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[RC] Malaysia Story - Part V - Steph Teeter

I arrived in Malaysia two weeks before the event, John came a week after I did. We wanted to capture the activity leading up to the event and to keep the Endurance world's eye on Terengganu.

This was a fairly monumental event - the entire scope of the effort that Malaysia was putting into their commitment to host the WEC was - and still is - astonishing. I keep trying to draw parallels with what other nations have done, and United Arab Emirates and Malaysia both stand out as extreme examples of the uniqueness of our sport.

Anybody can compete in this sport - at any level - in any country. Kings and Princes and Sultans and Sheikhs and grooms and accountants and housewives and mechanics and trainers and jockeys - big people and small people, rich people and poor people, can ride side by side at the highest level of competition. And most of the people that ride will ride anywhere that a horse can take them. Desert, mountain, hot, cold, flat, rocky, sandy, it really doesn't matter to most of us! Our needs are fairly simple - a fit horse, a well marked course, and somebody to keep track of the time are about all we really need. In any given year, one can experience a wild range of competitions. Even at the FEI level - the highest International level of our sport. A dusty ride through a game preserve in South Africa where horses and zebras may run together. A scenic course in the Old Country, riding on cobbled streets and past castle ruins. A sandy trail around swamps and bayous with alligators in the water and spanish moss hanging from old cypress tree limbs. A race across pioneer trails, following the cattle and wagon routes, experiencing wide open spaces with no sign of civilization. A gala event riding through village streets in Asia - celebrating the Sultan's birthday with thousands of people gathering in the streets to see their nation's King on a horse. A wild race across Arabians sands with horses and SUV's competing for the trail - thousands of dollars riding on the outcome, the winner glorified and the winning horse worth it's weight in gold.

The first World Endurance Championships saw horses tied to trailers or stabled in make-shift paddocks, following whatever course might be available through fields or woods or streets. Now we are seeing entire 'cities' and 'villages' built for the sole purpose of hosting an Endurance event. We are seeing Endurance courses created - bulldozers, drainage systems, scraping away the dunes, softening the hard spots, hardening the soft spots. Stables with fans and misting coolers - anything and everything that can be done to 'improve' conditions for the sport.

And then the United Arab Emirates pretty much set a new standard. When UAE was granted the bid to host the 1998 World Endurance Championship, it was a huge leap of faith on the part of the FEI. Competing in the deserts of Arabia, sand and heat and wind, travelling so far with horses, different quarantine and disease issues. But the UAE offered to foot the bill - they would pay for the transport and housing of the competitors - the horse, rider, groom and owner. The Dubai Endurance City was built (thousands of laborers working around the clock) and more or less finished in time. Horses were stabled at Polo complexes, riders and crew were housed in 5 star hotels on the Persian gulf, SUV's were rented and provided to competitors, and the gala dinners and parties and celebrations were first class. Many wide-eyed people at this event. Since a huge effort was made to include as many Nations as possible, the qualification criteria was lowered, and the opportunity was extended to any nation - any person, any horse - to meet the minimum qualification criteria and then have an all expense paid month in Dubai, courtesy of the UAE. It was a grand time, full of crazy things, demanding people, appreciative people, excitement and worry.... SUV's littered the desert as people learned how to drive in the dunes. A core of people worked incredibly hard to make the event a success. And by most standards it was a huge success and a landmark in our sport. There were a few problems - the army inadvertently turned off the electricity during the ride and the timing system shut down, many riders lost their crew out in the desert, their SUV's buried in a dune, some horses suffered the sand and travel stress and ambitous riders, but some horses and riders shone.

The UAE again hosted the World Championship in 2005. By this time the Dubai Endurance City was complete - quarantine stables for all the horses, some villas for riders, and the Bab Al Shams 5 star hotel built to house officials and as many competitors and VIP's as could fit. There was still overflow, and many were housed in Dubai, a 45 minute drive from the venue. But of course everybody was also provided with an SUV for transport and crewing. This event didn't quite have the magic of the 1998 WEC - but it certainly provided the best of the best for all.

It was after the 2005 WEC that Malaysia and Bahrain submitted their bids - both countries fully aware of the standards set by UAE - and both countries having the backing of their government and their royalty. When Malaysia was granted the bid they looked to UAE as an example to follow. They studied the Dubai Endurance City and the Abu Dhabi (Al Wathba) Emirates International Endurance Village before constructing their own venue in Terengganu. The layouts are similar: Wide arrival gate area with observation deck above, horses pass through to an expansive cooling and recovery area (Malaysia constructed shaded cooling stations, with fans and misters and tanks), Vet-gate entry stations the entire width, to vet stations with white fence-lined trotting lanes. A full veterinary clinic and hospital, chalets for VIP's on each side of the venue... the works. And in Malaysia, the Endurance venue has a beautiful asian architectural flare - graceful and colorful.

The stage was being set.

-more later -



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