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Preparations - November 11 2007

I went over to the Sakkara Country Club yesterday to see what was happening and the state of the informational black hole. It is indeed black. There is a huge sign saying "Help Desk" but I have to assume that the desk put it up in a plea for assistance because there were no humans nearby. When I went to the reception desk at the club, they told me that someone from the Egyptian federation would be manning the desk. "Is anyone from the federation around?" "No." "Has anyone from the federation been around this week?" "Well, no." Great start.

I saw one of the trainers/stable managers sitting with a couple of guys wearing black baseball caps with roughly cut leaping cats in white stitched onto them. I was introduced to two of the Libyan riders who had trucked their horses 3000km to participate in the race. They were a bit concerned because, not surprisingly, the horses are feeling the stress of the trip.

I chatted for a while with Nour el Din Fendra and Hassan el Kilani from Tripoli. They are competing as individuals with a few horses (6 to 20) rather than being from an industrial stable. They it really funny that everyone in Egypt kept asking them if they are riding for Col. Gaddafi. The model of endurance in the UAE leads to such an expectation. The Libyians had brought five horses with them and were quick to say that, because of the concern about the long trip, they chose not to bring their best horses. Libya has some endurance racing and these two were very interested in knowing what was required to participate in the 2008 WEC and when it was.

I gave them Endurance.net's url to do some research. I also told them that Steph and John, while not rich enough to go wandering the globe on their own account, were very kind and beneficial folk who loved to help endurance all over the world and if they were sent an invitation and plane ticket would probably be delighted to come and assist Libyan riders.

We went into the stable area to see their horses. The Libyan horses and the Qatari horses are being housed in boxes at the Club. The Saudi team has also arrived and has been stabled at Rabab Stud just down the road. As we were talking some temporary boxes were being delivered, so I imagine that they will be moving in soon. Two of the Libyan horses were looking decidedly unhappy, a bit thin and grumpy, while the others were in better shape. I suggested that they talk to some of the grooms at the club about solutions to the stress of travel, so hopefully they will be happier soon.

Took a wander down the row of Qatari horses and chatted with some of their staff. I think that being a Qatari endurance horse might not be too bad. They were flown in from France, where they summer each year because Qatar is simply too hot for them. Some of these horses are big rangy Anglo Arab and others are smaller more typical Arab type. Nice showing, great attendants, happy horses. One of the horses was without question the oddest colour I've ever seen on a horse. This horse originated in South Africa and was a pale grey (going white) with red flecks and with about quarter sized medium grey spots all over it.

So far no one has any idea who or where the organising committee is or when it is showing up. The lanes for the vet gates, the fences for the in and out, the timing booths, and some very nice looking tents have been set up.

The club itself is doing some major landscaping work for the event and flowers are appearing everywhere. Everyone is wondering about the trail and no one knows a thing. The bet among the locals is that no one will know anything about the trail ahead of time because it will be set late at night just before the race to avoid anyone removing flags. Unfortunately this also means that the riders will be going in blind, so to speak. But since these are the Pan Arab games and, as Arabs, they are more accustomed to the vagaries of organisation in our general region, people seem pretty calm about the whole thing.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

(ps: I'm attaching some photos that I took with my Nokia. Unfortunately my camera is still in the shop (expect a replacement soon) having taken a swim in a canal a couple of weeks ago with one of my youngsters. Nokia's withstand water better than Panasonics.)


From a Club to a Village - November 14 2007

Most of the time Sakkara Country Club is a fairly quiet place where Cairenes come to get away from the city smog, let their children have riding lessons, and read or chat by the pool. The past few days it has been undergoing a major transition to become an endurnance village in the style of the UAE under the guidance of a team from Abu Dhabi. The grass paddock where mares and foals used to graze or children would be led on ponies has had pristine white trot out lanes erected for the past two weeks. The vet gates are placed next to the wooden playground with the sign warning that the equipment is only for children under twelve, but no one is taking time to sit on the swings with tents for the press and important visitors to be constructed. As the teams arrive, the sounds of drills, spray painters and hammers are wafting on the autumn breeze in place of birdcalls and horse chatter from the stables, but the work looks good to be finished in time for the Monday race.

Many of the members' horses have been moved to neighbouring stables to afford some boxes for the visitors. The Qatar team have been here for almost two weeks on their way home from France. Interestingly, this weekend is the Egyptian International and National Horse Show at the EAO (the Egyptian government stud in Ain Shams) and the line up for the International show is said to be spectacular as many of the horses have come to Cairo en route to a big halter show in the Gulf. Cairo is filled with horses right now.

