I don’t know what gave me the idea to respond to a posting on the local endurance discussion list regarding an endurance race in South Africa, but I did. Four weeks late, my father and I were standing in the JFK airport waiting for our flight to be called.
It is approximately a 15-hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg, or J-burg as we came to know it. We arrived to extremely blustery weather, cold and rain. My first thoughts on arrival were that I did not bring enough bad-weather clothing for this trip! Buses shuttled us from the parked 747-400 series to the international terminal and customs. It was easy to enter and few questions were asked. The airport was newer ,deceptively large and crowded. Multiple levels held check-in and arriving passenger gates. Large glass windows interspersed between shops gave a good view of outside the terminal where palm trees were being battered by the blustering rain and wind.
We met one of our hosts at the airport. Cindy Budler and her family had offered us accommodations for the first part of our stay. Cindy’s son had made up a stenciled sign with my name on it to help us find her at the airport. The J-burg airport was crowded, guards, armed with AK-47s stood at regular intervals throughout the terminal.
It was a one-hour drive, skirting around J-burg for us to arrive at Cindy’s farm. (There was not really a good way to go from the airport to Cindy`s farm. There was either a north or south route around Johannesburg.) In South Africa, and most of the African continent, people drive on the left-hand side of the street. This takes a little adjustment to get used to because, not only does traffic run in that manner but people and horses also move to the left when approaching another walker or rider. It made for some interesting situations and gave one way to identify a fellow traveler when people would do the right-left jig when you approached. The only time we would lapse back to the more ingrained habits was when leaving either a store or gas station. The lines were on the wrong side! .
The Budler farm was located 15 min. outside of Magliesdorp, a small, one gas station town. The town consisted of one street, with shops located on either side of the street. The essentials were there, a small bed-and-breakfast, grocery store, school, tack shop, post office and liquor store. Kids, in school uniforms, walked on the sides of the street.
Some differences that we noted up front was that it seemed everyone smokes. Since smokers seem to be a smaller and smaller part of the population in the US it took a bit of adjusting. There also did not seem to be the big separation of smokers/non-smokers in restaurants and public places. Some did have different seating sections but it did not seem to be as big of a problem in South Africa in general. One observation that we saw while driving was that all the gas stations provided full service. Rather than having to pump gas or check oil you simply instructed the attendant what to do so. The service attendants were all black.
Cindy had about 13 horses on her property. Some were loaned to her for various reasons and some were her own. She was not going to ride in the up-coming race so she was beginning the immunizations for African horse sickness. We had the chance to meet with the broodmares in the pasture and two geldings in a field of their own. None of the horses wore fly masks and the insects were swarming their eyes. We learned that one very large problem was ticks and each horse and dog was treated regularly for ticks. Lyme disease did not seem to be a threat in South Africa. The horses were quite thin and the stalls were dark and relatively dirty. Hay nets hung in each stall holding just little bits of hay. Most of the horses had long coats and were quite dirty. Cindy described how the winter had been tough on many breeders. We talked and compared what we fed our horses. They used a type of grass hay and avoided Lucerne or alfalfa as we call it in the US. They did not supplement with grain or pellets as many people in the US do. They also did not blanket their horses, instead allowing them to endure the elements.
We went to a roadside shopping area to look around. It was very similar to the shopping that we had seen in Mexico, the booths were all set up on tables or sometimes the ground. The booths covered an entire corner and were in front of a restaurant. Both sides of the corner had shops. A canvas tent protected the items and the vendors from the sun. Each vendor would offer some type of deal to the shoppers and people walking by so it made it difficult to pick any one item for closer examination without being hounded by vendors. Separate from the vendors were men trying to hand out flyers looking for money or political support. They would target the men more than the women for constant hounding. We did find one booth where the vendors were less pushy and bargained for a hermatite and fresh pearl necklace and a rhino carved in a stone similar to jade. They went for R120 and R110 respectively or $16.90 and $15.50.
On Tuesday, we left early in the morning to drive to Machadadorp. A friend of a friend of Cindy’s had offered to let us use their cottage there. It was about a 4-hour drive to Machadadorp and we drove through Pretoria on the way. The expressway (N4 that we took) had four lanes, two in most directions. Additional lanes were added near the larger cities, which in this case was Pretoria. The pavement was smooth with few potholes. People frequently could be seen crossing the expressways and well-worn paths led up to one side, through the median and out the other especially near the squatter camps. The expressways were set up similar to the rest of the world, service stations, accessible only from the expressways, were on both sides. The stations would have gas and a convenience store as well as restrooms which were large and clean, gift and souvenir shops. A large tent, shading the vehicles underneath, covered some parking spaces. In some cases there were also restaurants and some local tourist attraction like trout hatcheries. It was at one of these service stations that we met up with our contact for the night’s lodgings. We got directions and proceeded to drive to the cottage.
