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Carmona to Ecija
Images by Merri Melde

Vetting In
Images by Merri Melde

Sevilla to Carmona
Images by Merri Melde
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Saturday April 4 2009 - Final Day 8: Montoro - Virgen de la Cabeza
What a finish to a challenging ride: 77 km and 388 meters (1300') of climbing, ending below the 13th century Santuario de la Virgen de la Cabeza.

37 of 42 horses completed the day's ride; 5 Binomios horses (1 horse, 1 rider) of 20 completed all 8 days, and 3 Equipos (teams: 1 rider and 2 horses, or 2 riders and 2 horses) of 22 completed all 8 days.

Overall Biomios winner was Eduardo Sanchez Hidalgo, on 16-year-old Hermes - what a horse! Overall Equipos winners were Inigo Del Solar LLanso on Zafia 50% and his 14-year-old niece Teresa Lozano Muguiro on Cardhu.

The huge dinner and awards party started late, went even later, and I think the dancing and party is still going on.

Another amazing year in the books of Tierras de-Al Andalus, the unique endurance ride across Andalucia!

Friday April 3 2009 - Day 7: Cordoba - Montoro
Lest you think 8 days of 'only' 60 kilometers is not endurance, or that it sounds easy and that you don't need a really fit horse to do it, you are wrong. Of course luck plays a part, but it takes skill to get one (or two) horses through Al Andalus, and it is endurance.

Today's ride was a strenuous climb up into the mountains, that are the source of the Guadalquivir River we've been following since Day 1. The views were awesome and the ride a definite challenge. 14 horses vetted out lame today, "the most ever in 14 years!" said Jose Manuel Soto.

Paulette Maldera won the Equipos and Carlos Escavias won the Binomios on his little chestnut stallion. Eduardo Sanchez and Hermes finished second in Binomios, and still have a 1 1/2 hour lead over Otto Velez and Pal Partenon. In Equipos, the team of Emma Rosell and 14-year-old Maria Capdevila (riding in Al Andalus for the third time!) have moved to second place, only 1 hour and 7 minutes behind Inigo del Solar and Teresa Lozano.

It's another tough day in the mountains tomorrow, the final day of Al Andalus 2009.

Thursday April 2 2009 - DESCANSO EN CORDOBA!
Last year I saw absolutely nothing extra during Al Andalus, so this year I determined to do so.

Since today was a day off, I spent most of it walking around the old part of Cordoba, and visiting the stables where riders and crews were busy caring for their horses.

I bumped into Fernando, (who gave Steph a horse to ride in Al-Andalus last year), and as we walked around the Alcazar and the Great Mosque, we concocted the Spanamericano Al Andalus Endurance team for next year's ride. (Fernando and I ride, Steph takes pictures : ).

We ran into more Al Andalus people and wandered around with them, and I finally had to peel myself away to go do a LITTLE work. But suddenly it was time for the awards and hors d'oeuvres party in the Alcazar (old fortress), and then suddenly it was the next morning and time for an early 6 AM wake-up call.

The final two days of Al Andalus begin tomorrow.

Wednesday April 1 2009 DAY 6 - ECIJA - CORDOBA
After a terrific meal for more than 150 people during the day's Awards, 11 AM start the next morning meant not getting up so early (but maybe not getting to bed the night before, either : ).

phase 1: 26 kilometers to Las Pinedas. Due to rains in the past few days, the track was impassable for cars (and for the Andalucians, that is saying something!), and only a few jeeps and Ines on her motorcycle drove with the horses. The first assistance point was attended only by the Organization, since the trail crossed on a very narrow road, while the crews drove straight to the second assistance point.

The first vet gate was in a nice green pasture surrounded by olive groves; the clouds that had been hovering all morning parted and the sun came out for the 30 minute hold.

In the middle of phase 2, (31 km to Cordoba), riders crossed a (horse) chest deep muddy river and scrambled up out the other side, then had 8 more kilometers to travel to Cordoba, over thick mud that stuck to the feet and made the going heavy. Spectators stood on the river bank and were most entertained by the two jeeps and the quad that blasted through, with Jose Manuel Soto crossing himself before driving into the river, and whooping in victory (and relief) when they made it successfully to the other side.

Visiting today was last year's Binomios winner Jose Antonio, who was unable to prepare for the ride this year because of a little accident; however, he will ride one or two of the last two days, which will also be a national 1* and 2* ride in conjuction with Day 7 and 8 of Al Andalus.

Riders finished in the city of Cordoba - police directing traffic - inside the old defense walls of the city. It was founded by the Romans, became the capital of the Moorish kingdom then finally was reconquered by the Christians in 1236 AD.

