We got back to camp and packed everything into the bakkies and entered and vetted in. Shaleikah was so excited we couldn`t control her and she jumped the ribbon tape around the vet check - but pulse was 36 anyway and she was bursting with health and fitness. We then tried to get a few hours sleep . However , most of the 50 milers had arrived at this stage and with 80 horses to do the 50 milers camp was humming!!. After lying in the tent cuddling my "Good luck" teddybear I decided it would be better to just sit around the campfire and chat. 9 pm we saddled up and did last minute checks of goodies in the bakkies and started warming up the horses. After picking up so much info on Ridecamp I had bought the 3 of us glow sticks and we attached them to our horses martingales. The moon was very bright and the sky cloudless and the evening cool, so we had perfect weather. We were ragged unmercifully about the glowsticks(the first to be seen being worn by horses in SA), but took it good naturedly as it was intended. 10 pm and we are off - well as far as the gate anyway!!!!

There was a foot deep ditch t the gate with a rubber mat laid over it and no way were the horses going to cross that!!. Shaliekah saw Zaleyah cross , and in panic jumped the ditch while the others were fighting with their horses, and off we set snorting, prancing and spooking!! Through the little town and along the railway line , praying not to meet a train!!. The crews could not drive with us at this stage and we were motoring along at a HUGE trot in a bunch. The crews met us for the first time at 16 km`s and Sue and I took extra time to let the horses drink and eat so that the leading group could get out of sight as we felt we were going too fast for the novices. Off we went with both horses very keen and moving well. The scenery was lovely with a very bright moon and I was surprised how much I could see and how calm the horses were in the dark. We were climbing steadily all the way and the road surface was good with watering points at streams all the way, as the crews still were not with us. At 49 km`s there was a huge hill which the horses really motored up and on top was a running check point. We presented immediately with pulses of 48 and spent some time drinking and eating with the crews. Of again on our own and now it was getting cold. I discovered we had left my windcheater back at camp and hubby had to take off his sweater to give to me- very unselfish crew!!!!. This was a very eventful leg for me and not much fun. At one stage we were sure we had taken a wrong turn and I slowed to a walk to get out the map and flashlight to check our position and how far the vetgate was. Shaliekah seemed fine with the torch on and I hooked the reins over my arm and opened up the map. Well, that was it, she bolted off onto the verge and I was worried about fences as the grass was waist high. I tried to stop her and turn and the next thing I was in the grass on my back!!. She took off back to Rex and when I got up I came face-to-face with a cow!!!!!. We went on none the worse for wear but 2 km further down she bolted again!! Sue reckons I should enter her for polocrosse as she has never seen a horse move so fast so quickly!!!. I had not seen anything , but apparently there were some very strange shaped horse-eating rock monsters on the side of the road!!. It took her 5 km`s to stop snorting and dancing and we moved at a very slow hesitant pace for a while. The first vet gate was at 58 kms and we presented immediately we had untacked - pulse 48 again. Hold time of 20 minutes and a welcome break. I was off 2 minutes ahead of Sue and we very hesitantly left the farm spooking at the lime arrows on the road, while waiting for Sue and Rex to catch up. The morning mist was settling in and this leg was terribly cold and damp. I couldn`t see much as I wear glasses and the condensation was making vision decidedly difficult. We walked the horses a lot as this was a lot of downhill and the going was very stoney with holes in the road. Sue ended up around Rex`s ears when he stumbled, but luckily he managed to get them both upright without any harm done. The crews could drive with us here, but met us every 5 km`s and it was amazing how quickly the horses cottoned onto how bakkies mean food and water!!. The second vet gate was at 83 km and we were very glad to be warm and dry for a while, pulses 48 and everything fine. Some welcome coffee and banana bread from the P and R people and we were off again. This 3rd leg was the leg we had driven on Friday and we knew this was going to be difficult. The sun was starting to come up and the view was stunning- rolling hills covered in the beautiful pink and white cosmos flowers, interspersed with tawny golden waist high grass. Mist lying in fat white blankets in the hollows and the sky that soft baby blue colour you only find in Africa