It had gotten cooler when we got to the cottage. We lit the braai and put potatoes on to begin cooking. It started raining so we had to move under the edge of the roof to protect the braai from the rain. I also had a chance to open a South African wine and try my first one. It was a bottle that Cindy had received as a gift but neither her nor Andre drank red wine so it had only sat in their cupboards. The wine had a very distinct taste, fruity, not too many tannins. The cows were coming into the pens and we saw a variety of types with several calves playing together. They were noisy and constantly called to each other. The calves were more interested in playing and ran in between the older more placid cows. The sunset was one of the more amazing we had seen. The trees at the west end of the property were a little more stark and a bright red sun shone through the branches. None of the surrounding clouds lit up or provided any other color beyond the sinking red ball.
Wednesday morning we were able to visit one large breeding farm belonging to the Foyers. We were enticed to visit by being offered to see them feed the broodmares. We hurried to arrive but the weather was not exactly on our side. The clouds had descended and shrouded the countryside in a thick fog. Visibility was very low and the temperature had dropped considerably. We rushed to fill the car with petrol, since we had used it all the previous day driving and headed toward their farm calling once to confirm directions.
They had over 150 horses on their farm. Several bands of broodmares and young horses dotted the countryside. We drove down a long dirt driveway and parked next to a brick three-car garage. Each of the spaces was filled. To our right horses were trotting in two different round pens, a large boned bay horse led two grays in the circles. They were moving at a good clip around the pen and being encouraged by black workers. It had turned considerably colder when we arrived at their farm and a strong wind blew across the open plateau. There were no hills or trees to stop the wind as it swept over the plateau where the farm was situated.
Immediately in front of us were several multi-acre pastures. The closest housed many broodmares and year-old horses. Pens with interlocking wooden partitions were on one side of the pasture offering an area to separate the horses for feeding. Several of the young horses had learned how easy it was to get into the partitioned areas and at the food. All the horses had thick, winter coats and were shaggy and dirty. Many had prominent bones, which they attributed again to a hard winter. The next pasture over housed the broodmares that had foals at their side. Few of the foals were over a month or two old and moved around very awkwardly. Several had found an ideal place to keep warm, cuddling down into the hay. A small stream ran through the pasture providing some water. In a further pasture a younger band of horses ran playing having just been released to go romp for the day.
The Foyers most notable feature in their breeding program was the combining of the South African Boerpoerd with the Arabian. They had been very successful with that combination and were doing well in endurance racing. They had also brought a stallion from Nairobi and were seeing some promising results. We drove back to J-burg Wednesday morning since we were to get to see the horses that day. We had a 2:00 appointment to meet with the owners of the horses. We arrived at the de Wet house after driving through several incorrect portions of the city since we were unsure of where the house was located.
Two driveways led to the de Wet house. Outside a large fence encircled the house and yard. Each of the houses on that street were surrounded by high fences. The gate was remote controlled allowing the occupants to let people in from inside. The house was a dark red with a type of shingled roof. A sidewalk, leading from the longer of the two driveways, allowed access to the front door once the occupants opened that gate. We drove in the first gate which led past the house into an open patio area. The back and right sides were additional parking spaces for cars. Cars and trucks in various states were parked haphazardly throughout the patio. Black workers and kids appeared and disappeared constantly. There was little grass area to play on and some flowers planted as if by accident in some areas.
One of the other international riders, Andrea from the UK, had arrived that morning. She joined us to visit the horses and later for the tour. She was still suffering from a bit of jet lag. She was very quiet throughout the tour and we teased her saying we were just waiting for her to fall asleep. Plans changed somewhat and we had just a brief chance to see the horses. We unloaded our luggage at the de Wet house with some assistance from their help and took off. Only one horse was close by so that we could go visit, that was Nazlet. She was a smaller, bay, mare with some endurance experience having finished 2, 100-mile races previously. One a younger bay that was just beginning a race career that Ami was riding in the 80km race, another a bay gelding with a long hollow back but a very long phenomenal trot that Tjaart was planning to ride in the 160km (100mile) with us.