I stopped by the lonely help desk to find some young people there who were more than happy to help, but who didn't know much about the technical issues I wanted to follow..I suspect that it's going to be much more of a generic help desk. But as I spoke to them I spotted an old friend who works with the Dubai team and the informational log jam broke. He was able to confirm that the set up and the track are being supervised by an organisational team from Abu Dhabi. He was on the team that was arranging the races in 2000 when Egypt was introduced to endurance racing, and said happily that he was enjoying just competing this time. He couldn't stop to chat as he had to meet people. Everyone is hustling now.

The trail looks like a recap of the trail used in the 2000 120 km race with a long loop that comes out of the club and south to the pyramids of Dahshur and then back again. The second and third loops will also leave the club to the south and then branch to the right and then to the left respectively. The encroachment of the Giza municipal dump and the sand and gravel miners on the desert to the west of the club has eliminated any trails to the immediate west or north. The quarries provide trails in abundance but not the sort of trails that are of interest in this racing climate, and they aren't all that photogenic.

The tennis courts at the club have been taken over by an army of men with screwdrivers and paint sprayers who are erecting temporary boxes for visitors. Previously, some of the teams have stabled at farms close to the club, but this is probably a better solution. At this point, it isn't completely clear how many teams are coming. There will be Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, possibly Jordan, and of course Egypt. I will visit the offices of the set up team at the club to try to get a list of horses and riders today. Endurance riding doesn't even ping on the news radar in Egypt so there have been virtually no public statements available.

In all the bustle of construction, the people working with the horses are on their own more relaxed schedules. All the training that can be done has been and now everyone is just seeing that the horses are calm and healthy, going for walks in the desert and taking them out to graze on the grass at the edge of the desert. Showjumpers from participating countries are joining endurance colleagues as they finish with their competitions and the talk is all horses of course. The Libyans are newcomers and finding the scene a bit daunting, but one of the Qatari riders was saying that they've been encouraging their Libyan counterparts to enjoy the competition and figure out how it all works to be ready for more in the future. The brightly painted horse truck that they used for transport will probably have to give way to air transport at some time.

The Syrian horses were supposed to come in last night and the temporary boxes should be pretty much done by this afternoon, so I expect to see more activity at the club when I check there after my daily schedule of trail rides and lessons for kids. Hopefully, I will find out who is riding for Egypt as well. At this point, I know that one of my neighbours was nominated to the team, but he was expressing some concern about the footing for the trail. The desert here is empty sand with a sprinkling of flint on top. The horses usually sink into the sand enough that the stones don't bruise but the minimum four to six inch layer of soft sand that they have to cope with does take its toll on the tendons. The "trail" is not a track, groomed or otherwise and while the organisers will try to select the best footing, there will be deep spots as well. The temperatures are looking good for riding, with projected highs of about 26 C (about 78 F), fairly low humidity and mixed sun and clouds.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani


The Stage is Set - November 17 2007

The transformation from a country club to an endurance village, while not complete, has reached a point of being fairly convincing. The tennis courts are covered over and temporary stalls are there for horses from Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and I imagine Egypt. The Egyptian horses and the Saudi horses are in the neighbourhood but I believe will be moved in after the vet check tomorrow afternoon. The trail has been set and a map will be available tomorrow as well. Basically, the cast is here, the stage is set, and the production starts tomorrow.

Yesterday (Friday) morning I had some clients in from the UK who wanted to do a long ride, so we left the farm early in the morning to ride to the lake at Dahshur, about 20 km south of here. This is a glorious ride through the desert with views of about twenty pyramids in various stages of disrepair and marvelous long stretches for canters (ok, actually gallops) across the sand. The vistas of pyramids were a bit surreal, however, due to heavy fog and as we rode part of the trail that had been set for the race, I found myself wondering how the riders were going to be coping in the fog at 5 am on Monday. The flags are set far enough apart that they weren't that easy to see in daylight, much less in the dawn murk of a Nile Valley fog. Maybe the riders will be relying on cars to lead the way; we'll see. I told my clients that they could go home and brag that they'd ridden at least part of the Pan Arab championship trail. Once I got home and finished my lesson and farm chores, I went to the nearby farm where the Egyptian team has been working and training. There are seven horses from which they will be choosing six for the race, most of them from stables near the Giza pyramids, and two from farms in this area. They are all locally bred and trained, unlike the horses from the Gulf and apparently Syria. I don't know about the Saudi horses' origins yet or the Jordanian.

