Wednesday, November 29, 2000

South Africa - Gauteng Multi Distance Endurance Ride – 13-15 October - Kristine Smuts

On the weekend of 13 – 15 October, four Gauteng endurance clubs hosted the new Gauteng Multi Distance Endurance Ride which was held in “The Cradle of Humankind” at the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, Krugersdorp.

The four clubs involved were Premier, Rand, Randfontein and Weermag Perdesport. Each had their own duties to perform and without the dedication of all those involved, this ride would not have been the success it was. It is hoped that this ride will become one of the best endurance rides in the world!

On Thursday morning the 12th, the course designers were notified that due to the storm the night before, the low-water bridge which was on the 160km and 110km route, was under water. Johannie Geldenhuys, who was part of the course design team, had to hastily work out an alternate route should it rain again before the ride on Saturday morning. Well, it didn’t rain again so there was relief all around – not least from the riders!

Riders and their entourage started arriving on Thursday afternoon and the grounds slowly filled up with the general festive air that goes with “Hi! Glad to see you again, how have you been?” being shouted across the camping ground. Old friends re-united for a chin-wag about the one subject everybody has in common – horses. Genuine interest was expressed about the progress of horses since the last time everybody was together; the new horse that was there for his first ride; the horse that had an inexplicable lameness during the season.

During Friday the air started becoming tense as the longer distance riders fretted over their horses, their tack, their grooms – “Did you remember the sponges?”, “Where are my chaps!?”, “Where did you put the spare numnah?”. Eventually it was time to present to the vets which seemed to calm the nerves somewhat as this was a familiar routine that people could hold onto.

The course discussion took place at 9pm when the riders found out what lay in store for them. As it was the first time this course was being presented, nobody, except for the course designers, knew what the terrain was like. Places where it was hard going was emphasised and an uncomfortable silence fell over the audience. An even more uncomfortable atmosphere prevailed when it was mentioned that all riders would have to pass the lion enclosure! However, the mood lifted when it became clear that all distances were based on the “clover leaf”, meaning that you start and finish at one point. Grooms let out a collective sigh of relief when they realised that they could stay in camp and wait for their riders and not have to travel to designated points along the route.

The weather played along with a bright, full moon seeing the 160km and 110km riders off at 1am the next morning for the first leg of 40kms which was marked out by fluorescent arrows and glow sticks. The shorter distances – 80, 60 and 30kms – were set off at 5 minute intervals from 5:30. Horses were coming and going all through the morning with grooms nervously checking their watches and keeping an eye on the road for sight of their riders. Some grooms, notably the newbies, were caught napping when their riders arrived well ahead of their previously discussed time.

By lunch time the shorter distance riders had arrived back at base camp. During the course of the afternoon, the longer distance riders started arriving, clearly relieved that they could finally relax. Some riders were visibly at the end of their tether, but surprisingly there were individuals who looked as if they had just come from the beauty parlour – undoubtedly the veterans!

Many people departed during the afternoon and the camp site looked like an old lady with some teeth missing – only the stalwarts remained (maybe because they couldn’t do much else!). Party plans for Saturday evening were discussed among friends but by 8pm very few people were around and silence fell over the site – a clear case of egos writing cheques that their bodies definitely couldn’t cash!

On Sunday morning, those who remained were treated to a champagne breakfast where the certificates and prizes were handed out. Janita Doyer received Best Condition award and she also won the 160km first prize. Only one of the three international riders completed the course, but she had a slightly unfair advantage as she regularly competes in South Africa, whereas the other two ladies, one from America and one from Britain, were unfamiliar with our conditions – especially as we had a heat wave that weekend!

Some riders were noticeably unhappy with the course and the rules, but the majority of people, including Janita, said that it was the best ride they had ever been on. A good testament to the organisers and not least to the Nature Reserve.

Surprisingly, the horses were not overly spooked by the many antelope, rhino and ostriches they encountered on the course. There were reports of one or two horses spooking badly at the lions, who had a grand time making sure the horses and riders could see them pulling menacing faces on the other side of the fence!

It was such an incredible privilege to be able to host this ride at the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve. The co-operation we received from the officials at the Reserve was overwhelming, especially as it came from people who were “non-horsey” people. The Spioenkop Disaster Management team were falling over themselves with enthusiasm at being part of the organisation – a good lesson to those actually involved with the sport who do not show the same amount of enthusiasm for their own sport!

Special thanks need to go to our sponsors, property owners and benefactors : Mr Leebman, Mark Reed, Rebecca Waddell, Willie Joubert, Nkwe Ngunis, Blikkies Auret, Danielsrust Horse Trails, ABSA Private Bank, Conserv Tours, Wondercave Kromdraai, Kromdraai Conservancy, Healthtech Laboratories,, Jozami Arabians, Randburg Motorlink, Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve.

There were numerous people involved from an organising point of view as well as the ground crew who were on duty for more than 24 hours – these are too many to mention by name, but particular reference should be made to the veterinary staff, the time-keepers, the weigh master, the grooms, the gatekeepers – husbands, wives, children and domestic staff, opening and closing gates and providing refreshments for the riders along the route from the first rider to the last rider who came in at 11:40 on Saturday evening and who still cleaned up all the bottles and other debris left along the route!

Lastly, thanks should go to especially the riders, without whom there would be no event to host.

What is always amazing is the dedication to the sport exhibited by those volunteers who work hard for weeks before and after an event, spending their own private money and time, sharing their knowledge, using talents and contacts to make an event successful and who want no more than a thank you from their fellow volunteers. The success of this event was a true reflection of this kind of dedication exhibited by those involved and I am privileged and humbled to be in the company of those people.

For more information on endurance riding in South Africa, please go to the ERASA web site, or contact Kristene at

No comments: