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YDSM-PENN Endurance Challenge

2008 YDSM Penn Challenge
Images by Steph Teeter
Back to Malaysia, again! This recent trip for the YDSM-PENN Endurance Challenge was my 5th trip to this wonderful county. And the first time that I didn't go to ride, simply to observe and help. Horses are not in ample supply in Malaysia - the number of endurance horses in the country has not kept up with the huge leap in the sport's popularity. Particularly there is a shortage of fit, seasoned horses ready for 160km rides. It is very expensive to bring horses in to the country - most of them come from Australia, the nearest source. And they are not cheap. So there are simply not enough horses, and unfortunatly it seems that some of the riders are campaigning the horses that they have a little too aggressively, and a little too early for their level of fitness and ability to withstand the rigours of the sport.

I wasn't dissappointed about not riding - and there are simply not many 'extra' horses available for guest riders - and I knew I'd stay busy helping in one way or another . And so I did! After talking with Paul Brown, the Australian trainer for the Royal Terengganu Endurance Stables, it seemed that they could use a little help crewing. There were 4 RTES horses in the 160km event, and 1 in the 80km. His Highness 'Tuanku' Sultan Mizan was riding, Paul was riding, and the other 3 RTES horses were being ridden by the young men (from Indonesia and Malaysia) hired as grooms and riders. So I can now add to my bizarre repertoire of endurance qualifications: "groom for the King of Malaysia" !!

I feel incredibly honored to be involved with the Malaysians and their effort - and determination - to host the next World Championship. They are very kind people, from royalty to lowest class, the Malaysians have a gentle and kind aura. Quick to smile, quick to laugh, hospitable and easy to talk to - I've never seen any displays of arrogance or anger in these people. But - sometimes I feel that they need a little more grit, especially dealing with the FEI. They are so eager to learn and and to 'do it right' - I worry that those with power feel that this gives them more license to excersize their power...

The Malaysians are also very clever people. One look at their technology business industry, the KL Twin Towers, Putrajaya (government city), Cyberjaya (technology city), the KL airport which was one of the first 'smart' airports in the world (AI technology)... there are multiple universities, engineers, doctors, a very large percentage of the population has advanced degrees. Yet their demeanor is gentle and whereas the western world has a more aggressive, by the clock, approach to solving problems, the Malays seem to take their time - perhaps more thoughtful and deliberate - certainly less stressed. It is easy to underestimate this nation.

I don't know the King - Tuanku Sultan Mizan - very well, but I have spoken with him on a few occasions, and for the past few years I have watched him juggle his passion for endurance (he definitely has the passion!) with his Royal responsibilities, which in Malaysia are significant, and closely intertwined with parliamentary government. He is a very special individual. At age 44 he is the youngest Malay to be coronated. He brings this vigour and energetic optimism to his position, and from what I've observed his people dearly love him. He gets out there on the trail with all the rest of the whacky endurance riders, he trains, he asks for time off to compete (the recent coronation ceremony meant he had to miss a ride!) and he is fully committed to seeing Malaysia host the next WEC.

Regarding the new (supposedly proposed) qualification criteria of a 10:40 160km ride, they all realize that it cannot be done in Malaysia. The EAM (Endurance Association of Malaysia) is writing their letter to the FEI, asking for a host country exemption, or to reconsider the 10:40... but at the same time those with means are considering options for shipping their horses overseas to qualify. Perhaps Europe or the Middle East. They are determined.

So my trip to Malaysia was more about supporting the WEC effort than about the ride. I'm helping them with their website and promotion, and offering opinions and observations about the enormous task of hosting a WEC. While my experience is meager in light of a World Championship event, I've hosted many rides, ridden in many rides around the world, and observed many rides. A little bit of experience to draw on. They are receptive to any and all suggestions and opinions - no arrogance from this group.

The event was fairly small. Co-hosted by YDSM (the Sultan Mizan Royal Foundation) and PENN, one of the Endurance clubs, the ride offered 160, 80, 40 and 26 (novice) kilometer events. The turnout in the shorter distances was high, but with only 14 horses starting the 160km ride.

