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by Steph Teeter

Another Endurance Tour is coming to a close. As I write this I'm flying over Santiago, Chile, and can see the incredible snow capped Andes to the East, the coastal fog to the west. This long and narrow country is truly beautiful. Now I will return to Buenos Aires, have an 8 hour wait in Ezeze airport, and then take the long flight back to USA. USA to Argentina to Uruguay to Chile to Argentina - how fun to see the South American countries, compare the cultures, hear the different accents

This trip started with our wonderful friends Mercedes Tapia and Eduardo Becar Varella. Mercedes asked me to come to help and cover the Argentine National Championship, which they were hosting. And of course I said yes! And of course John had to come too! (I think Mercedes and Eduardo are our 'parallel lives' - so many things in common with John and I, such similar views and values. I had just finished managing our (USA) National Championship, so to offer Mercedes support as she hosted theirs, well of course!

My first correspondence with Mercedes was almost ten years ago, she wanted to join ridecamp@endurance.net . Since then we've had many adventures together - in Idaho, in Argentina, in Dubai, in Malaysia... and since then Mercedes and Eduardo have built a life around Endurance. They are both veterinarians. Eduardo is one of the country's best equine orthopedic surgeons - having spent many years working with horses in the polo world. His relationship as a veterinarin, and a friend, with Argentina's polo great - Gonzalo Pierez- led to the vision, and building, of Cazon Endurance Village, the only Endurance venue of such scale in the country. Mercedes specialized in equine reproduction, and much of her work has also been with the polo world. She previously spent many years in the more traditional world of Argentine Criollos - the native horse, descendants of the first horses brought to Argentina by the Spaniards centuries ago. As a rider and performer as well as veterinarian, Mercedes' life has always been with horses.

Mercedes and Eduardo now live outside of Saladillo - around 150km from Buenos Aires. They bought an old farm in the tiny town of Alvarez de Toledo, made improvements to the original adobe house, built fences and barns, planted trees - and created a wonderful home - El Reparo. Mercedes now runs an Endurance training center out of El Reparo. She trains horses for herself and for others, and also breeds horses (Endurance horses and criollos). She is also a serious Endurance competitor. She and the incredible horse Ras Kasal have represented Argentina at three world championships - Jerez 2002, Dubai 2005 and Aachen 2006. Mercedes is also on the newly formed FEI Athletes Committee - she is the athlete representative for Endurance.

As I have travelled around the world, I've come to recognize and admire the people that 'make things happen' in our sport. Mercedes and Eduardo are among this group. Mercedes is involved at every level of shaping this sport - top competitor, veterinarian, FEI and Federation politics (committees), ambassador, and ride organizer. Endurance is her focus. Eduardo is also very involved in the sport, but mostly because of Mercedes! He has followed her around the world while she competes, and has also been supportive of the Argentine Federation - as veterinarian and chef d'equipe at world and continental championships. And now Eduardo has made his real mark in the sport with his vision of Cazon Endurance Village. Eduardo designed and engineered the Endurance venue. His polo associates (primarily Pierez) supported the vision, and saw an opportunity for another market for polo horses, some of which have been quite successful at Endurance. He worked with local and state government to procure the land to build the venue on. He constructed the venue in traditional Argentine rural style - quincho (wood poles and thatch roofs) buildings. And with the venue, came the events. Mercedes had previously been involved in organizing a ride, and she and Eduardo began plans for Cazon Endurance rides. The Sprint Cup Series - FEI and Federation competitions, national events, and most recently the Argentine National Championship.

The Argentine National Championship was the reason I came to Argentina, and from there the trips to Uruguay and Chile fell in place. I had helped Mercedes with her first Sprint Cup Series rides - when Cazon Endurance was just getting started, and her vision for a fast flat track to prove Endurance horses was fresh. The series was well attended and Cazon's quincho stables were filled with horses and matte drinking gauchos. The sandy roads provided perfect footing for a fast competiive event.

One thing about the people who 'make things happen' in our sport... is that they are always busy, and can sometimes become over extended - a bite too big to chew. Mercedes was invited to ride in Malaysia for the pre-WEC trail ride... the date of the Malaysian event was just under three weeks before the National Championship. With the month of Malaysian travel and the planning of the Championship ride, and the preparation of her horses (Mercedes and her trainers and her daughter would also ride during the day of the Championship) ... all these things - Mercedes and Eduardo managed to still host (and ride in) a Championship event, but I think it was a very tough time for them. So many details of organizing a ride, and so much dependence on other people to help with the details, and always it comes down to the full responsibility of the organizers. If (when) problems occur, the organizers must deal with it. It's day after day of preparation - long days with little sleep. Hour after hour of 'fighting fires' during the ride - dealing with the events of the day. Dealing with the intensity of the competition - riders, grooms, horses... trails, scales, timing... it can be too much sometimes. They pulled it off, but I think Mercedes and Eduardo were taxed to the limit. Maybe it just wasn't as much fun as it should be.

But then again... after a good night's sleep, another chance to look at everything they had accomplished, maybe it wasn't that bad. If we just do this, and just do that, and plan this, and plan that.... next time will be perfect!

John and I pretty much zoomed off after the Championship was over - we had these dentist appointments looming for the next week, Dr. Michelet had set aside time for us and change appointments to squeeze the work into a short time, so no time to linger at El Reparo - no time to enjoy the quiet summer days on the pampas, the warm humid summer nights with fireflies twinkling (yes, there are fire files in Argentina!). No time to relax with a late dinner and nice red wine and very good friends. But I'm sure we'll be back. This place has become too special for us to stay away too long. I invited Mercedes to come ride in Idaho - I'm hosting an FEI ride in May - inviting riders from around the world - for my first World Endurance Exchange - 'You ride in my land on my horse, I'll ride in your land on your horse'. I hope Mercedes and Eduardo can come, it's as special for us to share our little piece of the world with them as it is to visit theirs. But the look in Mercedes' eyes was that 'oh I'd love to, but there's so much going on right now...we'll see'. Yes, I understand. We'll see!