at sun-rise. We had earlier decided to tail and lead the horses up the worst hills and we toiled up the long ones stripping sweaters as we went. We both felt the horses were getting stilted going downhill so we lead downhill too, and when we could got on and found ourselves on very keen forward going mounts!! The leading was definitely working. The 3rd vet check was at 108km at the highest point of the ride and we had a 40 minute hold being spoilt rotten by the farmer- tea and scones on the best china and watching his horses running around the fields greeting the new day. Rex and Sue left before us and Shaliekah left the vet check jumping the ditches and doing a stallion impersonation!!! Down, down into the canyons with the rock formations looking like a giants playground of building blocks, and the rock faces shining red in the sun. It was now very hot and airless and we were starting to feel very footsore from the rocky footing. The horses seemed fine and still very keen. We met up with a local farmer who followed us for about 6 kms on horse back. Our horses were not impressed with this stranger and acted very possessively- Shaliekah lunging at him if he encroached on Rex , and Rex baring his teeth when he got too close to Shaliekah. We had done 125 km at this stage and were tired but still keen. The vet was leapfrogging us and was so supportive - coming back every 10 km`s or so to egg us on - The horses are looking great, you`re doing great. Only 3 kms to vetgate" etc etc. The horses were drinking and eating voraciously and were still keen and forward going. We came to a huge clear cool farm dam and walked them knee deep to cool off and drink. Shaliekah started doing her submarine impression- whole head in water with only ears showing-so I decided a roll might be imminent and decided to leave the dam- unfortunately not fast enough!!!!!! The next minute we were both under the water and I surfaced to find her lying down kicking and rolling in the water!! We both left the dam wit water streaming off us!! All I was worried about was my vet card, but it was till dry and handed over to hubby to look after. The next 5 km`s were absolute agony for me - wet jodhpurs and chaps are not fun!!!!!. Shaliekah was rejuvenated and pulled like a train to the next check . It took 5 minutes to get her pulse down from all the cantering!! I spent some quality time with my boots and socks while I tried to empty six inched of water out of waterlogged rubber boots and swapped dry socks with my husband!!! The last leg was the worst - all uphill, bad surface and extremely hot. We were trotting along feeling very depressed when in the distance we saw Johanni`s bakkie- she had finished and come back to encourage us on!! The horses saw the bakkie and decided to race it into the next running check!!!. We heard she had finished third and we vetted through the running check at 145 km `s with pulses of 40!!!. ONLY 20 km`s to go!!!!!! The longest 20 kms in my life as we anticipated finishing and trotted along the railway line again. The horses could smell camp and were pulling strongly. Our crews met us for the last time 15 km from home and Shaliekah grabbed one mouthful of grass from the bakkie and carried on- she wanted to finish and not mess about!!. As we approached the dreaded ditch we were met by people at the gate cheering us on!! Shaliekah just cantered straight up to the ditch and jumped it without a break in stride and we were in the camp and cantering straight at a sea of people!! Every single person in camp(including all the 50 milers who had long finished) was lined up along the lane and were clapping and cheering!!. It felt as though we had won the ride!!!. We untacked and presented immediately with a pulse of 58 and falling , trotted out sound and was congratulated by the vet on gut sounds and condition. WE WERE FINISHED!!!

Shaliekah and I were surrounded by smiling crowds and hugged and kissed by total strangers and friends. What a great experience , and many many 50 milers there and then vowed to do 100 next year. All we heard was "If you can ride so long and come in with the horse and rider looking so good then it`s not so difficult and I can also do it!!!" We had spent 17 HOURS out there, but it was worth every single step of the way. We saw great scenery(going so slow we also saw every single stone and blade of grass!!), enjoyed great companionship, and finished with two very keen interested healthy horses. Do it again?? Of course,..... and as soon as possible!! Do anything different? Make sure I have dry extra clothes packed, get fitter for running instead of walking, practise reading maps in the dark on a skittish horse without falling off, get contact lenses so I can see in the mist , and trust my instincts about my horse - she is a STAR!!!!.

Regards, Cindy Budler

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