Our tour of the city began on a small koppe with a water tower. The homes surround the water tower were quite large and protected by large fences with barbed wire protecting the top. We had to travel several narrow drives to reach the top. Our guide, Johannes, showed us the general layout of the city. The area we were on was a more upscale residential area, as we descended the hill the home values gradually decreased and the security lessened until we arrived at the old Sophiaville that was a very run-down slum like area. The names of the towns were being changed as a result of the apartheid regime ending. It made conversation and telling directions quite interesting because in some cases people would use the old name of the city and many tried to use the new names as well. The streets were not crowded and there was little traffic. For comparison, the houses at the top of the hill ranged from 700,000 to 1,000,000 R ($100,000 to $140,000) We drove through a very ‘yuppie’ area filmed with coffee shops, Internet cafes and art shops as well as a squatter area. One area of significance was where the buildings, that had previously housed the Indian population had been bulldozed. During the apartheid years, the blacks had been segregated. People began to point out that Indians also fell under the definition of black and pushing for them to be removed as well. The buildings were bulldozed and the Indians fell under the rule of segregation as well. This area was one that Gahndi had come to and protested.
There are 11 official languages of South Africa including English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa which is pronounced with a clicking sound for the ‘xh’ beginning the word. The clicking sound had even given rise to a special song called the “click song” because the white man could not pronounce that sound. (The song was sung to brides on their wedding day.) Others are tribal languages and one being a combination of a variety of languages.
A restoration project was underway in the city of Johannesburg. Johannes was a part of that project and had very interesting perspective. Each area was being rebuilt with contributions from businesses. A guard, wearing a yellow beret, stood at the intersection providing a reference point in case someone was walking and needed directions or help. There did not seem to be many people walking on the streets. Most of the traffic was black. On the streets where the restoration project was underway banners advertised this a being a part of the project.
No hotels could be seen in the downtown area all had moved to a separate, newer, Johannesburg located separately from the old city. The downtown area was being converted to a museum, old buildings, filled with squatters located across the street. If one looked carefully you could see the signs which designated certain stores as either white or black. People in business clothes walked next to ladies in tribal dress carrying large barrels balanced on their heads. It was an area filled with dramatic contrasts and struggles. Crime is a large problem, evidenced by the high security surrounding the more residential areas. Armed guards, fences and barbed wire, were abundant.
We traveled through the city central and exited on another hill looking back towards our starting point. We got an overview of the area that we had traveled and a better perspective of the lay-out of the city.
The remainder of the group met up at the restaurant, named Carnivore. This restaurant was mentioned in several of the travel books that we had read before our trip plus had been recommended by a gentleman we had sat next to on the plane we looked forward to an enjoyable dinner. The entrance to the restaurant was a long sidewalk spanning a small pond. Thatched roofs covered the sidewalk so we were protected from the now sporadic rain. Dim lights and torches lit the way. A long series of steps led to the main floor of the restaurant. We were taken to our seats on a patio filled with people. A large braai with slabs of meat on skewers surrounding the braai were smoking filling the room. Black waiters and busboys walked quickly from table to braai. There was a guest book with signatures from all over the world.
We were seated on the patio and ordered drinks. Dad, Andrea, Ani-li and Cindy ordered a local drink that was a shot of vodka with honey. Rain began to fall which made the patio quite noisy. Talk with the group became impossible. Then, the lights began to flicker on and off eventually remaining off. The remainder of the dinner was held in darkness. This did not put a damper on the evening but just the opposite, it seemed to remove tension from the group and everyone began talking and getting to know one another.
After we were moved indoors to the quieter but smokey (since they did not have the drafts for the braai opened up) they began to serve out dinner. A small carousel tree was situated in the center of the table which held 10 different sauces. The waiter described each sauce and which meats it best complimented. Then the dinner began. Servers brought skewers full of a variety of meat. If each person wanted that type of meat all they had to do was ask and tell them how they wanted it cooked. We had atelope, wildebeast, cow, crocodile, buffalo, chicken to name a few. Of all the meats, my favorite was the chicken with it’s complimentary sauce. The taste was wonderful!
The group was concerned about the amount of rain that we were receiving and the effect that it would have on the race. We ran to the cars and transferred luggage in the pouring rain. The electricity had not yet returned even by time we got to Cindy’s farm. Candles were lit and set out throughout the house. Cindy mentioned that she rarely had time to color or decorate the candles, she used them so often when the electricity went out. It seemed that the new foal had arrived early that morning and the owner was there to see the new baby. Leave it to horses to pick the night it’s raining and there’s no electricity to have a new foal. We went to see the new baby and mother. It was standing and came to investigate when we came to the door.
We drove to the basecamp that morning. There was some apprehension as to what the accommodations would be like. None of the organizers had seem them first hand and had described them only as permanent tents. The drive into the park was 5 km and we passed a variety of animals, all the same color since they had recently rolled in the mud. We did see the tell-tale bumps in the pond of the hippopotamus. The basecamp gave us another start when we arrived, a variety tents were set-up and we began to imagine that it would be quite Spartan conditions for the next few days and wondering when we would see another shower. We were informed, though, that the tents were not located in the basecamp.
