Fauresmith: The Comrades of endurance riding

For the 35th year the world’s largest endurance ride was held in Fauresmith, Free State, and drew a record entry of 405 horses, write Greg Miles and Vivienne Martin.
Issue date : 15 August 2008

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The weekend before the Subaru Fauresmith 200km Challenge, the showgrounds were transformed into an oasis, with riders and grooms setting up elaborate camps with fire-powered geysers, camp warmers and braai grids that would make Nampo’s farming patents look silly. The Fauresmith ride is generally regarded as one of the most gruelling tests for horse and rider in the world.

This year it took place from 8 to 10 July in stretches of 74 km the first two days and 52km on the last day. Hannelie Fourie, from Louwna in the Vryburg district, was the winner on Idaho Prince, a part-bred Arab stallion in eight hours, 18 minutes and two seconds. Her young daughter Alisha also completed the ride. o compete in the race, horses must have completed three 80km rides within a certain time frame, to ensure the level of fitness needed for this gruelling ride.

Many horses are eliminated beforehand as many don’t pass the preliminary vet check. Of the 405 horses entered, 312 qualified to start out and only 194 completed the ride. Dr Henk Basson, chief veterinarian, said the 2008 ride was one of the most competitive in terms of time. Subaru, the main sponsor, supplied an ambulance service for horses eliminated during the ride. Teresita van Gaalen, managing director of Subaru Southern Africa, says it makes good business sense to exploit the synergies between the Subaru brand and endurance riding.

The race begins
For this three-day event riders are placed in groups of 15 and departure times are drawn the day before. The starting time is important, because the later a rider leaves, the warmer it gets, and riding in the heat of the day is far more demanding than in the early-morning cool. On Tuesday morning, from as early as 5am, horses are walked on the track in front of the pavilions to loosen them up for the gruelling race ahead. The route for Day One is 74km.

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The first vet check is on the farm Metz after 23,5km, the second is on the farm Grapfontein 26,5km further on, and the final leg back to the showgrounds is 24,2km, where the final vet check of the day is done. At the vet checks the horses are inspected for motion (lameness), dehydration, pulse and respiration. Their well-being is paramount. On the second day, the riders ride the same route in reverse. Many riders ride too fast on the first day, and fall by the wayside on day two. Riders who can attain the same or better speed on day two are usually those who excel. At the end of each day the results are pinned up on a notice board, which is usually as crowded as a pension payout point in a rural trading store.

With 147km behind the riders at the end of day two, and with only 53km to go on the final day, Sylvester Sloan on his part-Arab mare, Zulani, held a three-minute lead in the junior division over second-placed rider Junior Fourie on Hurst Kabul, with JD Venter on Slimmer trailing by one minute. In the Standard Weight division, Corné Fick on Idaho Vrede held a one and a half minute lead over Hannelie Fourie on Idaho Prins, with Hanri Kriel on Idaho Moscow trailing by three and a half minutes. In the Heavyweight division, Johan Raubenheimer on Waterlea Potomac held a one and a half minute lead over Jacques Swart on El Nize Ali, with third place ride Frank Botma trailing by 20 minutes on Blits.

In the Lightweight division, Sascha Burke on Desperado held a substantial 17 minute lead over Viljoen van der Linde on Rakib Astarte, with Thia van Niekerk on Eagle trailing by five minutes. In the Children’s division, Roodt van Zyl on Schakker held a formidable lead of 26 minutes over second-place rider Robert Winter on Tash Cherokee. When day three dawned, it was clearly going to be a very stiff day of riding, with only seconds separating many challengers. Drawing a good departure time was now absolutely crucial.

Back at the showgrounds, where horse and riders would make their final entrance, grooms anxiously scanned the mountain from which the last sprint to the finish line would be made. Suddenly the shout went up, “They’re coming!” Horses would still have to pass the final vet check, and not all of them would, but when Chariots of Fire blared out of the loud speakers, as the spotters sent messages to the announcer that the first horse was almost home, weary horses, riders and faithful grooms, are overcome by an overwhelming feeling of joy, pride and camaraderie. |fw

Oom Ami De Wet: doyen of endurance riding

At 70 years old, oom Ami De Wet made history as the first endurance rider in SA to be awarded the 20 000km award. He began his career at the age of 34, after bidding farewell to his rugby career and membership of the Pirates Rugby Club. From 1975 oom Ami served uninterrupted on the SA Endurance council for 30 years. Every year since 1975 Ami has participated in the Fauresmith ride. Of the 34 rides, he’s successfully completed 27. The Mogale Endurance Club has a ride named after him, and each rider who completes it is awarded a medal with his face embossed on it. Oom Ami’s entire family, including his grandchildren, compete in endurance riding. His eldest son Ami Jr is a professional farrier and his daughter Annelie Putter is an avid rider.

His second son Hannes is a respected heavyweight rider and owns the Jozami Arabian horse stud, which has supplied most of the family’s horses. Hannes’s wife Elizabeth, affectionately known as “Biffie”, was awarded her Springbok Colours in 1992. Tjaart, Ami’s youngest son, runs the SA Endurance Training Centre and was awarded his Springbok Colours in 1988 and has captained the team many times. This year Hannes’s son, also called Ami De Wet Jr, was only five minutes shy of winning the entire Fauresmith ride. Oom Ami’s greatest challenge still lies ahead. Renowned rider and owner of the Alpha Appaloosa stud, 63-year-old Claire Amm, has also completed 27 Fauresmith endurance rides.

In 1994 Claire came ninth in the Tevis Cup 100-miler, considered one of the toughest endurance rides in the world. Claire recently missed a Fauresmith ride due to a back operation, but is amazingly back in the saddle. In 1996 she rode at the world championships in Kansas. Her horse this year, Alpha Flintam, has now completed his sixth consecutive Fauresmith – Claire’s sixth horse to do so. At 17, Flintam also won the award for the oldest horse to complete the ride successfully.

Kobus and Karl: amazing competitors

Kobus Smit, a farmer from Suikerbosrand, received an award for completing the most kilometres in a riding season, 1 894km – astonishing, considering he only took up endurance riding after receiving a bone-marrow transplant in January. Kobus, who has been riding horses since he was three, says endurance riding motivates him and gives him something to look forward to. Karl De Campos who works for Business Connection, a company specialising in IT, works from home and has been totally blind since birth. Karl groomed for Kobus and would walk the horse in the mornings around the athletics track.

Kobus helped him acquire a fiery part-Arabian horse, Billy. Though Kobus thought the horse would never be suitable, Billy and Karl have clicked. Karl catches and saddles his horse himself and trains on a 10km route on a game reserve. He gets his bearings by feeling the sun on his face, and along his route are audible landmarks like dogs barking and noisy chickens. By counting hoofbeats, Karl can work out how far he has ridden. This year, Karl has completed two 30km rides and a very tough 40km at Loskop Valley. Kobus is very excited to be chosen as reserve for the SA Heavyweight team to compete at Walvis Bay, where Karl will be crewing for him.