Endurance riding

The Olympic sport of Endurance Riding is one of the sternest physical tests for man and his oldest four-legged companion, the horse. Riding 100kms per day against the clock over varied and difficult terrain is only for the fittest and most highly trained horses and riders. Horses are highly bred and developed for this sport and, even then, there are frequent veterinary checks during the event to ensure horses are not under excessive stress. Of course, there are not too many horses or riders in the Algarve who could tackle anything like a full Olympic Endurance Event, so much modified versions have recently been introduced to attract as wide a range of participants as possible.

Shorter 40km to 60km events, under Portuguese Equestrian Federation (FEP) control with only modest changes to Olympic rules, have already been staged in the Algarve, with national level competitors from the Ribatejo and Alentejo participating. The Algarve’s leading competitors, Vicky Jervis from Bensafrim and her grey mare, Twiglet, and Deborah Keen from Carrapateira and her grey mare, Lula, recently participated in a Ribatejo Endurance Event, where they were both well-placed.

Even more modest, less demanding events have now been introduced to encourage wider participation. These are 25km to 40km timed events, where the winner is the one closest to a pre-established elapsed time, giving an average speed of 12 to 15km per hour. A vet check before and after these events ensures horses are not in any difficulty. This provides a competitive atmosphere without over-straining horses and enables less experienced riders of all ages to compete on more or less level terms. These events are becoming increasingly popular and the organisers are hoping that more and more riders will become interested.

The Algarve is a wonderful place to stage these events. The weather is, of course, ideal and the miles and miles of rural and forestry tracks, with varied degrees of difficulty, make it ideal terrain for any sort of course, from the most demanding Olympic level to an easy two-hour hack, and all among the most wonderful scenery. What a way to see the Algarve and feel that you and your horse have achieved something challenging at the same time!

The Associação Equestre de Bensafrim (AEB), the Algarve Riding Club (ARC) and Deborah Keen, who has an equestrian centre (Herdade do Beicudo Tel: 967 059 551) near Carrapateira, have all staged some level of competitive endurance rides in the Algarve and will be organising further events in the near future. The next event will be an ARC promoted ride in Silves on March 2.

In addition, a group dedicated to endurance riding formed recently, which will co-ordinate events and enable riders to share knowledge and experience, help train horses and raise funds and sponsorships. All levels of riders would be most welcome; you don’t have to be an Olympics-class performer. Participating in major endurance events away from home, particularly, is an expensive business. Transporting, stabling and feeding horses and providing board and lodging for the riders do not come cheaply. Staging local events with the obligatory attendance of ambulances, the GNR and vets, facility hire and timing equipment all cost money, so sponsors for this event are eagerly sought. If you would like to know more about taking part in endurance events, sponsoring entrants or any other aspect of the sport, call Stephen Wakefield on 917 480 822.