At the farm, I received a call from a young vet friend of mine who is here with the UAE team. He was just finishing his training in Egypt when we were having our first races here and subsequently got a position in Dubai where he's worked for the past seven years. This year he was sent with the UAE team to supervise the horses for his employer, the Maktoum stables. Unfortunately, the mobile phones from the UAE weren't on roaming and had no reception, so he needed to get a new sim card for the grooms. Late at night, this is no place to be hunting for a sim card so I offered him a spare phone for the night...what a terrific excuse to be able to see the UAE horses up close and personal. What terrific horses. Beautiful creatures with the kind of spirit that horses at this level of competition should have.

This morning after dispensing with my farm work, I ran down to the club again to see how things have changed. I found the Bahrain team waiting on the grass in front of the vet gates for the horses and riders who had been out trying part of the trail in the desert. Rumours are that with the usual rivalry between Abu Dhabi and Dubai being submerged in the alliance of the two teams for the UAE, the fight to watch is between Bahrain and the UAE. The quality of horses definitely supports the rumour. I asked a couple of the riders what they thought of the trail and they were not wildly thrilled with it. Was it the trail itself or the footing? Definitely the footing is the issue. Deep sand covered in flint is not any racer's idea of wonderful. One young woman suggested that it could be seriously improved by grading it to eliminate the patches of deep sand and rocky sand, but I pointed out that since most of the race is taking place in Antiquities Department land, the authorities were most unlikely to appreciate the suggestion. Bulldozing unexcavated antiquities is not recommended in Egypt...not even for an important endurance race.

Given that the climate is not really ripe for changing the footing of the trail, I asked what the riders' strategy would likely be and was told that they were going to have to ride a much more careful race than they might otherwise do. They'd brought many of their best horses to this race and didn't want to see them injured. It will be interesting to see what the footing issue does to the conduct of the race.

As I was leaving the "barn" on the tennis courts I encountered one of those very Egyptian scenes, the tennis pro and some helpers tightening the net on the one surviving court. Whether they were expecting to play a game there with the possibility of a wild shot bouncing through a couple of million dollars worth of horses or not, almost doesn't bear thinking about.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani


T'was the Night Before... - November 18 2007

This afternoon began the tests with the initial vet checks. They started at about 2 pm with each team walking its horses as they waited for their turn, which gave everyone a chance to size each other up. As far as I could see, about the only teams running home grown horses are the Egyptians and the Libyans; everyone else has horses collected from all over the world. Very athletic, beautiful horses from all over the world. I think that we are basically looking at two races tomorrow: the international horses and the local horses, but I could be wrong. For most of the teams, once the vet check was finished the issue was which horse and rider would be cut to make the six horse team for the race tomorrow morning. Once that was settled there was nothing to do but wait for morning and hope that nothing went wrong overnight.

All the horses are now gathered at Sakkara Country Club/endurance village waiting the race tomorrow. It will consist of five loops out from the club to the south. The first, the red loop, is the longest at 36 km down to the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid of Dahshur...great photo ops. The second loop, the blue loop, runs south through the gap just west of the Japanese Hill like all the loops, further west to circumnavigate an east/west wadi, then east along the Fayoum/Cairo railway track to Mastabat Pharoan and north again past the Step Pyramid at Sakkara and the pyramids of Abu Sir, a distance of 28 km. Again, there are plenty of nice spots for very cool pictures of riders cantering past antiquities. The third loop, the green loop, leaves south to the Japanese Hill, runs along the north wall of the east/west wadi and then cuts southeast to the railway tracks along the same track as the red loop, but then doubles back to the club with an eastward bow towards the pyramids of Abu Sir for a distance of 21 km. The fourth loop, the yellow loop, was one that we rode part of on Friday and it parallels part of the blue loop southeast from the Japanese Hill towards the Step Pyramid and then cuts northwest of Masabat Pharaon to the railway tracks to make rounded turn back north to the club for a distance of 20 km. The final loop, the black loop, is a straight shot to the railway tracks and back for a distance of 15 km. The black loop is the most suited to a straight out horserace with long stretches of fairly flat sand covered in flint. Most of the other loops contain parts with deep soft sand and the more firm flint covered sand. In many respects, this is not at all an easy course. It is almost exactly the same race as was run in May 2000.

