Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Egypt`s First Endurance Ride: A Pheromonal Perspective - Richard Hoath

I think my first mistake was entering Sam under his full name Samarkand. Much as with a Chow called Rover on a day to day basis who is then elevated to his pedigree name Supreme Emperor Yung Hua of Hanan for the purposes of parading at Cruft`s, it went straight to his head and, most strikingly, to other baser regions of a stallion`s anatomy. The 20 kilometres I had no qualms about. He could eat it up. But here was a horse with a sexual appetite not just for his own kind, and at times gender, but also with a tendency to confuse four wheels for four legs. The mere scent of engine oil, a jeep in heat, will send him just as wild as the most coquettish mare. Whereas we all had to cope with our horses` reactions to 100 of their own kin and kind, I had the additional worry of scores of owner`s cars that Sam found deeply attractive. There was the additional tease of three very attractive ambulances and a number of horse trucks playing hard to get.

So out comes Sam(arkand) for his vet check. For him it was birthday and Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Eid, Independence day and Sinai Liberation all wrapped into one. At 21 he should be doing the horse equivalent of getting kicks out of a bit of gardening, sucking on a pipe and thinking fondly of times past. But then Sam`s biological clock has a chronology of it`s own. It is April and he has just developed his winter coat. He went through puberty at around 15 and has had every intention since then of making up for lost time. This was an opportunity he was to grab with both hoofs. Khamis, my groom who with Sam`s libido had a role more akin to head e unuch at a harem, wove between the other horses and assorted vehicles with as little impact as possible. Little is relative. Prancing like a dancing horse on coke he snorted fire at anything wheeled or legged that came within scent shot. My main fear for the vet check was a dope test for Viagra. I don`t give it him but I`m sure he gets it from somewhere. Anyhow as Khamis negotiated the minefield of sexually irresistable objects of desire, animate and inanimate, I did the necessary paperwork. The actual check went fairly smoothly though he did fall in love with a small table (four legs - what their made of doesn`t matter) and while a vet without clipboard is just a vet, a vet clutching a clipboard becomes a challenge to his virility. His heart was 50 and his gait A though whether his trot was on four legs or two was difficult to ascertain. He got his number written on his backside by a tentative assistant. "Does he kick?" she asked having seen him do so at various targets in the previous 15 seconds "Not normally" I replied with perfect honesty. But today was not normal. 37 was successfully emblazoned on each buttock and after making unreciprocated passes at a couple of Jeep Cherokees and challenging a Land Cruiser and a First Aid vehicle to a fight he was taken back to his box.

We returned to the field of competition (or conflict?) at about 11.00. A few minutes before the off there was apparently a brief. I watched from afar as a huddle of numbered riders listened intently to someone in obvious authority. I got as close as I dared, Khamis having disappeared for a well earned nervous breakdown, but figured I would just have to pick the brains of my fellow entrants once we got on the trail. While the briefing took place Sam rose to the challenge of a lawn sprinkler and neighed loudly and furiously at two white chairs and a goalpost. For me the ride could not start soon enough.

Then came the part I was dreading. While up until now I could either leave Sam in Khamis`s capable hands under the excuse of `paperwork` or keep him far enough away from the other equines as to render him relatively calm, there was no avoiding the start, a start where he was surrounded by 50 odd fellow members of the genus Equss. Surrounded by seductive mares, confrontational stallions and another man with a clipboard his neighs drowned out the mild, background drones of lowflying aircraft. Not knowing whether to buck or rear or with what leg to kick out with he took advantage of having a limb at each corner and used them all with equal abandon. I imagined a view from directly above, a desert seething with horses and in the middle an empty circle of sand in the middle of which is a single horse snorting and prancing mounted (in the innocent sense of the word) by a rider apologizing and uttering conciliatory statements such as "He`s really not like this normally." Or "Careful, he`s a bit excited" - the latter being an early entrant for the Understatement of the Year 2000 contest. I felt like a rodeo rider in a dressage competition and was amazed that I had not received similar advise to Kate who was told she ought to geld Massaoud. I might have done had Sam let the vets get a word in edgeways.

We start. Thank God! I thought but the gratitude was premature by at least 20 kilometres. For me this was to be a 20 km ride done just as we had trained, mostly trot with walk and canter. A sensible, calculated ride, a ride we had done hundreds of times before but just a bit longer. A ride to enjoy and relax. Sam`s take on this was different. For Sam this was a chance to perform for 20 km and not one second was to be missed. It was a ride where the desert was not mere terrain but a stage and Sam had no intention of being and understudy or bit part, no ambitions to be part of the chorus or a walk on, walk off. He was to be a Hamlet, a Macbeth, a towering Lear or simmering Othello. So neck arched, nostrils flared he strode across the desert like an equine colossus I`m convinced utterly aware that the vehicles driving past at intervals contained cameramen. We got to the 5km point more slightly slowly than our usual rides but whereas normally at 5 km he would not have broken sweat he was now lathered up to the point that he looked like a wedding cake with a mane. He took water before taking offence at the bucket and then more alarmingly at all the other horses around him, even horses he knew. We left the rest point with his pulse rate considerably higher than when we entered it and continued our ride/performance. My last recollection was of a vet kindly offering the advise that I should get him clipped. Or was it snipped?

