A human could beat a horse - on a perfect day
Can a human beat a horse? That's the question being tested in an extreme race pitting runners against endurance riders, through steep hill country.
The annual Human v Horse extreme race in Pukeokahu, east of Taihape, is being held for the third time on April 8.
Horses reach higher speeds, but the odds change over a long distance, where humans can have some physiological advantages, race founder Lizzie Maundrell said.
The race is modelled on an eccentric Welsh event founded in 1980, where it took 25 years for a human to beat the horses.
The Kiwi version is harder, Maundrell said. For starters it is longer - a 42 kilometre marathon - and there is an 1800-metre elevation gain over the entire course. So far a horse and rider have won both years.
"I think people are really interested in doing something different," Maundrell said.
"You're competing against not just yourself, you're competing against a four legged beast. There's nothing else like it in the Southern Hemisphere."
The horses entered are seriously conditioned equine athletes ridden for endurance, and carefully monitored for their protection. Each has three vet checks before and during the race.
Last year's first runner home was leading the horses at the half way point, but the first rider home had about a half hour lead by the finish.
Horses and humans differ in the way their bodies regulate heat, cope with dehydration and elevated heart rates, and the way they respond to changes in speed and stride lengths.
"It's actually quite a technical race for the horse riders. It can be done," Maundrell said.
"The perfect day for a human to win would be a hot, humid day."
This year could be tighter than usual, because of a smaller pool of horses due to a clash with preparations for another event, she said.
Maundrell organises the race as part of a team from the Pukeokahu Hall Committee, who initially wanted to fund a new toilet block, but are now looking at other projects to ensure the hall's long term maintenance.
"It's designed to get people into rural New Zealand, to enjoy rural hospitality. The meals are put on by the ladies of the district, and the boys go out and shoot the meat.
"It's a really nice event because it brings two communities together and two sports that normally wouldn't engage."
More information at humanvhorse.com/