Most of the horses running this course are Arabs and Arab mixes. In the case of the Egyptian and Libyan teams, they are local baladi Arabs...unregistered Arab mixes who are the mainstay of the working equines in Egypt. These hardy, intelligent horses can be seen doing everything from sports to hauling carts here. In the cases of Libya and Egypt, the owners of the horses are quite average individuals who have a few horses rather than a major stable of them.

The Jordanian horses are being supervised by the director of one of the royal stables of Jordan and some of them came from the US Arab race tracks. One good looking but rather unsociable black gelding is the son of the horse who played in the Black Stallion movie. Most of the others were quite personable and happy to make one's acquaintance. Having a famous father must be tough.

A friend of mine had described the Saudi horses as being small, but I didn't notice that at all today. While none of the horses checked today could be called enormous, most of them were fairly average height and weight for the horses in this part of the world. Some of the riders saddled up after the vet check to give news teams from their home countries a chance for some video footage.

Other horses just went back to their boxes in the tennis court barn to relax while teams chatted and waited for the technical briefing in the club restaurant where they would be given a copy of the map of the trail. I was hoping for a copy of the final riders' list as well, but unfortunately the administrator who had the official copy left early for his hotel, so I will have to wait with everyone else until tomorrow morning at 5:45 when the riders set off. When I asked for a copy in the administration office, one of the men there looked at me quite puzzled and asked what team I was with, so I just turned around and let him read the back of my tshirt which says "EnduranceEurope.net@eu"... a yellow polo shirt that Steph sent my way with an eastward traveler. Aaaah. One of Steph's minions! Since so many people follow these events on the Teeters' sites, I'm given some rather nice consideration.

On some lighter notes, there are a number of women riders in the race tomorrow. I noticed some weighing in for the Syrian team, and it appeared that there might be one for Bahrain as well, though I could be wrong there. A few of the Jordanian team are quite young, and (although still over twelve) decided that there was some time to enjoy the playground after all. And finally, later in the evening when I'd gone home to grab a bite to eat, a jeep pulled into the farm with a couple of members of the Libyan team who found the dogs here fairly terrifying but who really needed a heavier saddle since one of their riders was having trouble making weight. My farrier asked if I could possibly loan them one of my Saare's which are cruising saddles rather than racing saddles and thus a bit heavier than usual. We got one out for them to look at and they thought that the extra weight might do the trick. The western cinches had them quite bewildered, but there are a couple of grooms at the club who know how my saddles work and can help them. The horse's owner asked how much I wanted to rent them my saddle, but never having rented a saddle to anyone in my life, I couldn't imagine. I pointed out that having come all the way that they had traveled to take part in their first international race, it seemed simply too much of a shame that the lack of weight should stop them from trying to compete...and anyway, since I didn't have a horse in the race, it was pretty cool to have a saddle in it instead. So tomorrow for what it's worth, I'm rooting for my saddle.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

More cars than horses on the first loop - November 19 2007

It's 7:15 am and the computer in the press tent is bloody slow. There were 42 starters just before dawn here and 53 jeeps that set out in the desert for the first round. Watching them all leave was like looking down the slow lane on a highway. The first loop was fast for the front runners, mostly from the UAE with one Saudi in the first few minutes. The Egyptian team was coming in as the first horses were setting out on the second loop.

There are 6 horses each from Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, Egypt and Saudi Arabia started. The Jordanians started 5 horses, the Libyans 4 horses, and the Syrians only 3 horses. Syria and Bahrain both have women riders on the team, so naturally I'm cheering them on. I'm afraid that my saddle didn't make it into the race...the poor rider still couldn't make weight...but apparently my EZride stirrups did, so I'm also cheering for them. I've seen one Libyan horse come in but I haven't seen the vet results yet.

The weather couldn't be better, cool, clear and no fog at all. So far all the horses that I've seen coming in have looked fantastic and most of them are pulling at the bits as they leave for the second loop.

I will collect photos together tonight to post. This connection is hopeless for that. I have a couple of guests from Florida, one of whom is an avid photographer, so there should be a very nice gallery of photos this evening. There seems to be only one net connection here so I will post again as soon as I can collect the pulls for the first loop...and as soon as I can boot someone else off the computer as they are trying to do to me.

