Did you know?
The first endurance ride in South Africa was in held in 1964 following a debate in a local magazine as to which breed of horse had the best endurance capability.
Picture it: horse riders flying across wintry Free State grasslands; 400 horses encamped with their riders, support teams and spectators, numbering in the thousands, gathering round fires each night to discuss the glories and tragedies of the day; and riders getting up at midnight in freezing conditions to check on their horses.
This is the legendary Fauresmith endurance ride, the highlight of the South African endurance horse-riding calendar.
Every year in July, endurance horse riders descend on the Free State town of Fauresmith for this 201km marathon, known as the Fauresmith 200. Not for the faint-hearted, this race through the veld (grasslands) personifies excitement, adrenaline and achievement. And for many of the riders, it is the realisation of a life’s dream.
Fit and fed to run fast and hard, the horses are ready to race. While the nights are freezing, the days can get extremely warm, and the health of the horses is closely monitored over the three days. Their heart rate and muscles are checked every 25km by registered veterinarians (when the riders let their horses rest for 20 minutes), and any over-strained horses are disqualified.
The race is a veritable obstacle course through the veld, with plenty of pitfalls, including rocks and loose stones, eroded gullies, holes, and fence posts concealed by the grass. Experienced Fauresmith riders caution all newcomers to pace themselves and their horses carefully if they wish to complete the three days. 'Keep a level head and keep in control,' is the motto of this race.
Many are the tales of camaraderie and sportsmanship in this highly competitive event, in which top riders have been known to stop and dismount to help a fellow rider in trouble.
The spectators, on the other hand, feed off the collective nervous energy and excitement to cheer on the riders as they cross the finishing line to the soundtrack of Chariots of Fire.
Fauresmith and the surrounding areas are spectator- and tourist-friendly, and once the race is run, take a few days to explore the Free State's hospitality and adventure offerings.