Central Districts Farmer
Endurance rides of up to 160 kilometres are a family sport for the Smith Family.
Murray and Andrea Smith and their daughters Georgia, 15, and Brigitte, 12, are from the upper Kawhatau Valley towards the Ruahine Ranges from Mangaweka.
There they farm 566 hectares of hill country running beef and sheep.
"Our riding must fit in around the stock and farm work but we certainly endeavour to make it work if we can," said Mr Smith. Regular farm work also keeps the Arab horses fit for their long 160km rides.
Both girls have ridden from tiny with both longing to start endurance rides long before their parents felt they were ready.
"We have never made them ride; in fact it was hard for them to wait when we felt they were not ready," said Andrea. Murray was keen to ride while Andrea was a little more hesitant with two young daughters.
However, after time with a pony club, Georgia had her first ride at age seven while Brigitte was just five. Both girls are also keen show jumpers, but this has to fit around the endurance riding. The season runs from August to Easter.
The sport is very disciplined with a strong emphasis on the health and welfare of both horse and rider. Riders cannot start till age five and although there is a novice system, the speed restriction does not allow the horse or rider to go too fast.
"No one can just buy a horse and start," said Mrs Smith. "Both the horse and rider need conditioning."
Endurance riding has the most veterinary control of any equestrian sport.
Each race consists of six loops with a vet check between each loop, plus some. This makes at least eight checks during a ride to check for any problems. A log book for each horse charts its veterinary progress for every race throughout its career.
Traditionally, endurance riders have come from farming with still a high per centage of sheep and beef farmers who come with their farm horses.
Training starts in August with low key events every second or third weekend at club level.
The Smith's use their own training schedule working around farm work with the horses working two days, then getting a day off. If they have an 80km ride the horses get a week off.
"We do a quiet ride up to 150km to train the horse," said Murray, who says many riders are still riding in their mid-to-late 60s and one in her 70s.
The Smith family also enjoy the social aspect of riding; meeting up with folk from all around the country with the same interests.
"The kids really enjoy it. There are a truly nice bunch of juniors who all get on well and look forward to meeting up," said Mr Smith.
"We must be very disciplined about eating well," said Murray, who with a well set-up horse truck with fridge and oven finds everyone can eat what they enjoy.
Electrolyte drinks are important, the girls enjoy vege soup but there will be meat and pasta salad, plus baking to keep everyone healthy and happy.
"We ride the first five hours in the dark so it is important we are in peak and the horse too must be able to relax, switch off and eat during each break," said Murray.
Riders get 20 minutes tops to rest eat and feed and water horses and themselves.
The Smiths also breed Arab horses with a range of ages; 20 stallions and seven competition horses. There are young ones to break in and although they do not breed to sell, if someone is really keen with the right money they may be persuaded.
A horse was able to help Georgia attend the International Endurance championship in Dubai with The New Zealand Junior team. "Our sport needs to be self-funding and of course if a horse goes overseas it cannot be brought back," said Murray, who rode in Australia at a trans-Tasman championship on loaned horses. "We beat Australia," he smiles.
It is too hard to borrow the level of horse needed for that level of competition.
Both Murray and Andrea rode in the World Championships in Malaysia in 2008.
"This is all about experience but also getting people to work as a team when it is an individual sport. It is all good and we hope to enjoy it as a family for a long time to come.
"The Arab horse is ideal with its slow heart rate. It is built like a marathon runner and if metabolically sound, the longer the ride the more important the conditioning," said Murray.
There are six clubs in the North Island with the national championships alternating between North and South Islands and always at Easter. North Island championships are held at Wellington Anniversary weekend each year. Different clubs take the responsibility with the New Zealand Endurance Board taking the national responsibility.
- © Fairfax NZ News