Maryanne, reporting from the Cairo SUV festival.

First Loop finishers - November 19 2007

The first four horses for the first loop were from the UAE: Salem Rashid Ghadier, Maktoum Stable on Dalton Du Capimont recovery time 1 min 9 sec HE Sh. Majid Mohamed Al Maktoum, Maktoum Stable on Omani Iman, recovery time 3 min 9 sec Mubarak Khalifa bin Shafiya, Maktoum Stable on Kaysand Farrazah, recovery time 1 min 46 sec Mohamd Ahmad Ali Al Subose, Maktoum Stable on Kevin De Narthoux, recovery time 2 min 38 sec

The fifth rider is Saudi: Abdul Raman Al Hawas, Prince Al Walled Bin Talal Stable on Falah Olood, recovery time 4 min 26 sec

Sixth another for UAE Sultan Ahmed Sultan bin Sulayem, Maktoum Stable on Ryton Remy, recovery time 3 min 18 sec

Seventh rider is Bahrain: Ahmed Abdulla Al Mohamed Ali Hazaa, Royal Endurance Team on Farhoz De Paute, recovery time 1 min 55 sec

Eighth rider is UAE again: Abdullah Thani bin Huzaim, Maktoum Stable on Splendacrest Kamolflage, recovery time 5 min 18 sec

Ninth place is Saudi: Mohamed R. Al Mohlesi, Prince Al Walled Bin Talal Bin Abdula stable on Anwar Al Mamlakah, recovery time 2 min 34 sec

Tenth place is Bahrain: Sh. Salman bin Saqer Al Khalifa, Al Fateh Stud on Bedouin De Piboul, recovery time 5 min 45 sec

After 10th place the first group of mid runners had much higher recovery times but some of the later riders had recoveries similar to the front runners, so it's looking like some teams are hanging back a bit waiting to see if the leaders can keep the pace. The Qatari's rode the first loop much as a group, as did the Egyptians. The Egyptian recovery rates are in the one to six minute range, which is not bad at all. Yes, there is a partiality here...no question. I'm hoping that enough of the front runners mess up and that our guys keep their cool and maybe get a team medal.

When I picked up the results sheets, there had been 5 pulls in the first loop, all for lameness: Three Libyan riders, a Jordanian and a Saudi

The Libyans were Aymen Harrous on Saada, Khalid Rajab on Wadi Jaref, and Mohsen Abood on Horra. The Jordanian was Jehad Shamaltoq on Travers, and the Saudi was Homoad Al Shamari on Cherox Juana. The completions and the pulls came to 39 riders and as I was walking to the press tent two women riders from Syria were having a discussion with the timers, so I have a sneaky suspicion that there was a time issue there. One other rider had not shown as yet but the next pickup should clear that up.

One of the Libyan riders was still in for the second loop. They are having a rough day. To have your first international endurance race be something like this is a very tough learning curve.

Loop Two results - November 19 2007

After the second loop, the front three runners from the UAE remain unchanged. Hazaa from Bahrain who was 7th has moved up to 4th place, Subose (UAE) who was in 4th is now 5th. Huzaim (UAE) who was 8th is 6th, Sulayem (UAE)who was 6th is 7th, Mohlesi (Saudi) who was 9th is 8th, Al Hawas (Saudi) who was 5th is now 9th, and Hamad Ali Rashid Al Marri from Qatar, riding Tequila for the Al Shaqab Endurance Team has moved from 19th to 10th place.

All of the Egyptian horses are still in the race, trailing...but no one here is terribly worried about their placing. If they can finish the team, everyone will be delighted. Yalla Misr!

There seems to have been an accident involving a Jordanian rider and I'm trying to find out details. Shakib Wahib Qabbani riding Al Andalous was eliminated on the first loop before the vet gate.

Second loop pulls are: Bader Al Fard (Saudi) metabolic..he was in 11th place on the first loop. Yusuf Ali Taher Yusuf (Bahrain) exercised rider option on his gelding Samara after finishing the first loop in 15th place. Sh. Salman bin Saqer Al Khalifa (Bahrain) was eliminated for lameness (10th place loop 1) Mohamed Mdani (Libya) exercised rider option as well.