We were set up in permanent tent structures about 6 kilometers from the race site. There were six tents and one main building, the buildings facing to the north. The tents were built elevated from the ground and into the side of a hill. Brick stilts supported the front patio area. The south portion of the tent was the bathroom area, each having a private shower, toilet and sink. The bathrooms were done in a redwood slat finishing. A small vestibule area between the bathroom and sleeping area separated the two sections. Two twin beds were placed in opposite corners of the main tent. A canvas tent closed in this area and then the entire structure was covered with another canvas tent. The floor was done in a large red tile and animalskin rugs were placed next to each bed. There were two chairs, two nightstands with electric lights in the form of the old time oil lanterns. A large wardrobe was also on one side of the tent. Window flaps on both the east and west sides could be opened for circulation as well as the two large flaps on the north side opening to a generous sided patio. The main building also had several patios and a braai, it had a thatched roof covering a large bar and dining area inside. It also had a red tile floor with various animalskin rugs. A digital TV and satellite system provided some entertainment.
We met one of the vets and the chief steward, Kormy, for the FEI portion of the race while we waited to leave for dinner. Kormy was not only very knowledgeable about the horses but was also quite familiar with South African wines. She got quite a head-start on happy hour before we arrived. One of the park rangers was tasked to make sure everything was organized at the tents. He worked as the bartender also for each of the guest. He had lived for a year in the US and had worked at a youth camp in Alabama. He had an opportunity to visit some of the west during his stay and knew some of the place that we described. Fortunately, he was also a rider and described a paint horse that he still had.
That evening one of the sponsors from the race provided dinner for the race attendees. The restaurant’s name was Marquis. Everyone had to pile into the wide assortment of vehicles in order to drive to the restaurant. Since both Andrea and I had ridden with one of the rangers we had to drive by the park owner’s home to exchange vehicles. Ed and his wife lived just outside the entrance to the preserve. They kept a variety of exotic animals at their place one of which Andrea and I were able to meet. This was a young cheetah, who came up to the fence purring. He was very friendly and laid down at our feet and was chewing on Andrea’s shoe. It was amazing how friendly and so similar to a house cat such a normally wild animal was.
The roads to the Marquis were confusing and by the time we arrived I was entirely lost. There would have been no way I could have found my way back to the park. The Marquis also had a very well decorated entrance. Flower beds and ponds decorated the entrance. The interior tables were set up in the shape of a U allowing people to see each other and talk. When the Marquis opened they had purchased a very large collection of South African wines. The bottles could not be sold since the labels had been damaged, or in some cases destroyed. Several excellent bottles of wine were served and each was fabulous, one of the favorites being a 1981 Groot Constantia Cabernet Sauvignon. The meal consisted of salad and a personal braai where meats were cooked in garlic butter to each person’s taste. During the meal we had our first opportunity to call back home. The areas that we had frequented so far in the week had been quite remote. Very few farms had telephones and pay phones were not that frequent. (Many of the farms had shared lines, if they had any lines at all. It was a problem in the rural areas since the phone cables were being stolen for their copper content.) When a phone did come available the next quandary was how to dial out! We were not even able to learn how to get an operator so that we could charge a call to a credit card. International dialing codes were also another puzzle. Normally, there is some type of code that must be dialed first (011 in the case of the US) then the country code, then the number you are dialing. The first code was unknown for where we were. After several attempts we managed to place a call on a cellphone. The call was so clear and there was no delay that my husband, John did not even recognize who it was on the call! While they may have difficulty with land lines they were far ahead of having a digital cellular infrastructure. The primary supplier being Vodafone.
We left the Marquis late and returned to the tents. The general consensus was to turn in but Kormy was still ready to drink at the bar and her voice could be heard loud and clear.
Friday morning dawned bright and early. The skies were very clear and barely a cloud in the sky. An excellent day for a race!!! The race organizers had prepared a wonderful breakfast with more than ample food for the small group staying in the tents. We had coffee or tea, eggs, several types of meats, cereals, rolls, croissants to name just a few things.
