The annual Endurance competition in Monpazier is a big horsey event, attracting competitors from all over Europe and beyond. Over a three day period, the town’s racecourse is crammed with trailers, lorries and 4x4‘s – the latter flying all over the place as they « crew » their rider. With little warning, horses appear from woodland paths onto local country lanes, taking the briefest of breathers as crew members jump into action with water for horse and rider. Then off they go again, leaving a collection of empty water bottles and slightly soggy helpers, who then pile into their truck and head for the next check point with water bottles refilled.
Endurance is a real team sport - the horse and rider are the main part, and I love to see them working together - but the crew are crucial too. I was particularly interested in following the Majeurs (over 40’s) – a class where you find some great riders, many of whom have competed all their lives. One competitor had been involved in the sport for over 50 years, and this event was to be his final one. He was a fantastic rider - sitting there relaxed, flowing with the horse’s movement and leaving the horse to do what it did best. He would suggest where it might be a good place to steady down or to pick up pace, and together they would decide if it was a good idea – true partnership, and something I would love to achieve with Ras one day.
Sitting in the grandstand, I watched the finish of this class. The winner was riding a horse bred by the “La Lizonne” stud (where my young Arab – Ras La Lizonne – came from), and came briskly across the finish line minutes before the others, the horse relaxed and cantering forward, ears pricked while listening to the crowd cheering. And when I see a horse trying for his rider - and the rider appreciating the effort - it always makes me cry. I feel so privileged that these gorgeous animals give us their trust and want to work with us. What seemed like a long time later, another group came through the finish line - the riders racing and laughing together, their horses speeding by as the crowd cheered, the crew members waiting buckets and sponges in hand.
The next group came through, and a couple of riders of a certain age leapt off and ran with their horses to the recovery area. Quite how they managed to do this after completing 70kms I don’t know – I’d have crumpled into a heap on the floor with legs like jelly! The crew came running out to take the saddles off while the riders each grabbed a bottle of water. And as the horses were carefully washed and cooled down, I saw a dog break away from its lead to rush up to one. Running round and round, the dog jumped and touched the horse’s side, just like a trainer congratulating a winning favourite – and just like Lola!
The horses competing here are top class athletes, the majority as fit as they can be. They complete amazing distances that put my 10kms to shame - but one thing remains the same; in endurance it doesn’t matter if you do 10 or 150kms, you still feel part of it. And are always welcome.