The most significant aspect of this event was the trial run of a new (to Malaysia) timing system. A group from UAE had developed a timing system for Al Wathba (Presidents Cup) and Bou Thib stables, which utilizes a plastic card with a bar code printed on it. The card is swiped through a machine and read as the riders go in and out of the gates (in/out gate and vet gates) recording their times. The data is quickly processed and immediately available through printed forms. Riders, grooms, owners can ask for a printout of results (vetgates and eliminations) at any time. It's really fantastic to have all of this information so quickly at hand. The system was run on a trial basis - the software developers brought a few computers with them, the rest were acquired upon arrival. I believe this is the first time their system had been taken to another country, another venue, and it was tremendously successful. Very few hitches (one rider lost his card, another stuck it in his pocket and sat on it bending a corner) and the problems were easily solved.

I had a great time being on the Royal Stable support crew! The OC has hired an event coordinater (Azrin Zuhdi) to manage the November test event and the WEC. She invited her 'team' from Kuala Lumpr over to observe the event and take notes. Jay and 'Shiraz' and Joanne also got recruited to crew for the King's group, so we had enough rigs and people to meet the riders at every crew point for water, cooling, drinks, etc. We had three rigs, one driven by Dr. Bala (RTES veterinarian), one by Mat Din (personal assistant to HRH), and one by either Jay or Shiraz. Plus body guards, plus a personal trainer, plus grooms, it was quite the group and a lot of fun. Focused and efficient, back and forth from from checkpoint to checkpoint, from trail to camp, from horse to horse, ice water, drinks, hay, consultation, planning. HRH was scurried off to his private quarters each time after the horses came in (high security for the country's King) and the rest of us took the horses back to the crewing area, fed, rested, planned, strategized, and then back out again. It was a long long night, but never boring.

Paul Brown was first to finish on the 160km ride (on a RTES horse) with a ride time of 12:41 (or thereabouts). Very fit horse, very skilled rider and trainer, I don't think the ride times will ever be much faster than that over there. Perhaps some time can be knocked off by being quicker at the water points - but the precious time taken to cool the horses with scoops of water seems essential to their health. It will be interesting to see how the UAE riders do in Malaysia - they are so skilled and efficient at crewing - this is the only place that I can see a lot of improvement being made on the ride times. The horses simply can't sustain the high speeds on the trail.

So that's pretty much it for the most recent Malaysia trip. There was a nice awards banquet in Terengganu on Sunday after the ride. And on Monday we (Azrin and team members, the grooms, the veterinary students, Dr. Bala, and myself) were treated by Mat Din to a trip to Redang Island. A one hour boat trip out to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world - crystal clear water, aqua pools, snorkeling among schools of fish so thick it made me dizzy. Coral reefs, hot hot sun and cool deep shade. We swam and snorkled, I played a little beach volleyball with the grooms, a cold beer, sate and spring rolls. Very 'island'. Malaysia has some real secret treasures like this. Azrin said she comes here to dive whenever possible. And it's so affordable for foreigners - 500 ringets for 3 days and 2 nights at the Coral Redang resort - that's less than 200 dollars! A quick boat ride back, 10 minutes to throw all my stuff in my suitcase, and whisked off to the airport for the long trip back. A little sand between my toes to make me smile thinking of that beach...

I think John and I are going back again in June for the Edaran Classic - which will be held this year in Terengganu instead of Selangor (outside of KL). Another opportunity to 'practice' at the WEC venue. We will be working on getting the timing system data on the net - real time web display of rider progress. And maybe riding, though I'm not sure. It's just a hop from Japan, where we'll be during the previous week for Japan's first FEI ride - the Shining Moon CEI***. Should be quite the trip!

Photo Galleries

Photos of the Trail

Planning & Preparation

Images of the Venue

Sutra Beach Resort

Ride Photos

Day Trip to Redang Island

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