Both horses had arrived at the basecamp. Andrea and I were to drawn names for who was to ride which of two horses, Nazlet or Soraji. Soraji was a 7 yr. old grey mare with only a few 80 km races to her credit. She was tall, ~15 hands, with beautiful thick, straight legs, slightly uphill build and a bit on the thin side. She had a rather normal head, nothing to give away her Arabian parentage. She was calm and only looked briefly when her traveling companion left being much more interested in the grazing available. There were several miniature horses that lived in the park kiosk area and they got lose into the base camp. (either that or they had finally found a weakness in the fence separating them from the horse on the other side, many of which were in heat) One of the miniatures was a black stallion that fully recognized that there were mares nearby. Undeterred by his small stature the stallion ran circles around the horses until the rangers were able to successfully corral them back to their pens. They were forced to spend the remainder of the weekend in their pen. Nazlet was about 8 years old, 14.2 h high and had a rather elegant, Arabian face. She was soundly built, only slighter more slender that Soraji.
Once we drew names we then began to select tack so that we could go for a short training ride. Andrea was to ride Nazlet and I was to ride Soraji.
Soraji was very enjoyable to ride and responded well once the correctly fitted bridle and bit were used. Most people rode in either a Kimberwicke or some variation of a snaffle or curb. Very few hackamores were seen and no one was seen riding in the rope halters. Soraji’s paces were easy to ride, she had very little bumping at the trot and her canter moved through her entire body and was quite enjoyable to ride. She had a long stride and listened to my aids well. She did not seem spooky nor did she want to pull and run away from me. Another international rider from Germany, Suzanne joined us that morning. She had her own horse, which she had purchased from Tjaart and Ami, plus she had her own saddle. Nazlet and Andrea seemed to get along quite well together too.
After the ride we were treated to lunch of Boerewor sausage and then an open jeep tour of the course. The course was marked in different color arrows. For the 100-mile course green arrows marked the first two loops follow by the blue, yellow, and red that the South African endurance organization uses standard on all their courses. The first two loops of the 100-mile race were the same 40-kilometer loop. We were mainly able to drive the 3rd and 4th loop on the course and they pointed our several of the more difficult areas including the cattle guards which we would have to cross. Since there were no gates on the side of the cattle guards plywood panels and rubber mats were used to cover the grates. The course went through all the major wildlife areas excluding the predator camp. Since the predators were only fed once a week and we were at the end of their weekly fast we were all happy to hear we did not enter their camp. We also learned that they were regularly fed horse meat. Two fences surrounded the predator camp, which housed two prides of lion, wild dogs and cheetah. Lions could jump the 10ft fence with sufficient momentum hence the need for the two fences, the first; a shorter five-foot fence stopped their momentum so that they could not make it over the second fence.
One of the dangers that we had to be made aware of was the hippopotamus. They stayed close by their pond but had to travel quite a distance in order to eat sufficient amounts of food to maintain their weight. Even more dangerous, though, were the wild buffalo. There was a club in South Africa dedicated specifically to people who had been attacked by wild buffalo.
There were numerous other wildlife in the park including an energetic herd of Springbuck. This was previously the national animal of South Africa but was changed after the end of apartheid. When athletes make their national team they are awarded the ‘Springbuck colors’. Several of the riders, including our hosts, had been awarded the colors and they wore the jerseys at the race. Representatives from the South African team had traveled to Dubai and New Zealand to compete. In all cases, though, they had to use borrowed horses due to quarantines for African Horse Sickness. Horses could not leave until May of 2001 due to an outbreak of horse sickness.
There are 14 identified strains of horse sickness we learned from the vets at the race. Only 9 of those strains have been isolated and an immunization developed to protect the horses. During an outbreak many horses will die since there is a very high degree of fatalities from horse sickness. Immunizations from horse sickness require that a horse do minimal work during the series of shots. The horse’s heart can not be stressed unnecessarily during the immunization time. Those that were not bringing their horses to this race had already begun the immunization process. Others would wait until after the race to begin and would give their horses time off then.
Vetting in for the race was scheduled to begin at 3:00 but did get rolling until after 5:00. Things were in full swing when we returned. Horses were being walked all over the camp and the campers had already filled many of the sites. Generators and large lights were set up so that the vets could see the horses. The starting of the generators spooked several of the horse during vetting in. Three vets were inspecting the horses. This was the first chance to work with Soraji and I found that she was calm excessively so, not wanting to trot out for inspection.
The vetting area was roped off and contained four trotting lanes. A vet stood at the head of each lane to do the inspection. There was a waiting area to enter the vetting. This was surrounded by the official’s tent, the finish line, the grooming area and the weigh-in trailer. There was considerable traffic in this area and it was quite congested. Vet cards were similar to those used in the states. Additional areas were allowed on the cards for CRI (Cardiac Recovery Index) once each horse passed the vetting they entered the stabling area and were under FEI rules. This applied to all distances from 30 kilometers to 100 miles. Unlike endurance races in the US a large grouping of stalls were located just north of the vet in area. The stalls were separated by removable partitions that could be built into different size stalls as necessary. Stallions were housed in a separate area each separated by a four-foot spacing. Some were quite well behaved, yet a few were acting up and showing off. The mares and geldings were housed together. There were no shades over the stalls. The east end of the base-camp was set up for camping. Port-a-loos had been brought in for this area. From conversation during the week with the race organizers they anticipated the only complaint would be that there was only one shower available. They mentioned that people would not come to a race unless camping and stabling facilities were available. This made it difficult to organize a ride since there were few areas that could support the size groups that attended the race.