Through Loop 3 - November 19 2007

It's 2:30 pm and I'm feeling a little schizophrenic. The internet connection is so glacial that I could easily spend hours in the press tent. Then I have to hike to the vet gates for the in/out times and the variation between the front runners and the back of the pack is so huge that there is at least a loop's difference between the two. Right now, as far as I know based on my last print out, the UAE, Qatar and Egypt are the only teams in the running for team medals. Everyone else has lost too many horses to qualify. The UAE are running hard and fast with one rider from Saudi Arabia chasing them at the end of loop 3 (they are going to be out on loop 5 soon however) and one from Bahrain before a trio of Qatari riders is moving up. Of course, by the time I actually get this posted and trot down to the timers, the situation may have changed. AND correction, the two Syrian women were not out of time, they were just running at the back of the pack.

The pulls so far: Loop 1

Ayman Harrous, Libya, lameness Mohsen Abood, Libya, lameness Khalid Rajab, Libya, lameness

Shakib Wahib Qabbani, Jordan, horse cut by stone on coronary band on trail (but ok) Jehad Shameltoq, Jordan, lameness Homoad Al Shamari, Jordan lameness

Loop 2

Bader el Fard, Saudi, metabolic Manal Majeed Fakhrawi, Bahrain, retired (rider option) Sh. Salman bin Saqer al Khalifa, Bahrain, lameness Yusuf Ali Yusuf, Bahrain, retired Mohamed Mdani, Libya, retired

Saif Nasri Nuwwar, Jordan, lameness Abdul Hamid el Salah, Jordan, retired

Loop 3

Ghazi Mohamed Al Doseri, Bahrain, metabolic Raed Mahmoud, Bahrain, metabolic Atta Mohamed Peer, Qatar, retired Fahad Mohamed Al Hajiri, Qatar, retired Lutfi Faraj Omer, Egypt, retired Mohmed Jabar Faraj, Egypt, lameness Abdul Rahman Al Hawas, Saudi, metabolic

This is Actually a Horserace - November 19 2007

Preliminary results from the 4th loop show the UAE firmly in control of the first five spots. Hazaa of Bahrain is fifth and in a real surprise, Mohamed Salah Ibrahim has moved up from 13th to 6th. Half of the Egyptian team is in and we are waiting for the other half to clear and finish the 5th loop to see if they will qualify for the team Bronze.

The first riders have arrived from the 5th loop, a straight flat shot out to the railway tracks and back...perfectly suited to racing... and they are from the UAE. No surprise there, but let's watch the vet check. The Individual awards are sitting right in front of me and in typical "hurry up and finish" style, they are probably going to be awarded even as the later riders are still finishing the course. This really is a rather bad habit...looks totally rude.

I've not been a huge fan of our Egyptian endurance riders over the years and have bee quite exasperated at their lack of patience in a sport that above all requires it. As for FEI endurance, well, let's not even go there. However, at this point, I have to say that I am immensely proud of the work that the Egyptian team has done for this competition.

And the Winner Is... - November 19 2007

For once I'm in the right spot for something as the awards ceremony is just about to begin within the regulation time after the arrival of the front runners. Tables are being filled with boxes and bags of gifts and tasteful silver and gold plate trophies line up in front of a sign for the sponsors of this event, PMA, which is some kind of investment company. The platform in front of the cafeteria is full of white robed men with either glistening white or red and white head scarves carefully folded back over their shoulders. There are, in fact, horses standing not 10 feet away who have not yet gone out to do the final loop but what the hay? There are people here who, I suppose, have seen enough endurance today. Everyone is waiting to award the individual prizes in the competition.

First place and individual gold goes to HE Sh. Majid Mohamed Al Maktoum Second place and individual silver goes to Salem Rashid Ghadier Third place and individual bronze goes to Mohamed Ahmad Ali Al Subose Fourth place goes to Mubarak Khalifa bin Shafiya

All four are riding horses from the Maktoum stable in Dubai.

And that's all folks.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Wrapping up the Sheikhs and all - November 20 2007

At the end of the day of the 42 riders who started the race, thirteen finished, about a 31% finish. The rules stipulated that three of the six riders had to finish for the team medal and the UAE took the gold medal, while Qatar took the silver. Egypt ended up with two riders finishing, as did Syria and it was decided to give them a joint bronze medal. The awards ceremony for the bronze took place separately from the other awards this afternoon at Sakkara Country Club, all the other awards having been given yesterday afternoon at the time of my last post.

