Endurance in Colombia
Since 2001 a core group of riders has been partipating in around 4 rides per year, held in varying locations. They are on a fast learning curve, and dealing with the same issues that we (USA) have been dealing with for the past 40 years, but in a very short period of time:
So, now the Colombian Equestrian Federation has added Endurance as an official discipline - along with Eventing, Vaulting, Dressage and Jumping. (I don't think they have Reining yet!). With Endurance as a new official - and visible - sport, they are now striving to consolidate the group, and learn how to do the sport as well as they can. A few are travelling to other countries, bringing back their observations and suggestions. Others are researching and learning through trail and error. And with the goal of hosting their own FEI ride in 2007, the Federation elected to bring a few of us from the USA to observe their existing program, advise them on how to step up to FEI level, and teach them about Endurance - training, management, and competition.
One of Federations current concerns, and most contentious issue, is what type of terrain is best, or acceptable, for Endurance competition. The Bogota area is mountains - one of the chains of the Andes range. The easiest and most accessible routes for Endurance are comprised of roads that wind through the hill. They are mostly dirt roads, but packed with rock which creates a concussive surface. Combined with the steepness of the terrain, this makes for a tough ride. We were asked again and again if it was 'too hard'.
Steve and Dinah compete in this type of terrain quite frequently - the Eastern USA mountain and hill country has a lot of hard gravel and rock roads, and they thought the terrain here was perfectly acceptable, although it would be difficult to stage qualifying FEI rides, based on the current FEI speed requirements. I was a little more critical of the terrain, since we have few rides in the West which are both steep and highly concussive, and I would be quite concerned about 'racing' on that type of course. Bottom line was - if you condition the horses to tolerate the concussion - train for it, and train your horse to be balanced on the trails - both uphill and downhill - then you might as well go with what you have - and ride accordingly.
However, we all agreed that for an FEI ride, they should look for kinder terrain, better footing and fewer hills. There were several options that they were considering - one of them at Nemencon, where Jorge Villa trains. We drove to Jorge's and spend several hours driving the area with 4-WD rigs. It was beautiful! and perfect for an FEI ride. Sandy roads (but not deep), fairly flat terrain, and absolutely gorgeous. A little section of 'desert' - complete with cactus! Parts of it reminded us of the Outlaw Trail - slickrock and sandstone erosion. The only problem with this area was the lack of facilities. No buildings other than an eroded adobe house. Water would have to be hauled, tents erected, food and caterers driven in, temporary corrals and stables put up. Jorge though he could have electricity brought in, which would help tremendously. But the big concern was that the lack of facilities.
We tried to explain to them that this was fairly common in the USA. Many of the FEI venues are in bare fields, everything is hauled in. A lot of work, but certainly possible. One of the problems they have is that their riders are not used to camping, and don't have the LQ horse trailers that we have. They are accustomed to hauling their horses to the venue the morning of the ride, doing the ride, and then hauling them back home. For a CEI*** ride they would have to have people and horses at the venue for 2 days, a new challenge. I personally hope they can make this area work, it was classic terrain for a great Endurance event - so pretty that Steve and Dinah were already talking about bringing their own horses to ride in January.
There were a few other areas that they were considering, but we didn't have a chance to go see them. One other option is a National Park with a large lake, and flat/good footing around the lake. The Colombian Park Service is being encouraged to promote tourism and multiple use, so the Park was willing and eager to host an Endurance event there. But after a 'winter' of record rains, the area was still under water from the high lake levels, and we weren't able to view it.
So - that's basically the state of Endurance in Columbia. They are learning, they are gaining experience, they are setting their sights on International. And they are very serious and committed - it will be fun to watch their progress, and see how they deal with their unique issues. There are also other parts of Colombia which are taking up Endurance - there's a group in Medellin, and a few rides have been staged in Los Llanos (the flat cattle country). The biggest challenge for expanding the sport country-wide will be dealing with transport (small trailers, bad highways) and the need to spend more time at a venue - either camping or stabling and staying in hotels. There doesn't seem to be a lot of wealth in the sport in Colombia - no royalty, and few patrons or large breeders to support the training and competition. These folks are doing it primarily on their own. But they're passionate, and they're hooked - they'll make it work.