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The confusion...and explanations

January 15.
It all comes down to communication. A week later and several conversations later, the events of the day are a little clearer. Just lack of communication, lack of understanding. Apparently the invitation to the event came from Sheikh Hazza (Al Warsan)- an invitation to come and watch (and perhaps - just maybe - if possible - to ride). The two riders from Brazil understood this, I can't speak for Adib and the Czech girls. And Shk Hazza extended the invitation because some foreigners had asked if they could come - or bring riders. Of course he would want to say yes.

So when the kids showed up at the venue the day before the ride, they came wearing their riding clothes thinking they might get to ride and wanted to be prepared just in case. When the Warsan stable manager arrived towards the end of the day, he noticed that they were wearing their riding clothes. He had not arranged horses for them, believing they were just there to observe, but when he saw them dressed to ride he was concerned that he had misunderstood and that they were supposed to have horses! He didn't have any Warsan horses for them, so he aked Bou Thib if they had any horses - all of this was after vetting closed for the day... and so the story goes. The hosts didn't want to let down their guests, the guests didn't realize that horses hadn't been prepared for them and didn't want to be unprepared just in case.

And the ride organizers and officials didn't know all of this until the morning of the ride, and...

I suggested that next year they could arrange things earlier - and perhaps have an introduction to the venue, the horses, the difference in the sport over here. I also think that the riders should be screened carefully, perhaps even qualify for this event. It's a much higher level 'race' than most foreign young riders are prepared for.

Runaway Sport!

January 11.
Yesterday we went to the HH Presidents Cup for Junior and Young Riders. Endurance in the UAE is truly a phenomenon - unlike Endurance in any other place that I've seen. By the end of the day my head was reeling, even more than usual... Every one of the UAE rides that I've been to this year has been viewed from different angle - a different purpose. Yesterday John and I went with our 'host-friend' hats and our 'press' hats. A group of young riders was invited to participate in the race - Marketa Terberova, Petra Trojakova and Katarina Kysela from Czech Republic, Raphael Sabion and Karina Camarg Aroya from Brazil, and Raja Adib Raja Hariz from Malysia. Adib is Raja Mahmood Ym Raja Hussein's oldest son (chair of Malaysia Endurance committe, active in WEC preparations and rider qualifications). Adib came to ride in Chile last December, a fantastic kid - funny, friendly, a good sport, really a nice boy. So John and I planned to go and help Adib and the other foreign riders, and cover the event for Endurance.Net.

From the start, there seemed to be some confusion about arrival, transport, host, horses, etc., for the foreign invited young riders. As foreigners coming to the UAE - we typically feel 'out of the loop'. The cultural differences, language difference, all of this seems to result in a bit of confusion. Our need to know when/where/why/how and to know it Now, and to feel like we understand what's going on, becomes totally frustrated. Here in the UAE, things happen... or they don't, or they will, or maybe they won't... but no amount of worrying and asking or demanding seems to ever help, really. I have certainly grown to appreciate these people, and the complexity of their culture - the lack of urgency and hit or miss punctuality, the reverence for time on a different scale. What matters a few minutes or hours, or even days? Hundreds - thousands - of years of developing rules for social and hierarchical behavior simply can't be altered in the span of a few decades. But, that growing appreciation hasn't seemed to help temper the feeling that there's no knowing - or predicting - what is really going on!

John and I left the Ladies Challenge race early. (We missed the finish with Ladies riders in full gallop during last loop and flat out race to the finish - 30km/hr average pace - one horse missed the sharp final turn to the finish line and ran straight for the stable, one of the riders had her pad and weights fly out from under the saddle, one horse crashed into a few things after crossing the line and before it could be stopped... and Shka Madiya had scratched in the morning because her horse ran away with her... pretty wild!). We went over to the hotel in Abu Dhabi to meet Adib and Hamdan bin Mohamed (rider, ride organizer, family friend of Mahmood) who was travelling with Adib. They were in good spirits. 'Raja Adib' translates to 'Prince Adib' and the hotel staff were calling him Prince and he was really soaking it up :) Nothing like being 16 yrs old, in a foreign country, to ride an Endurance event for young riders - at the invitation of an important Sheikh!

We finally coordinated with the other riders (Czech, Brazilian) and their drivers, and went out to the venue at Bouthib Endurance Village. The understanding (one of those non-arab understanding things...) was that Al Wrsan would supply horses and the kids were now going to try them out and find a suitable horse. So we met up with the Wrsan folks at the venue, friendly guys. Watched all the incredibly fit and beautiful horses getting off the vans, the kids were wondering which of those glorious animals they would ride. Watching and waiting - while the grooms vetted the horses in, saddled them up, rode them around the crewing area, and then went out on the trail. And disappeared... A few hours later, it's getting dark, and nobody said 'here's your horse, give it try'. Nobody said anything. But we just figured they knew what they were doing, so didn't ask any questions. (guests, foreign guests, nobody wanted to be rude or questioning). Now it's dark, the vetting has closed, the horses are gone, and we're still standing around. The drivers show up and say they have instructions to take every body back to the hotel. And the kids must arrive back at the venue at 4AM. (it's a 6:30 start). So of course we all assume that the early arrival is to give the kids a chance to try the horses and find a suitable one.