This was a very tough race. The weather wasn't an issue with cool breezes and high clouds so that plenty of these extremely fit horses barely broke a sweat during the final short loops. The important aspect of the race for these horses was the desert itself. Over the past few years there has been quite an increase in four wheel drive traffic in the area and this has disturbed a lot of the sand leaving large pockets of very soft sand mixed in with a lot of rocky sand. Most of the horses were wearing pads to protect their feet but judging by the large number of pulls due to lameness, especially on the first two loops, feet and legs really took a beating. There were also quite a number of riders opting to pull their horses as well. I talked to one Jordanian boy who told me that his horse just didn't feel quite right and he didn't want to risk another loop which might seriously injure him. I told him that he was showing good horsemanship and he should be proud of himself.

The UAE went out fast to win and stayed in front for the entire time. Qatar moved up a bit, having started out at the back of the front runners, so to speak, while the Egyptians hung back and moved up quite a bit at the end as many of the competitors between them and the front dropped out. The pace set in the first few loops by the UAE was hot. The winner did the first loop at 23.01 kph and the second at 22.28, with each loop progressively slower for an average speed of 17.82 kph. The fastest Egyptian rider, in contrast, made 18.26 kph on the first loop and an overall average of 16.36 kph, a much steadier pace. Recovery times for the horses started at 1.5 minutes to 2 minutes at the beginning to 6.75 minutes to 8 minutes at the finish. The printouts from the timers at these races are a wealth of information.

The venue for the race is a small place and basically everyone was at each other's elbow all day. This was great for those of us who were photographing, watching and otherwise trying not to get in the way. Despite the relatively cramped quarters, much of the atmosphere was that of a large very messy picnic for much of the day, with emphasis on the mess as the grass down in the area for the cooling of the horses grew boggier and boggier as the day wore on. The club isn't going to have to water that lawn for a month. The areas for the horses and riders to rest and eat were on a higher elevation so they stayed quite dry and comfortable for everyone. The organisers had a large tent set up with catered food for riders, crews, and press, which was much appreciated, especially the breakfast at 6:30 am. The crowd at the race wasn't terribly large, mainly because there had been virtually no publicity for the event. Plenty of the riders in the area were completely unaware of the race, but some showed up to watch for a while. Endurance is not a very high profile sport in Egypt. I had to laugh at the comment of one woman who'd never seen an endurance race before that she'd never spent so much time watching people bathe horses.

If I have one main complaint about the race it would be the timing of the awards ceremony for the individual and team gold and silver. Maybe I'm just really old-fashioned but it seems to me to be a bit rude to give out some of the awards before the others, even if this is the pattern that we've grown accustomed to with the UAE organised races in Egypt. I have a very hard time being comfortable about giving out awards before the race is over, but maybe that's just me.

The horses that most of the countries brought in were beautiful. We had the Egyptian National and International Halter Shows out at the EAO over the four days preceding the race, and for my money the graceful, athletic healthy creatures inhabiting the club and visiting our desert at the time have the halter show ponies beat hands down. I have had visitors from the US this week who simply went nuts with cameras at the event and once we sort out some of these millions of photos we will get them up on the net for you. There are some beauties.

There were surprisingly few glitches at the race as well. One Jordanian horse cut his coronary band during the first loop and had to wait quite a while to be trailered back to the club. Depending on where he was waiting, this is pretty understandable since trailers are in pretty short supply in Egypt in the first place and moving one around in the desert is a major problem in the second. Most horses here travel in big trucks that can't navigate sand, or on foot. But the horse made it back just fine. The winning horse Omani Iman looked a little rocky at the finish and was rechecked by the vets. There was the usual huge cheer when the UAE came in from the last loop, followed by about half an hour of dead silence, followed once more by a cheer when the horse was pronounced ok. He later came in second for BC behind Dalton Du Capimont. The Libyans, who had come to Cairo almost totally in the dark about the sport, had a major eye opening, but I hope that they don't find the learning curve too daunting. They were pretty nice guys who gave it a try...a lot like the Egyptians in 2000.

I personally was very proud of our Egyptian team who have come a rather long way from the early days. From a position of knowing absolutely nothing at all about endurance in the spring of 2000 and being smacked in the face by teams from the UAE with horses whose names I'd read in articles, they've matured a lot. It's one thing to be told that it takes time to bring along a good endurance horse and another to actually do it. Their pacing of their ride this time showed me that progress is definitely being made and I'm happy that they are seeing a reward for it.

My stirrup and saddle never made it past the first loop. Oh well, there's always another race.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani