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  • Writer's pictureSanoma Blakeley

Sanoma’s endurance adventures in New Zealand

New Zealand is somewhere I've always wanted to go. On the big world map hanging above my bed, NZ has a blue pin to indicate my desire to visit. However, this winter it wasn’t just a bucket list place I wished to someday visit, it was more of a “how can I get myself there?”. My really good friend was going to be in NZ for 3 months and she invited me to visit her. I’m always up for an adventure and good time with Addi, so naturally New Zealand was hot on my radar. In November I was deeply involved in my second favorite pastimes (looking for cheap flights) when I came across a REALLY good deal for a flight to New Zealand. I didn’t need to give it a second thought before throwing them in my cart. 

Of course, before buying my flight, I did a quick internet search to see if there were any endurance rides in NZ that I could possibly schedule my trip around. My preliminary search showed several endurance rides with 2 different sanctioning organizations and one ride from each organization that would work with the flight deal. 

I bought my economy, non-refundable or changeable flight and decided to reach out to these ride organizations and see what kind of adventures we could cook up:). I was quickly offered a horse for both of the rides that were scheduled during the duration of my trip. 

I tried to talk Barrak into joining me on this trip and a preliminary google search revealed a incentive for him to come. There was going to be a triathlon there. That and the fact that he only sees the sun 4 hours a day in the winter living in Alaska and New Zealand, being in the southern hemisphere, is in the middle of their summer. Oh, and surfing... that was also on my list of reasons he should come with me. That and just because I love his company when traveling. 

Everything came together and I readily accepted Robyn's offered to ride her horse, Makahiwi Titan in the 120km (75mile) Waimeha Mandate Cup on the 4th of February. Robyn was so incredibly hospitable and generous that I could hardly wait for my trip.

Fast forward to February 3rd

The Day before the race, and here we were, at ride camp in New Zealand. It was raining heaps. There was a break in the rain and I decided to take that clearing to take Titan out for a test ride. About half a mile into our ride the sky opened and within a couple of minutes I was soaked to the very core and practically swam back to camp. I had only packed summer clothes, but I guess the winter had followed us. The horses were blanketed from ears tail with winter blankets. It was storming like crazy, and howling through the night. My only sweater I had packed wassoaked clean through, my riding boots had about an inch of water in them, but Barrak and Robyn lent me some clothes and at least I didn’t have to worry about being too hot and not properly acclimated. :)

The Kiwis hospitality was great and I didn’t have to worry about anything. They had set everything up, brought a horse truck for us to stay in, and made sure that my horse and tack were all set up. I felt like royalty showing up with everything prepared and ready. I just had to hop on and go! 

The race was scheduled to start at 3:00am. I wasn’t sure what to expect, if we would be racing competitively, or just out for a good time, so I was ready for it all. I was relieved to have a riding partner that I could tag along with. I really couldn’t have asked for a better one either! Grace was a blast to ride with. She had ridden Titan almost all season and knew him really well. She was only 14 but an amazing rider with so much insight! At about midnight the rain stopped and the wind died down. Things were looking great for a nice dry, yet cool ride day.

By 2:30 we were saddling up and Titan was getting his calming supplements. He was feeling ready to go and I was as excited as could be. 

Here was the breakdown of our loops:
Loop 1 - 30km (18.5 miles) it included a 20km  loop that brought us back to camp and without stopping at camp we went out on another 10km loop. 
Loop 2 - 40km (25 miles). This loop had 3 big climbs and a fun little section that went through the bush! 
Loop 3 was a repeat of loop 1 since the loop we were originally scheduled to ride was so muddy. 
Loop 4 was the 20km loop for the first loop. 
We had about 45 gates we had to open and go through since we were mostly riding on private land through fields. 

It was pitch black at the start. The horses were feeling really good - maybe a little too good. Every few kilometers we had to get off and get the gates. The track led us through some fields and herds of cows and sheep. I couldn’t wait for the sun to come up so I could actually see where we were riding. After about 10 miles the track pointed us back towards camp. The horses were hot and (Cardamom has spoiled me) my holding-a-hot-horse-back muscles were working hard to keep Titan from racing back to the trailer. Thankfully Grace had ridden the course the day before knew the track well. She said we could canter a specific stretch. Titan felt great but went into racehorse mode. It took a lot to keep him controlled and he just wanted to race Grace’s mare. We were having a blast and by the time we finished our first 30 km loop I was ready for a vet check.

At about 5:15 we arrived at camp for our first 40 minute hold. Robyn and Barrak stepped up as crew and took care of everything. My saddle had rubbed me pretty good so we did a quick saddle swap. 

We headed out onto the second loop just before the sun came up. Titan had pulsed a couple of minutes ahead of Grace so I rode with Pat and her sweet mare, Annie, for a couple of minutes while waiting for Grace to catch us. The fog and rolling hills made for the most amazing sunrise. Titan was still pretty hot and I was happy to have some big climbs. The problem was the mud from the day before. The rain had dusted Mt. Ruapehu with a gorgeous cover of snow and made for some spectacular views, but Grace and my horse just wanted to race and not go slow through the mud. As we got up into the bush the view was spectacular and one of the best "through the ears" views I’ve seen. In a few spots the mud was almost knee deep and we had to move really slowly. Unfortunately Grace and I both pulled a shoe in it. As we got out of the high country and back into the fields, the horses were eager to get back to camp. We let them go and were moving out around 16MPH were the footing allowed. We hand walked them on the gravel roads since we didn’t want to hurt their feet and my hands were blistered by now from holding Titan back so I didn't mind getting off for a break. 

We took about 4 hours for the 25 mile loop, but we were already over half way through our 75 and Titan felt like we had barely been out and was doing awesome! I was having a blast. It was so spectacular to ride through the flocks of sheep and canter through lush green pastures. The weather couldn't have been better and almost everything about this ride was perfect!

Barrak came to our rescue and tacked a shoe on Grace and my horse’s feet. As our hold wound down, Robyn gave us some great riding instructions for our next 30km loop. There were 3 riders ahead of us. The leader had a huge lead on us. He had already left the vetcheck before we had even come in for our 40 minute hold. The other 2 riders we were riding with left us on the gravel road that we had to hand-walk. They were about 5 minutes ahead of us. 

Robyn's instructions were basically to catch the two riders ahead of us and blow by them and try to loose them. Then keep on cantering. Pretty much we weren’t supposed to trot on the whole 30km (18.5 mile) loop (except of course to open about 15 gates). We even had that planned out. I would open a gate and while I was closing it, Grace would race up to the next gate open it and we would leapfrog between gates. 

We understood the instructions and with a few minutes until our outtime, hopped on and started warming up our horses. In NZ the outimes are recorded to the second. Grace had about 20 seconds on me. She cantered out of the vet check and 20 second later, Titan and I were hauling across the field in close pursuit.

We were cantering between 14 and 18 MPH. Our horses were half out of control, but all 4 of us were loving every minute of it. 

Grace and I perfected gate leapfrogging and about 10km into our loop we had lost the 2 riders directly infront of us. We caught sight of the leading rider at the turn around and we had gained an insane amount of ground on him - and he wasn’t moving slowly. 

Coming into our 3rd vet stop (100km - 62 mile into the ride) we were only 5 minutes behind the leader. We had done the 30km loop in an hour and a half. Every time I looked at my watch it seemed like we were cruising between 14 and 18 MPH, but we still lost a lot of time on gates. 

Titan vetted through great. He pulsed about a minute behind Grace but we had basically come cantering into the vetcheck. 

I didn’t know if I should go for the leader or not. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt someone else horse. Grace wasn’t planning to chase him down and Robyn left the decision up to me. 

Leaving on the last loop, Titan was still pulling to go. He was feeling great, but I was torn between riding my and Titan’s ride and staying with Grace. I felt bad leaving her after we had ridden together so long. Titan wanted to go so we hatched up a plan to catch the leader. Grace knew her horse and didn’t want to push her for a race in, so we decided to ride together to catch the leader, once we caught him, I would stick with him and leave all the gates open and Grace would come through right behind us and close them all. 

It was a brilliant plan, but once I got Titan into a catching gait, Grace eased back and decided not to chase with us. I continued alone, second guessing myself a little about leaving Grace. Titan was happy to move out, but I could tell he missed Graces mare. I let him pick the pace and we moved out nicely, but I couldn’t get the leader in our sights and with only 10km left, I knew we would either have to go full racehorse mode or come in second. I didn’t want to ask Titan for anything beyond what he volunteered so we cruised along at a comfortable canter. As soon as the track turned back toward camp with about 5 km(3miles left) Titan went race horse mode and picked up a 16MPH canter all the way back toward camp. I was really impressed with how effortlessly he handled the whole 120km! We came in about 5 minutes behind Tom with a 60/56 CRI.

Titan looked amazing and I am so in awe with that horse! He was such a blast and a real trooper. I can’t wait to follow his future successes!

I hope y’all like this little video I made of our adventures!!! It gives a nice visual of the views and tracks we rode on. 

I would like to give a huge shoutout to:

  • Titan for being the best horse I could have asked for,

  • DRNZ for hosting this amazing event,

  • Robyn Peters for letting me ride her special boy,

  • Riding Warehouse for sponsoring me and supplying my stylish riding wardrobe,

  • The Britten family for their support and assistance,

  • Grace for being a superb riding partner,

  • My bestie, Barrak, for being the best farrier, even on vacation, and supporting me on my endurance adventures and being top crew boss as usual:). 

Overall, this ride ranks immeasurably high on my list of favorite rides. 10/10 would recommend riding in New Zealand. The only thing missing was my parents:)

1 comment

1 comentario

29 feb

What a fun adventure!

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