We took an opportunity to make one last trip to the tents to prepare. We had time to head back to the tents to get ready for the early morning race start because by the time we were able to check in and get our numbers the sun had already begun to set. Kormy was generous enough to allow us to borrow her bakkie to drive back to the tent. Two people fit in the cab and one rode in the bed of the truck. It was not the most comfortable situation since the beds were dirty and it was difficult to prop oneself in some manner so as not to get bumped around. This was also the first opportunity for my dad to drive on the left side of the street. Andrea (from the UK where that is the norm) caught him tending to the right rather than the left when another car was approaching. Unsure of how things would be managed, we went ahead and packed our supplies for the race that evening. We put on riding clothes and brought the jackets that we planned to ride in. Tack, helmets and boots were already at basecamp and had been fitted to the horses. We loaded up and headed back. It was quite difficult to get back and forth to the tents since neither Andrea nor my father and I had rented a car so we tried to make sure and not forget any supplies. Plus, a truck was required in order to climb down the steep grade to the parking by the tents. Those with cars parked at the top of the hill and walked down. Obviously, since the tents and the race were located in a wildlife preserve it was not possible to walk from the tents to the base-camp.
Campers quickly filled the camping area and people both with and without horses were milling about the area. A large tent had been sent up next to the reserve kiosk. It was muggy but cooling quickly in the cold night air. A dinner of lasagna and salad was served and people stopped by when they had time available to eat, tickets for all the meals at the race were graciously provided by our hosts. We laid down for just a bit while we waited for the start of the race. It took some time but I played with the Tetris Gameboy that I had brought along, then shared that wit my dad before resigning to trying to sleep. The ride meeting started late and pulled us from our quick snooze.
The ride was announced open at 9:15 Friday evening. The new FEI rules that the ride was being operated under caused some grumbling in the crowd as well as the news that English, rather than Afrikaans would be spoken during the race. Basic rules were discussed where they highlighted some of the differences between their standard rules and the FEI endurance rules. The international riders, three total, were introduced with mixed reviews from the crowd. (This was no difference than the response that is seen in the US. Some are very enthusiastic about having international riders and some see it as an inconvenience and taking away from the local riders.) There was considerable grumbling that all the horses must remain in the stabling area until the close of the race on Sunday. This caused problems especially with the 30-kilometer riders who were worried about being stuck on site until Sunday when they finished riding on Sat. Course descriptions were provided including the order of the colored arrows to follow.
The 100-mile race began at 1:00am Saturday morning. We all tried to sleep between the meeting and the start of the race. Because of the excitement and the close-at-hand start it was difficult to get any rest. We woke up about 1 hour before the race and began tacking up. Both Andrea and I were accustomed to using heart rate monitors during the race but were unable to attach them to the saddles. We decided not to use the monitors rather than to risk losing our equipment. The horses seemed puzzled at the events going on around them and having been interrupted from the rest and warm blankets pulled off. Some were anxious to start the race but the overall attitude was calm. The start was controlled, led by the ranger’s vehicles leading the way and making sure none of the animals were on the trail. Both the 100-mile and 110 kilometer riders started at the same time. It was dark but there was a full moon. The trail was marked with glow sticks and it was easy to follow the blinking red lights being worn by each rider. There was a ranger vehicle both in front and behind the group of riders and they were excellent at keeping track of all the riders throughout the course. During the race they were the ones contacted in order to find where a rider was on the course and always had a good idea of everyone’s location on the reserve.
We started out in a group of five myself and Soraji, Andrea and Nazlet, Suzanne and Ibn, and both Tjaart and his brother, Hannes, on their horses. We traveled at a quick trot throughout the first loop. The loop went out through the main entrance of the reserve turning down a dirt then paved road. There was adequate space on the side of the road for the horses to travel safely. There was a vet check at the 15-kilometer mark which at first was announced as a running check but instead was a dismount and they checked pulse. It was confusing but manageable. We were not required to present vet cards at that point. The race continued through farm roads and by many different homes. Water was available throughout the course and was marked by a large ‘W’ on the trail. The horses traveled well together and everyone was comfortable in the darkness.
