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NZ Endurance Nationals - 100k Barefoot

Republished here with permission from The Horse's Hoof 

The Goal, The Ride, A Success
by Thorsten Kaiser, Mowgli Endurance - Naturally Endurance

The preparation for this ride I would call any- thing but optimal. Maxi's shoes came off in February 2002. He now is 13 years of age, purebred Arabian gelding, and his "real" name is El Eshkar Mezarim.

At that time, according to New Zealand Endurance regulations, it was not possible to compete in a ride longer than 25km without having the horse shod. Nevertheless, having understood the negative impact shoes have on hooves, and even on the horse as a whole, the long journey could only have one direction. The work began and started showing fruits at the National AGM in July 2002, when the shoeing rule was withdrawn, and it became rider's choice to shoe in Endurance. Logistically there was green light, but there was one other element--the hooves had to get right, too.

With no CSHS (Certified Strasser Hoofcare Specialist) in NZ, trial and error was inevitable. Maxi did a few 40km rides, and in November, he did his first 80km ride. This turned a few heads. However, the going was tough, and after that we had a series of abscesses that put us out of action. A few more 40km rides followed, including a win in late December, and then, in February, I tried to get another 80km ride under his belt to start in the South Island Champs. I did several attempts, but every time I withdrew him after around 40km, as there were underlying metabolic problems.

Needless to say, the SI Champs was a no-go. The feet, though, seemed to be doing their job. I was getting a bit nervous, as time was running out to get ready for the Nationals. Blood and fecal tests revealed a high worm count, which I was very much surprised about. Maxi is in the same pasture as three others, yet he had about 3-5 times more worms. Three weeks prior to the Nationals, some conventional injected wormer was brought in, and seemed to have done its job.

Maxi felt great, and one week later we did an 80km training ride around home, which he passed with flying colors. Also, the feet looked great after that, and, as you can imagine, that left me much more confident. Just over a week before the National ride, we started the journey to the North Island. The ferry crossing went extremely smoothly and so did the road travel. Then, the night before we were going to enter the ride base, Maxi got a serious fright from a motor boat that drove by near the paddock he was on. All the other horses were very calm, except for Maxi--he went pacing up and down the fence line. Covered in sweat, I took him out and walked him about--it appeared to calm him down.

Later, back in the paddock, he started pacing up and down again. I thought he would calm down quickly, as the other horses in there were basically asleep. Well, the next morning proved me wrong. Maxi trampled a massive track next to the fence, and in one of his sharp turns, he got one of his front legs over a fence wire and cut himself halfway up the cannon--"Just what I need," I thought. Five days to the ride, and the leg was clearly swollen, though no lameness was visible. I spent a lot of time over the next few days standing him in cold water, and I put him on Arnica. Then, Saturday afternoon, the leg looked pretty good, and we passed the pre-ride vetting with a standing heart rate of 28 beats/minute.

The start for the 100km was on Sunday morning, 5am, with the ride consisting of four phases, 32km, 38km, 2x15km. I knew from the day before, watching the 160km ride, the ride was going to be tough, and I had to watch what I was doing if I wanted to complete. There was another barefooter at the start, a girl from the North Island, so it was 2 barefoot out of 44 entries.

Of the 100km there might have been 10km of flat, the rest was up and down--all the time. Terrain varied from hard pasture with ruts from cattle, hard packed tracks with sharp stones sticking out, to gravel road. Maxi felt excellent, and I am sure he thought he was going to win this race. Well, due to the less than optimal preparation, I had different plans and held him right back. We got through the vet gate quite well and presented pretty much straight away after arriving at the vet ring.

Maxi never put a foot wrong in the whole ride. Despite being extremely eager in the first two laps, he looked after himself and watched where he placed his feet, especially on those rugged pad- docks. In the last two laps I knew I had to do a bit of work myself as the course was starting to show its toll, and Maxi got a bit tired. So, that meant a bit of running for myself. The 15km lap consisted of heaps of hard packed farm tracks, and I decided to put Easyboots on the front, as I didn't want to challenge the Endurance gods too much.

After 9.5 hours of riding, we crossed the finish line, and Maxi was still feeling good - tired, but good. Now it's down to the vetting. Later I learned that the points for the North Island/South Island Trophy were even--and I was the deciding factor. As you can imagine, there were many eyes facing over our way when we presented at the vet ring. There were North Islanders keeping their hopes up, as Maxi was barefoot, as well as the crowd who didn't believe 100km barefoot was possible, and finally some supporters. Maxi's heart rate was 50 and 52 after the trot-out, metabolics were fine, he was sound, and the vets gave the thumbs up. I was thrilled--we did it! It was great to see people like Brian Tiffen and John Stevenson coming over and congratulating us (Brian and John rode for the NZ Team in Jerez 2002).

The other barefooter unfortunately got pulled on metabolics after 85km; the horse's feet were fine, though. Furthermore, the ride statistics are pretty sobering, too: 44 starters, 22 finishers (I got 22nd), 3 vet outs on metabolics, the rest was lameness. The winner of the 160km ride stated in a local magazine, "One of the most horse- unfriendly tracks I have ever ridden; very, very tough on horses."

A few days later, we arrived back at home and guess what I had to do before I turned Maxi out in the paddock? Yes, that's right, I had to trim his feet.

About the author: Thorsten Kaiser lives in New Zealand and has been involved in Endurance Riding for the last five years. He has accumulated several thousands of competitive kilometers and reached a turning point when he joined the barefoot community in January 2002. Since then, he has been promoting barefoot riding in New Zealand. Contact Thorsten via email:

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