At a canter but not hands down Endurance riding in Namibia

by Hidden Trails 06/03/2008

Read a travel story by Steve Moger about their experience in Namibia on the Sambulenni Endurance Ride.

…………..  We arrived at Okapuka Ranch, a large, well-stocked private game reserve a short drive north of Windhoek, the following morning, relatively calm and relaxed once more. This offers a combination of game viewing and active trail riding on the savannah plains and in the mountains. The horses are mainly pure Arabs and are therefore also ideally suited to endurance riding in this hot, dry and dusty country. Ingeborg, who runs the horse operation, is a keen, competitive and successful endurance rider and is only too happy to offer fit, competent riders the chance to train and take part with her. We had never tried or even thought of trying endurance before Okapuka was suggested to us, and it was largely because of this new dimension that, along with the precocious and loquacious Zoë, we became the first guests from the UK to take advantage of the opportunity.

Ingeborg welcomed us and showed us around the luxurious stables, introducing us to our horses - two each for the week, one for safari riding and the other for endurance - and acquainting us with the tack. Later that afternoon, after a lunch of springbok salad, we reported for a familiarization ride on our endurance horses. It was fairly uneventful; my horse only kicked out at one other and only bucked once. This inevitably led to the conclusion that she was called Sultaanah because she was a bit of a fruitcake (sorry, couldn’t resist), but no, within a day or so, we had arrived at an excellent understanding: I didn’t interfere in her business, and she didn’t in mine. The irrepressible and voluble Zoë had an injured wrist and incipient lumbago, but this holiday was a birthday present, and there was no way she was going to forgo it or be stood down. So, just in case, she was paired with the more experienced horse that had been earmarked for Pin, and Pin was switched onto the lively young Ameer. It was decided that the regime would consist of endurance training bright and early before breakfast followed by safari riding later in the day, although we did take the endurance horses for a long safari ride one day, the highlight of which was cantering alongside a string of oryx, and we missed training another day when we went for a long picnic ride up into the Otjihavera mountains and back through Leopard Valley, the highlight of which was … we should have been so lucky; this meant a double helping of training the next day. Training was essentially trotting and cantering.

And we also had to practice superfast untacking, sponging down to reduce the horses’ heart rates and trotting up on a longish lead rope for the veterinary inspections. By Friday, the day before the big day, Ingeborg was confident, certainly more confident than we were anyway, that we could manage the first two legs, which would be around 60 km. She stressed that the most important thing was for us all to finish. Places would be a bonus. We loaded the horses and set off on the long drive north through Okahandja to Otjiwarongo. At the riding club there, we unloaded, registered, collected our numbers, weighed in and presented the horses for the preliminary vet check. Fiendishly cleverly, we were all entered in different classes - Ingeborg 100 km senior, Nina (the older daughter of Fritz and Monika, the owners of Okapuka Ranch) 100 km junior, the chatterbox Zoë 66 km junior, Pin 66 km senior and myself 66 km heavyweight (scraped in by a couple of ounces!) - so would not be competing against each other and would ride as a group. In the late afternoon, we took the horses on a short circuit to stretch their legs and then went for the race briefing. This was all in Afrikaans, so it was agreed we would just do as we were told by the boss.

That evening, over a nightcap at our hotel C’est Si Bon, Ingeborg gave Pin and me a detailed mathematical explanation of exactly how many times we would have to rise over a distance of 60 km, so we went off for our early night in the comforting belief that we would cover the distance in a measured combination of trot and canter. The next morning we were up at 4 and grooming and tacking up at 5 and we set off at 6, just as the sun came up. It wasn’t very long at all before the scales fell from our eyes and we realized that, with the exception of areas of rough ground where we would have to trot and watering points where we would obviously have to stop, we were going to canter. And canter. And canter some more. Crikey, we thought, we still hadn’t made our wills! After 10 km of long, sandy tracks and dust, Pin was vermilion and looked as if she might explode. Ameer was full of beans but settled when he went on a little in front. The 5 km markers followed one another at what seemed to be distances of at least twice that. Ingeborg reminded us that she would not take any prisoners and that no whining was allowed. Not even from Pin. Canter, canter, canter …

After 36.2 km of long, sandy tracks, dust and virtuous patience, the first leg was finished. We hopped off to enter our grooming area and prepare for the vet check and discovered that our legs were finished too. I was numb from waist to toe, the slightly less garrulous Zoë tumbled over in a tangle of limbs, and Pin had to sit very quietly and breathe very deeply for the duration of this brief period of respite. Ingeborg’s niece Sasha trotted Ameer up for Pin, but the vet was clearly more concerned about Pin than her horse. Not wishing not to be taken prisoner, and with her heart rate back down to close to normal, Pin rallied. After all, the second leg would be only 30 km, so we were more than halfway there! All the horses were passed fit, and off we went again, fully aware now of what lay ahead. And of course, apart from aches and cramps straining every muscle in our bodies, except the ones used for smiling, the second leg proved slightly easier than the first. Or maybe we were simply dehydrated and delirious. The 5 km markers followed one another at what seemed to be distances of only 8 or 9 km. Mind over matter. We kept quiet about the oasis we were sure we could see up ahead in the distance. Canter, canter, canter …

After 30 km of long, sandy tracks, dust and saintly patience, we dismounted, more elegantly this time. The horses and Pin passed the vet again, so, after a little under 4 hours, it was suddenly all over, for us anyway. Ingeborg and Nina had to go again for their last legs (we were already on ours!). Zoë was lost for words and went for a kip in the Land Rover. We could even have got a few in edgeways but were quite happy to sit in the shade like zombies and drink the cool boxes dry. In the evening, washed and brushed up, we returned to the club for prize giving. 47 riders had taken part altogether. The big question: how had we done? It was all Afrikaans to us, but to our surprise, although perhaps not Ingeborg’s, the result was a clean sweep. We had all won our classes, with average speeds of around 17.5 km/h, and each beaten off at least 3 other competitors. All except Ingeborg, that is, who had not realized but had been racing only herself. We think she might have done OK anyway. The icing on the cake had a cherry on it: Ingeborg’s and Nina’s horses won “best conditioned” titles as well! Fortunately, the locals were friendly and didn’t seem to mind 3 British holidaymakers appearing out of the blue and muscling in on their event. And we were over the moon with our Okanjande Uithourit Klub certificates (who would ever believe us without them?). The team had a celebration dinner at C’est Si Bon and continued in the same vein back at Okapuka the next day with a few bottles of South African bubbly and some rather delicious smoked zebra, a special end to what had been a very special experience and achievement.

For more information on riding in Namibia, check out the Hidden Trails website at . 

Chose from a riding safari “The Sambulenni Safari” or join Ingeborg on one of the endurance rides scheduled for this year !!

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