There was a big difference in the preparation that we saw for the race. It seemed that very few people gave electrolytes to the horses. When questioned they told us that they had given them to them the night before. I did not observe anyone giving electrolytes during the race. Additionally, per FEI rules, syringes for given oral electrolytes have to be provided by an FEI vet. Another big difference seen was that no one had saddle bags or supplies tied onto their saddles. No one carried sponges either. In general there seemed to be nothing tied to the saddles like what was seen in the US and people were more concerned about carrying only a minimal amount of weight. There seems to be quite a different approach towards racing in South Africa and people did not pack for being out in the wilderness but rather to race and travel as quickly as possible. There seemed also to be less attention to the care of the horse at the race, specifically, picking out feet. Since no one had saddlebags very few brought supplies in case of emergency like hoof pick, easy boot or spare leathers. At many races in the US it is very easy to find people with an entire first aid kit in their saddlebags. Little was packed for the rider, either. It was assumed that ride management had to provide drinks on the course and food at the vet checks.
During the first loop there were several areas where drinks were available. We were able to fill up on sports drinks at several stops and I did not even touch my own Gatorade that I had packed.
The terrain ranged from farm roads to rocky, hilly trails. There were no extremely steep climbs mainly just a difference in the amount of rock. The elevation was approximately 6000 feet and the humidity was high. Temperatures at night were in the 40s and there was a bit of a breeze, during the day it was in the high 80s low 90s. For someone from Arizona, the temperature was quite pleasant. I could only imagine what Andrea from the UK was feeling in those temperatures. There were no clouds in the sky and no trees on the trail to offer shade so the sun beat down on the riders.
There were a few areas on the course where we were not sure if we were traveling the correct way but never at any time did we take a wrong turn. (in some cases a glow-stick half way up a hill would be a confirmation that we were going the correct way and avoid worry especially at night) We passed the tent camp, which was very well lit up and very inviting, at about 4am having already been in the saddle for 3 hours. From there we covered part of the same tract that we followed to go from the tents to basecamp. At the predator camp we turned and went around the outside of the camp. The lions were fully awake and trotted alongside the fence as we trotted along. The larger male roared and swung his large paws in agitation at the potential meals trotting by. The final portion of the first loop traveled entirely around the outskirts of the camp almost giving an entire extra kilometer of travel quite a tease when everyone thought they’d arrived at the basecamp. We averaged only 9km an hour for the first 40 km. No riders dismounted to walk their horses into basecamp.
Upon crossing the finish line it became very confusing. There was no one there to check heart rate. I wandered around a bit lost but decided to follow the group into the grooming area. Saddles were removed and we put on coolers. Once we had our vet cards we headed straight for the vet area. (Later I learned that because there wasn’t sufficient staff they did not end the time when criteria heart rate was met, instead time stopped when you crossed the finish line. Which also meant that the hold time also began right when you crossed the finish line.) Soraji received excellent scores during the vet check. I brought her back to the grooming area and let her eat while I changed clothes and looked for something to eat. Water was available in the grooming area and we each had a person to help us out.
The hold was over quickly and we scrambled to saddle up and head back out. Cindy, the announcer, was very easy to follow since she gave a count down (from 5 seconds to go) to when the riders could leave, during the early parts of the day it was entirely in English later switching to both English and Afrikaans. Since no food had been available for the riders and the hold time had run out much quicker than expected since it did not start when the horses met criteria, I ate my breakfast as we trotted out to begin the second loop. The first check was very confusing. It was very difficult to understand the flow of the area and what was being done. There had not been adequate time to recharge for the next loop. I also realized that I was not feeling ideal. The red meat from the Marquis did not in any way agree with me. During the check I had ran to the restroom (fortunately there were flush toilets and yes the water swirled the opposite way) and felt like I had literally exploded. It was a quick relief and I was ready to head out again. Which was good because they were tacking up and ready to go.
A majority of the group felt that we had done the first loop entirely too slow. The pace for the second loop was much faster. It seemed to be an entirely new route since this time it was being ridden in the daylight.
We passed the park owners house and were greeted by a loud hissing and scratching sound. The previously cute Cheetah that had been rolling on its back and purring was running along the edge of the fence snarling at the passing horses.
We trotted and cantered the second loop. At the 15 km mark where there had been a vet check the first time there were only photographers from the local papers. All three of the international riders pictures were taken, supposedly for the Sunday paper.
During the daylight we saw more animals. At one point we chased a small flock of ostriches. The horses all took a second look at these ‘floating balls of feathers’. We noticed much more of the footing during this portion of the race. There were quite a bit of rocks that required some thought and navigation. The hill leading away from the tents was probably the most difficult area to get across. Some got off and walked up the hill.