For most people the second leg of the race was just that, the second leg. For Sam it was Act II in a four act drama for which he was the only main character. The other 50 were bit parts, mares to be seduced, stallions to be challenged, cars to be put in their place. We tried riding with `friends` but for Sam they play must go on. We tried riding alone but Sam was not one for soliloquies. For once he had an audience and boy was he going to milk it. And so we advanced towards the half way point. We paused briefly to proposition a railway signal and do a little play within a play for a group of rather bewildered railway workers and then continued on to the 10km point. I`m new to endurance riding and was willing to take advise from anyone who knew more than me - which was everyone. But I should not have listened to the person who advised that I pour water over Sam`s head. He took offence - deep offence - and having just done 10 horizontal kilometres we added an extra vertical one. Another lesson. Sam does not like water poured on his head even with the kindest intentions. Rather optimistically I was passed a bottle of water for myself and took advantage of a brief lull in Sam`s libido as he sized up a particularly attractive pile of jerry cans to grab a few drops for myself. We then did the trot test which Sam passed and subsequently rewarded his vetinarian adjudicator with a friendly buck. The poor man had one of those clipboards again. I asked how long we had to stay at the checkpoint to be told that we could go when I felt the horse was ready. Sam was ready the moment he arrived and every second we stayed there with other horses coming in right left and centre his pulse was going up and up. You see, for him, hard work though he made it, the 5km stretches between water stops were the rests. Come the stops he could get in some serious stallioning (my own verb) in with an audience that was, if not appreciative at least close and paying attention to him and not to whoever was on top of them or on where they were going.

As we left the halfway point I informed Sam that he should at least try to look a little tired and perhaps, as a bonus for me, pretend to feel a little tired. But no way. Acts III and IV were played with all the enthusiasm of a young thespian on the first night of his first major role. We briefly renewed our aquaintance with the railway signal and gave another feisty performance for the railway guards. A helicopter passed over, its throbbing rotors deafened by Sam`s neigh. At the 15 km stop there were more buckets to kick and I refused the advise to pour water over Sam`s head at this stage on the grounds that I was sane. The steward insisted it was a wonderful idea. I insisted that as ideas go it sucked while Sam leapt up and down as other horses joined us, substituting horizontal momentum for vertical momentum. By this time I had lost (I hoped temporarily) all my friends from Saqarra. They say that in the States one of the best ways to meet new people is to go out walking a dog. I think that probably depends on your dog and how it behaves. I can assure anyone looking for a companion in life that riding Sam in an Endurance Prance is a short cut to social pariah. Wind in our faces, hormones rushing round his body at a speed and concentration one can only wonder at, Sam and I danced our way along the last part of the course. Maryanne, Molly and Zena in a fit of insanity or bravery or for a bet, joined us. Babsi drove past in a jeep yelling "Go Sam! Go!". It was a deeply attractive four-wheel drive. I cannot remember if horses can see colour but I have always admired the dark blue. Sam now admired it and Babsi`s encouragements were misconstrued as he took the vehicle to be a large mare. Walk your horse in had been a piece of advise. Keeping Sam to a walk on that final stretch, or Scene to continue the theatre analogy, probably raised his heart beat to double that that it would have been if I had let him gallop. Still advise is advise and we reached the finish.

Prior to the ride I had assumed that he would have been a little tired and anxious for a rest and a graze. Not so. For Sam if this was the end this was going to be a dramatic exit, Prospero`s farewell to the stage as the curtain falls on The Tempest. He finished much as he had started, as though the 20 km had been an annoying little interlude. I dismounted and Khamis was there to help with Mr. Stallion as he pranced and neighed and danced his way amongst the assembled throngs. We finished at 12.57 so the time limit for the vet check was by 1.27. I went to see Maryanne while Sam asserted his manhood to a pile of saddles and asked for advise. "Well normally you try to get the vet check done as soon as you feel the horse is ready." Pause. "But having seen Sam over the past few kilometres I recommend 1.27. Finding a quiet corner for Sam to `calm down` was impossible. By 1.17 he had fallen in love, or rather lust, with the same horse box twice and was now proclaimed his sexual rights to the steward`s table. I could almost see his pulse going up the longer we waited so I decided to go for the vet check. As fate would have it just as he was about to have his heart monitored a particularly attractive purebred mare appeared, in his eyes no doubt like manna from heaven, in the vet booth right next door. He felt it necessary to go ballistic, a feeling compounded, I am convinced, by the fact he now had a sizeable crowd of `admirers` keeping a healthy distance and probably wondering why the horse was being checked as he clearly could not have been on the ride. "He`s excited" I explained rather unnecessarily repeating my entry for the Understatement of the Year competition. The vet took me to one side. `Look` he said ` You`ve still got ten minutes, take him round the back.`

If there is one thing that Sam appreciates more than an audience it is food. Khamis had conjured up a pile of berseem from I know not where but while his stomach for a few precious minutes took precedence over his libido his heart rate came down. By the time of the vet check it was a miraculous 58 and his gait A. We passed. I was proud.

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