Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Egypt`s First Organized Endurance Event - Maryanne Gabbani

Cairo, Egypt

March 11, It`s really happening:

We`ve gotten upwards of 70 or so riders registered from all over Egypt, the tents are up, the poles for the trails are being laid today, the Dubai contingent is arriving this afternoon and the press conference is set for the Mena House Oberoi Hotel at the base of the pyramids at Giza.....and the organising committee is almost dead!! But not so dead that we aren`t all riding as well. The response to this has bee wonderful here and we have riders of all ages and social categories, something special for Egypt which is still a pretty stratified society. I want to thank all of you on Ridecamp, because without all the things that I`ve learned from you all over the last year, we wouldn`t be here. I`ve been relatively comfortable advising all these guys because I`ve had some of the best endurance riders and vets and managers in the world to back me up.

Tomorrow morning is the big day. I`ll be out celebrating my birthday from 6 am until whenever and hopefully everything will go relatively smoothly. We have lots of volunteers to help and should have a training group of about 4 vets and 15 final year students on hand. I went out along the track yesterday just fooling around with Radar...he`s fit and sassy and will be quite the handful tomorrow with LOTS of horses to keep up with. Mr. Sociability just loves having lots of equines around. Then I went out again with our "ambulance/first aid" manager...a friend who is recovering from a broken hip from a horse kick and can`t ride but can do desert driving very well, to go over the route and look for any potential trouble spots. On our way back, I was looking around and I had at least 10 pyramids, temples and monuments spread all around within about 15 km and the sun and cloud on the desert. Quite frankly, I was awestruck at the beauty of the place. I can`t believe that I`m so lucky to ride here every day and I hope that this is the beginning of opening the area to riders from all over the world.

I`ll post again when it`s all over and then I`m off to New York with my 16 yr old daughter so she can visit college with her brother for spring break. I`ll be ready for some room service.

BTW, we found some great non-toxic (more or less) washable kid`s markers at a stationery store. I tried them out on my hand and it took a number of washings till they came off, so we will probably use them. Then people can have their choice of colors. Unfortunately, we don`t have much lumber to mark here, and the only livestock they mark are sheep with spray paint.

-----------March 13-----------------

It`s over and was actually pretty much a success. The FEI/UAE crew was supposed to fly in yesterday afternoon and meet with the organisers and local vets about 4 pm then go to a press conference at the Mena House Oberoi at 6. They flew in ok, but their luggage flew on to Katmandhu, so rather than meet with us they filled out lost luggage forms and bought toothbrushes and other necessary items. The first we saw of them was the press conference at the hotel and I was delighted to find that one of the vets was Tony Pavord, who had visited with us in the fall. Jim Bryan was another and Dr. Bobby was a third. Feisal Seddiq was the UAE man and all of us got to hear the plan together, which didn`t allow much time for us to tell him what we had. They were expecting about 25 riders, mostly foreign. We had 100 riders, mostly Egyptian and mostly stallions. They were planning a mass start, we were figuring on staggered starts. Was interesting. At the dinner after the press conference, I sat down with the vets, stewards and ground jury right away to let them know what we had so things wouldn`t be a total shock. They were not wild about the fact that we had so many stallions, but I told them that they were regularly used for work and were used to dealing with people and mares, so they hopefully wouldn`t be too bad.

This morning I was up at 6 am brewing pots of expresso to take some decent coffee for people and headed out to the club with my daughter and a friend of hers. We already had a group of horses by the time the vets arrived at 7:30. Yas (my daughter) got pressed into service as a translator, photographer (for horses without photos) and butt marker. As the other young help arrived, I assigned translators to the UAE crew to make sure they could talk to some of our unilingual riders. (Bet most of you ride managers don`t have to think about THAT one!) By 8:30, the place was a nuthouse. We probably had about 75% stallions and just enough mares to make things interesting. Luckily, all the club horses could be vetted through and returned to their boxes until ride time and there was enough room to keep everyone separate. We only had one loose horse before the race, a stallion that some moron was walking around in just a bridle whose reins broke. He ran up to a couple of horses including Radar and was chased off without too much trouble. I`ve found that if you act like a seriously miffed mare and yell at them, they back off quickly. Radar, as a previously unmanageable stallion who lost his family jewels, found the whole thing wonderfully exciting but was a good fellow even so.

Most of these horses have never been vet checked, trotted out in lanes, or had large numbers inscribed on their hindquarters. New stuff for everyone. By racetime, at 11 everyone was checked and numbered and split into two groups of fifty for the start. I was number 49....Yas thought they should have given me 51 for my birthday, but I figure that I got two years off for good behaviour... so I went in the first group. A bunch of us from Sakkara were in that group and we left a little late because we knew that the wind would be at our backs and on the way out, the front runners would be eating dust. (Mind you we ate it on the way back, but by then we were all so filthy that it didn`t matter any more.) It was so great to see a line of riders snaking across the desert. At one point a bunch sang me `Happy Birthday`. They had water at the 5 km mark, but few of the horses wanted to drink, tho` the riders were happy to, and at the 10 km stop. They checked heart rates and had a trot by there. Discovered that Radar DOES NOT like hand held HRM`s for whatever reason, but he was at 56 at the halfway point anyway.

The way back was lovely with the wind in our faces and we met the second group on their way out. The horses were all having a wonderful time and there were some great flat places for long canters. We had one horse get loose from a rider on his way back and come careening into camp after I`d arrived. This was a particularly hard-mouthed stallion that had been ridden by a 61 yr old man, a former jockey... so on the small side... and the rider had injured his hand in a accident before the ride. I told him later that if he`d had to be vet checked, or if I were his mother, he wouldn`t have ridden. But people were watching the desert and saw the horse coming so everyone was ready. Luckily the rider had dismounted to check the horse so we had no falls.

Results: Congrats from the UAE on our turnout and organisation (we take a bow). Out of 100 horses registered, only 2 didn`t pass the initial vet check and one was withdrawn by a rider who felt her horse was borderline. No one timed out of qualification, and only 4 horses didn`t pass the second check. We are delighted and incredibly sunburned and about 2 kgs lighter after a shower to wash the dust out. The route was gorgeous, but not one of our really stunning places, so there`s nowhere to go but up.

Now I`m off to dinner at an excellent Chinese restaurant, where I will be properly surprised for my birthday party...which I could easily skip except that I`m STARVING.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

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