Our hotel is a terrific 4* with our windows overlooking the Guadalquivir river, the El Puente Romano (old Roman bridge), and the Great Mosque, or "Mezquita."

And tomorrow: A DAY OFF!!

Tuesday March 31 2009 :DAY 5 - CARMONA - ECIJA

This is how non-stop busy I've been - I haven't had a cappuchino since the first day. I haven't even had time to think about one.
41 horses left Carmona in the morning in a controlled start out of the gates of the old city, down the hill across a Roman bridge, and on into and through the Carmona Valley.
60 kilometers across farmland of wheat, garlic, sugar beets, and olive groves, fairly flat but a fair amount of pavement, with the finish just inside Ecija, "the Frying-Pan of Andalucia" with several baroque churches with towers you can see from the distance. It was a pleasantly sunny and cool day - in contrast to how hot it can be here in the summer (once it hit 52*C - hence "Frying Pan").
First in binomiols was Salvador Garrido on Shakyra, followed by the overall binomios leader Eduardo Sanchez and Hidalgo. First across the line in Equipos was Nathalie Michel again, but it was a vet gate finish, and Lise Chambost and Damas El Derkouch were the first to come down to the 56 bpm heartrate. Inigo Frl Solar was 2nd on Zafia.
Inigo and his riding partner Teresa Lozano hold 1st place overall in teams by a mere 3 minutes over Daniel and Paulette Maldera. Eduardo Sanchez and Hermes (who is 16 years old, not 14, I was told), have a 55 minute lead over second place Otto Velez and Pal Parthenon.
Five horses didn't start today, and 8 were pulled for lameness. The kilometers are starting to take their toll on some... and now I'm seeing a lot of after care - cold-water hosing of legs, mud, a few leg wraps (but not so many as I'd expect), arnica, physiotherapy.
One more day tomorrow followed by a rest day in Cordoba (!!) - though whether this will benefit the horses or hurt them more will be seen on the last two days in the mountains.

March 30 - Sevilla - Dos Hermanas,Carmona
This marks the halfway point of Al-Andalus. Today's route went 53 km over mostly kind dirt roads along canals, past fields thick with wheat grass, between orange and olive groves, ending with a little hill climb up into the old city of Carmona. The ancient Roman town is still guarded by a 15th century tower and gateways.
For the 3rd time, Eduardo Sanchez and 14-year-old Hermes crossed the line first in Biomios (1 horse, 1 rider), averaging 17.3 km/h, keeping them in first place overall by 30 minutes. It's Eduardo's first time at Al Andalus; it's Hermes' 4th time in Al-Andalus, though it's his first time in Biomios - he gets tougher as he gets older!
But, as one observant person said, "This is not the race. The race is day 6, 7, 8." Now little things begin to show up on horses... an elbow rub from sand that's become painful, a little heat in one leg, a slight lameness, sore back...
It takes skill and luck and strategy to get through all 8 days with one or two horses. Some riders are here to complete, some are here to win. Do you turn on the speed and risk more, or do you keep a same steady pace and wait for the front runners to fall?
And the going gets harder. The end of the ride finishes in the mountains, the hardest days for last. Will it be the strongest, or the fastest. or the smartest who win?
March 27-29: Jerez - El Rocio - Sevilla

Already it's Day 3 of the 4th annual Tierras de-Al Andalus, the 8-day endurance riding test across Andalucia in southern Spain, roughly 60 kilometers a day, roughly 45 starters every day.

Riders from Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium, and Argentina have been along the beaches, through the vineyards and olive and orange groves, through the ancient Roman city of Italica. There are riders of all ages, old to young (I think the youngest is 14) and in between. We've had three rousing galloping finishes, one on the beach along the Guadaliquivir River, one at the foot of the shrine of Our Lady of the Rocio, and one beside the birthplace of Trajan and Adriano, at the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Italica near Sevilla.

There are more riders this year, and there are 21 attempting to ride their one horse all 8 days. Some are here to win, some are here to complete every day, some are here just to fulfill a dream they have had of riding across Andalucia. Some are returning for the 3rd year.

The days are non-stop, from 7 in the morning (not QUITE so early this year so far!) to at least 9:30 PM with the great meals and finally the ride meetings, and if you still have the desire (or strength), somewhere there's a party to escort you to dawn.

Our path leads us toward the mountains - "Take it slowly," says singer/actor/organizor Jose Manuel Soto, and head veterinarian Paco Castejon, "because the last 2 days are the hardest."

More of Andalucia to come...