At the end of my blog from last month, On Tour Abroad, I promised a follow up blog covering my experience with endurance racing in Europe. So here it is. I had previously participated in endurance events in Germany, Australia and the Middle East, but had not entered any races in France and Spain. In October of 2015 I had the opportunity to ride at two FEI sanctioned events. I could combine these races this time with my Hoof Care Clinics which I conduct every year in Europe.
My first start was at the VIC** in Catalunya, just a few miles north of Barcelona. I had the pleasure of riding a horse of Jaume Punti Dachs, or short, Juma from the Juma Stable, a 14 year old bay gelding, Malik Kerrous.
On the way to the Vetting in the day before the start.
The 120km, (75 Mile) race had 70+ entries, Juma Stable alone entered a total of 15 horses. The trail was a mix of hills, rocky trails, concrete and paved roads with stretches of softer footing. But for the most part the ground was hard. The pace is generally faster compared to endurance races in the USA. Typically the horses canter much more, trotting only when terrain demands it. Surprising is the fact that most horses are shod with steel shoes, and just about everybody uses clips as well.
These types of hoof protection are very common and can be seen on over 90% of all entered horses. Also notice the relative long toes. Among all of the entered horses I did not see even one horse wearing EasyShoes or Easyboots. There is a lot of potential for future EasyCare Workshops and Clinics.
Cooling Malik during one of the Crew Spots.
Cooling is big here, the amount of water being poured over the horses to lower the heart rate quickly is fascinating.
All these water buckets and canisters are for cooling horses.
Completion rates here are typically low compared to completion rates in the USA. A 50% completion rate is average. Pretty much all endurance races in Europe are FEI races. Control judges are tough and a rider gets pulled for even the slightest irregularity in gaits. Needless to say, I was happy to complete in the low thirties.
Self crewing, widespread in the USA, is very uncommon. The knowledge and support of my crew and hosts, Salvador Magriny and Pol Magrinya Roca was contributing a great deal to my success.
Onward to France!. "Les Deux Jours de Montcuq" is the oldest endurance race in France. The first Montcuq race started 39 years ago, so not quite as old as Tevis, but still remarkable. It is also one of the most prestigious race in France. As a CEI*** race it consists of two days or riding the same horse, 100km each day, or 62,5 miles. So for a total of 125 miles in two days it is a step above our Two Day 100 Mile event.
Located close to the foothills of the Pyrenees, Montcuq is a quaint small town with lots of charming old architecture, palm trees and a somewhat Mediterranean climate. The folks there are very friendly and horse oriented. This two day race is the highlight of the year for the village and spectators are everywhere. The race starts in the middle of town and finishes there as well with hundreds of villagers applauding.
Typical Montcuq streets.
Southern flair, love these palm trees.
Montcuq is also situated in the middle of the Foie Gras country, famous for goose liver patee.
Of course, we had to try it, here at lunch with my crew, Leonard Liesens, Caroll Gatelier and Annik Roex.
Basecamp and pre-ride check are right in town.
CC Blanco was my horse for the race, courtesy of Leonard Liesens of Belgium.
Start and Finish happen in the middle of town among many villagers and spectators.
The trail is technically difficult, lots of vertical as well as very rocky stretches and, as common in Europe, with a fair amount of pavement. The scenery is quite stunning, though.
Vineyards in fall colors.
Half way through with CC Blanco going strong.
After all the the impressions of the trail, the finish was next to a statue of Jeanne D'Arc back in Montcuq.
With a completion rate of about 40%, I was very happy again to have completed a classic and memorable endurance race. Montcuq was an experience that I would not want to have missed. I would return anytime to this gem of a town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Departing shot from Montcuq.
So what are the differences between endurance races in Europe compared to North America?
In general endurance is more mainstream in Europe, folks are more excited about the sport, more young riders are participating, more enthusiasm can be felt. Trail marking is certainly superior, technological support in timing and vet gates are more advanced. All in all, the sport is on a higher level in Europe. The notable exception to this statement is hoof care. The horses are still mostly shod with iron and steel. I certainly will come back for more Hoof Care and EasyCare Clinics
As a parting shot, there also is a philosophical difference how the sport is perceived in the USA vs Europe:
USA view of endurance.
French view of endurance.
With this lighthearted comparison, I say 'Good Bye' for this year with this report and last blog.
I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, lots of success in 2016 and may all your wishes get fulfilled.
Till next year-
Christoph Schork (The Bootmeister)