Friday, November 14, 2014

The Horse Whisperer......

The International Equestrian Federation’s judicial committee has cleared all parties from blame for the deaths of two endurance horses at last year’s World Equestrian Games in Jerez.
In a carefully worded statement, the FEI says that both horses, the French-owned Floyd and Spanish horse Sir Fire, died because of a multi-systemic failure.
Significantly, the statement stops short of saying that fatigue and exhaustion were definitely the cause of their deaths, as was stated in a press announcement in the immediate aftermath of the 160km ride.
Instead, after what is described as an “extensive investigation and an official enquiry”, the findings say only that the deaths “appear to have been associated with fatigue and exhaustion”.

The findings exonerate riders Anna Maxenchs Serra of Spain and Malaysian heart surgeon Dr Nik Isahak Wan Abdullah, who had leased Floyd from Michele Brac de la Perriere for the ride.
Both riders had been under investigation for “abuse of the horse” after the case was referred to the FEI judicial committee under regulation 143.
The full statement of the judicial committee is to be published shortly.

I was rummaging through the internet just now looking at the goings on at last year's World Equestrian Championship 2014 in Compeige,France as I was told there was a rider fatality due to a fall, and several horses had died due to exhaustion, a result of a combination  of tough course and bad weather  riding condition. Lo and behold ! I came across this late disclaimer of my own mishap at the World Equestrian Game at Jerez, Spain, some 12 years ago.

I was a 'tran tang tang' young 50 then, at the prime of my youth. 

The morning ride at 5 am started with an electrical storm, amidst thunder and heavy downfall. Some 200 or so crazy, very superfit, mainly pure arabian horses wanting to go off  as if this was going to be just a one kilometre race, with 200 or so riders from 50 countries, all soaked wet in their riding jodphurs, all frightened like hell that in the starting mellee anyone of us could be forcefully dismounted. There were three of us, then. Myself, Laily Bunyamin and Lawrence Liew of Sabah . Our captain,  Dato Awang Kamaruddin was a non- stater as his mount was predisqualified for an obvious lameness, probably sustained in the stable or during travel to Jerez from France.

Laily Bunyamin was dismounted by her mount right at the start as I heard her cry from behind me and saw her horse bolted in front of mine at the word 'GO'! I had difficulty controlling Floyd , a half-breed Arabian from Montpellier, France. He wanted to jion his stable buddy and tried to dismount me. He was huge and powerful for an Arabian. A cross between the smaller but more  super tough Arabian and the bigger ,  faster and taller French national horse, a Selle Francais. A good marriage and compromise. The French eat, sleep and dream of endurance. They know their horses. They pride in being one of the top endurance nation, a national pastime and sport for the 'marheins'

As the main body of riders passed the 5 kilometre mark, the horses were more at ease and riders' tension dropped more significantly and we could concentrate on strategy and ride our own ride. Mine was just simple. I am a relative new comer to endurance at this world level. This was just my second world championship ride, the 1st one was in Dubai's World Endurance Championship 1998. 

I aimed for top 40 and have to ride as such.Floyd had on board, a heart rate monitor attached to his abdomen and I could track his heart rate with a watch monitor on my wrist. I planned to ride him at between 120 to 140 heart beat a minute which would ensure on a statistical basis that Floyd would be  less affected bymuscular fatigue and resultant fatigue induced lameness and injury, and also problematic 'metabolic' issues  arising from lactic acidosis accumulation, during one of the five vet check stops. That was the science. The art of the whole thing was to avoid misshap until the last 5th segment of the race when you go full blast for a podium finish. The Sun Tzu art of war in endurance is to survive 1st, then go for the 'neck' if there are windows of opportunity available.

Our 160 kilometres are divided into 5 loops of about 35 kilometres each loop and the 5th loop being a race to finish at 10 kilometre. 

What was left of the Malaysian team in the 1st loop were only 2 riders, myself and Mr Lawrence Liew . Team glory was already out of question as it needed a minimum of three riders. Lawrence and myself were now riding for personal glory.  I have no illusion about winning. The Maktoums of Dubai , father and son were riding million Euro champions. In their stables in Dubai are double digit million euros top class horses getting fat on feed and grass. The Maktoums buy off competition before each world event this way.

The French and the Spanish were seasoned campaigners in this event. Valarie Kanavy, the reigning champion of Dubai's WEC was there. Top 40 would be a reachable goal, if  I ride Floyd with wisdom and science. That was what I plan and thought. Providence had other plan that day : the humbling of Dr Nik.

Sheikh Hamdan and his dad was leading in the 4th loop, myself was behind around 50 horses behind, not bad for top 40 still.  The courses were generally tough and hilly terrain. Very 'technical' course as the French would put it. Very soggy and slippery as well due to the early morning downfall. Downcast skies throughout the day made cooler weather and thus a speedier pace but with soogy underfoot, guarantee a higher disqualifiacations at each vet gate due to muscle stiffness and lameness. Floyd was still going strong at the middle of the 4th leg. My chance of top 40 was getting brighter. His heart rate was steady at 120 to 130. Beyond 150 would be the 'Anaerobic' zone and a potential 'metabolic' crisis awaiting. Floyd was doing fine at just 120, This ride seemed to be a breeze to him, I keep telling myself, and at that rate I could even go for top 10! Petronas and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah, my sponsor and patron will more than happy.

Four more hills to climb as we were to complete the 4th stage, Floyd slowed down his pace to a walk. Three more hills to go, he stopped and refused to move. He was getting stiff and I had to dismount and walk him and support him to prevent from falling. We walked this way passed another desolated hill in heavy rain, then the horse ambulance was in sight. The rest was history.

I know how Lee Chong Wei must have felt when his not so clever orthopod gave him dexamethasone too near the competition to heal his wound faster, and the clever treatment become 'not so clever' when he was tested positive for steroid. This is a defencible mistake but the world would not care. From a hero he become zero. I was there in 2002.

In France the press derided me for 'over-riding' Floyd. Locally I was ok. Our press know nothing about the sport way back in 2002. I am one of the pioneers.
Actually on hindsight I think I know why Floyd had stayed so well up till the last bit. His cardiovascular parameters must have been  caumoflaged by the excessive 'herbal' pills that the French owners and handlers gave  throughout the rides during 'water-stops' and vet stops.
But how could I tell this to the technical committee when Madame Michele Brac de la Perriere and her husband sob so much that day it was as if they had lost their son!
The whole equine herbal industry in France could have been affected had I open up.

I would rather remain a 'pariah' within the International Endurance community until the technical committee exonerate me some 6 months later.
 I did not bother to even read their subsequent exoneration until I discovered it today in the net some 12 years later!
I am a 'child of today'
Al hamdullillah. All Praise only belong to Allah

other articles on endurance in the blog:


Post WEC : Where Do We Go From Here

Random Thots Of A Chronic Endurance Addict