John and I went back to Steve and Pamela's for the night, and drove out the next morning to meet everybody and get them off to a safe start. We got there around 5:30AM and they were still just standing around not knowing anything! They didn't have rider numbers yet, no vests, no horses... hmmm. We couldn't find the Wrsan folks, and then some Bouthib Stable folks came and rounded up the kids and took them over to the registration room. Everybody crowded into the room (small room), quick questions, blank looks, noise and a little confusion. It's 6:15 AM now (6:30AM start time) and one of the officials tells the kids they can't ride unless they have proof of age. They need to show it now. What??? John sort of lost it at that point and had a head to head with the official. A bit of temper flare, but this is ridiculous. And I overheard one of the vets saying a bunch of horses just showed up that morning to get vetted through...

Finally the officials tell the kids to grab a vest with their number and go outside. Ok - now we have 5 foreign riders with numbers and vests... but still no horses. It's 6:20. They wander back outside (it's still dark) and somebody says 'find a horse with your number!'. Ok, there's dozens of horses being walked around by grooms, it's awfully dark, but we start finding the horses - there's #49 - isn't that your number Adib? This is a Boudhib horse, not Warsan, and these are Boudib grooms. We're finally figuring out that Warsan never did have horses for the kids, and they had to round up some last minute mounts for them. (and as it turned out, Warsan wasn't even told that they were supposed to give them horses?... or whatever, more confusion, disconnect..) Ok, now it's 6:28, we toss him into the saddle on the horse that none of us have seen until this second - how is it? Need to shorten the stirrups, get back off - one hole? two holes? - just one - ok get back on. It's 6:29, walk him a little see how he feels - ok, now head over to the start gate. Just in time for the entire pack of galloping horses to take off. Adib does a few circles as he gets to the gate, out onto the track, we can barely make out the shape of his gray horse, and John and Hamdan and I run for the truck to join him on the track.

When we find him again (where the rigs can join the track) he's marginally in control. He's riding well, but the horse is at a 32km/hr gallop (by our speedometer) and bobbing his head so it's hard for Adib to keep a good seat and quiet hands to rate him. I'm so afraid at this point that we'll have another runaway on our hands... but he keeps riding, and he's pretty strong, and eventually seems to settle the horse into a controlled gallop. Sunrise is close, I can finally breathe a little, and then there's a screaming coming from behind him - one of the Czech girls is on a full runaway. Her crew rig went flying past us, so we stayed with Adib hoping his horse wouldn't follow suit... we came upon the girl - still on her horse - with the grooms holding her. We stopped and got out to help if needed. The other girls came up and I guess they figured the worst was over and all left again together. One of the grooms got in the truck with us holding halter and lead rope. They seemed to be in a semi-controlled gallop, maybe the crisis was over, and then the girl's horse started surging ahead again. I hollered to Adib to get in front of her and maybe that would hold her back. His eyes got very wide, but he moved up and started to pull in front of her and the girl's horse took off. Really took off - away she went, screaming. John gunned the engine and we flew up the track to head her off. We ran out of the truck and onto the track and blocked the path of the horse. yikes! There was another big group of riders that she had just flown past and they skidded to a stop when we ran to block the course. Pretty chaotic there for a second, but her horse slowed enough for the groom to grab the halter and we pulled the girl off. She was hysterical at this point - hyperventilating, gasping, crying - and when we put her on the ground she fainted. Poor thing!! She eventually came around enough for us to get her in the back seat of the truck. I told the groom to ride the horse back to camp. We told Adib to go ahead and ride with the other girls, we'd find him again. Then the other Czech folks came up - the chef d'equip, one of the other rider's fathers - they took her with them in their car. Poor thing! Not a very good ride experience...

So back in the truck to catch up with Adib... and on with the day. He and the girls were riding together now, and the Brazilian kids joined them too. Perfect... settle into the routine. Back to camp, and Adib and Raphael's horses were out with lameness. We realize by now that these were 'spare' horses - who knows what their recent riding history was - last minute recruits. We stayed in camp some with Adib while he got some breakfast, and then headed back out on the horse to take photos and help the others. All the horses given to the foreign riders eventually pulled with lameness. Three loops was the farthest any of them got. What can you do? Just make the best of the opportunity to travel to a foreign country, meet people, stay positive, and try to salvage the day!

We decided to go back out on the course and follow and photograph the front runners. Absolute insanity!! Racing horses, racing crew rigs, dust, noise, honking... rigs flying past each with centimeters between them. Crews hanging out the backs, photographers hanging out the windows. Zooming and leap frogging for water drops... this is is Endurance Rally racing. It's fun and crazy and intoxicating and exciting... the kids are urging their horses, horns honking, engines racing... and those amazing horses running and running and running. It got wilder and wilder the closer to the finish we got. And the horses ran faster and faster. I wish we could have clocked their speed. At one point, a few kilometers from the finish we drove on ahead, wanting to be at the finish line to take pictures as they crossed. We really had to speed up just to get far enough ahead. I'm guessing over 40km/hr - pushing 50. Two horses finished at a full gallop...nose to nose.

When they really race here, they race to the very edge...they race to win - but that's a whole 'nother subject for my next chapter.