We continued on traveling at a fast trot and occasional canter. Soraji was beginning to get tired and stumbled occasionally. The conversation was minimal and Tjaart would occasionally check on Andrea and I seeing if we were OK. I was quite happy and enjoyed the ride. The sun was up completely and it was warming comfortably. Besides the number, which did not fit me correctly and constantly flopped around it was very pleasant. I was glad to have brought the water holder that my mom sent with me to hold some Gatorade and it was also very nice to see volunteers manning gates and handing out beverages! (Cindy’s family had manned the gate at the bottom of the hill before the tents. They had set up two large tents as well as a shade and were handing out drinks to the riders. Then they would call in the riders locations.
Immediately on the other side of the hill the path took a right turn towards the wild boar enclosure. The gate was open but monitored so that none of the animals came across. Volunteers greeted us at the first gate, but the second was less consistently monitored and we had to get off and open the gate ourselves. Rubber mats and plywood covered the overly large grating. Soraji spooked quite badly going over the grating.
As we came around the predator enclosure Soraji took a bad step and almost fell. I called to the group to slow down since she was not right. I asked them to see how she looked but no problem was seen. Over one hour was cut from our first travel time and we averaged 15-kilometers an hour for the second loop. When we arrived none of our crew was available since they did not expect us for another hour. Each had tried to get a bit of sleep before we returned. It was quite confusing again at the vet check even to the point of not being able to find the vet cards. It was about 9:30 in the morning and the temperature had begun to rise. The sun was out in full force and everyone had removed coats and extra layers exchanging them for sunglasses.
The second vet check did not go as successfully for me. Soraji trotted out lame and had poor gut sounds. (Both her and Nazlet drank extremely well throughout the morning, both remaining at the trough together well after the rest of the group had finished. Andrea and I waited until they showed no interest in the water before continuing on.) She also had a very high CRI score. We had to pull at that check.
I asked my dad to help Andrea who was not fairing well herself. The heat was really getting to her. He gave her some of the Gatorade that we had brought with us and put cool towels on her neck. By the end of the hold she was better and continued on. We did not hear about the how the rest of the group fared until much later in the afternoon. My dad and I had cleaned up Soraji and bummed a ride back to the tents for showers and a quick nap. We lounged around the tents and the bar area for the remainder of the afternoon, having no choice in the matter since there was no means of transportation. Once our ride had left we were stranded at the tents regardless so we relaxed and made the best of it. We slept, and it was quite pleasant with the flaps of the tent open and a warm breeze wafting through the tent. A long shower also added to the relaxation and it felt very good to be clean. The digital cable in the bar offered some amusement and we managed to find a movie on TV but not much else.
Andrea and Suzanna arrived late in the afternoon with disappointing news. None of the international riders completed the race. Both decided to pull due to the heat. Their horses had all vetted through OK but they had decided not to push them on the ride, not feeling well themselves. Plus, one of the horses had thrown a shoe and had forced them to travel very slowly in the heat of the day. There was some discussion that mistake had been made in the entries and Hannes and Suzanne were only entered into the computer in the 110km which they had finished. (We later learned by reviewing the on-line results that they were given credit for the completion.)
That evening a braai was held for the organizers, vets and some of the riders. The last rider came in at 11:45 that evening which then let Kormy and the remaining stewards relax. (This rider had apparently overslept and did not start with the first group of riders, it appeared that he went out at least 4 hrs. after the start but this was not confirmed.) Andrea had planned to attend the braai but layed down too early and fell asleep for the night. I had to make sure my dad did not get any pictures of her while she was sleeping. As for me, by time the braai came about we had been relaxing (meaning, mixing different drinks) all afternoon. I stood around waiting then finally gave up and laid down to sleep for the night, ignoring the noise coming from the bar..
Sunday morning marked the closing of the race. The judging for Best Condition was held immediately next to the tent. The winner of the 100-mile race also won best condition and was owned and ridden by the Foyers. Their horse was in beautiful condition and trotted off smartly during the judging showing no undue stress from the race the day before. There was a continental breakfast in the tents that had been well picked over by the time we arrived.
We were able to relax and say goodbye to everyone before taking off for the airport and the long 25 hour flight back. I got to look at Soraji and see that she was OK. Her front legs were a little swollen but she trotted out OK showing only a little stiffness and slight hesitation when she trotted downhill. She was eating very well while I watched and I brought her out for some more grazing.
The return flight from Johannesburg seems much longer, lasting 25 hours including lay-over time. The unusual part is that most of the return flight is done in 100% darkness making this one of the longest nights I could remember.