Why Colombia?.. Endurance!

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 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.

It is primarily because of my connection with Gregory that I am here. Hopefully I can be of some help to the new Endurance discipline because of my experience as a rider and ride organizer, and my experience travelling around the world with Endurance Net. He helped orchestrate this trip - the seminar, observation of the endurance event, and the introductions to the Equestrian Federation and Endurance committee members.

- so that's the beginning-

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