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[RC] Colombia - Endurance - stephteeter

Colombia - Bogota - it's safe, it's beautiful, the people are wonderful, the
food is fantastic. I really didn't know what to expect, I know so little
about this lovely country with such a bad reputation. They have a great
president now, Uribe, just re-elected for his second term - he's hard
working, business minded, determined to defeat the guerillas and restore
Columbia to a nation of diversity and prosperity. Colombia has great natural
resources - and coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean sea. Land
of coffee, and high country of the Andes. (and unfortunately land of coca
and poppies too). Colombia is second in the world for biodiversity. Major
exporter of emeralds and cut flowers (that alone should be worth a lot of
good will!). Bogota is a densly packed city of 7 million people, spilling up
into the mountains, architecure of Spanish style - red bricks, red tile
roofs. Traffic is horrible, they brag that if you can drive in Bogota, then
you can drive anywhere in the world. The taxi rides have been quite
exciting. It's fairly clean, with a huge national park that stretches across
much of the city. We haven't seen the poor sections of the city, which
certainly exist, but what we have seen is delightful. Tight winding roads,
colorful brick and adobe, lucious vegetation - a mix of tropical and high
elevation - flowering broadleafs, cedars and pines, and flowers flowers
everywhere.

I'm here on invitation from their Equestrian Federation - their fledgeling
Endurance committee is working towards building Endurance as a significant
sport here. Hoping to create a pool of FEI Endurance riders, to learn the
basics of training, management and competition, and to host their own
quality FEI events. Steve and Dinah Rojek are also here on invitation,
bringing their wealth of knowlege and experience, and Dinah's comprehensive
presentation on Endurance - how to get started, and how to excel.

Their Endurance program started with their first real event in October 2001.
They have their own set of rules, adopted by the Federation, which primarily
mirrors FEI rules, with some exceptions for issues dealing with children and
junior riders and sponsorship (similar to AERC). Some of the riders have
participated in rides outside of Colombia, but for the most part they are
learning on their own - reading, studying training physiology, following
internet discussions, inviting speakers and experts, making many of the
mistakes that most newcomers to the sport make, but steadily making
progress. They are somewhat limited by their terrain, which can be quite
steep and rocky, but are constantly scouting new places to ride. Recently
they've identified a National Park which is encouraging more public use, and
will give them a course with better footing - something they will need in
order to meet FEI qualification and speed requirements. The demographics of
their Endurance community are similar to ours (USA) - middle class people,
juggling jobs, kids and their horse passion.

My first exposure to anything Colombian was when I met Gregory Smetek. In
2005 he came to Idaho for the Arabian Nights ride. He was scouting for
Endurance horses, and brought one of his prospects to the ride. Gregory is a
dual Colombian/USA citizen - an American father, and Colombian mother. His
story is Colombian though - his parents met in Spain (father an Airforce
pilot on duty, mother on a student vacation), lived in the USA for several
years, eventually moved to Colombia where they started restaurant and
cafeteria businesses. The political climate in Colombia was gradually
worsening, with growing anti-American sentiment, violence was increasing and
Gregory's father was killed by a bomb placed in one of their cafeterias. His
mother raised the children (Gregory, age 3, and two older sisters) alone,
growing the business and eventually selling it. His mother and one sister
moved to Miami, and Gregory now splits his time between Miami and Colombia,
growing his import business.

Gregory became involved with horses, scouting Argentina for good horses and
breeding stock, and eventually caught the Endurance bug, and now I believe
his is hooked. He has several nice prospects now, and is setting his sights
on competing in the 2010 WEG in Lexington. He's serious about the sport, and
I'm sure he'll make it. When I put my Orlov cross mare on the market last
year (very nice horse, but more of a handful than I wanted at the time)
Gregory made an offer - and the condition was that I could come to Colombia
to see her. So here she is (Nature's Cleopatra) and here I am too! Gregory
helped orchestrate this trip- the seminar, the endurance event (next week),
and the introductions between us (myself and the Rojeks) and the other
Equestrian Federation and Endurance committee members.

- so that's the beginning.  more later-

Steph


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