Saddle up in the Swartberg

Cape Town - South Africa’s famous horse endurance event, an eye-watering, bum-numbing ride of over 210km, takes place annually in Fauresmith in the southern Free State.

Not for me, thanks. I would probably fall off long before the nether regions became even remotely uncomfortable. Still, riders often travel considerable distances to participate in qualifying events for this bone-cruncher, which challenges both horse and rider.

The magnificent rugged Swartberg they rode through. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

One such qualifier is the De Zeekoe Meerkat Challenge, organised by Saddlebag Horse Events on behalf of the Winelands Endurance Club.

For those who might be champing at the bit to get the De Meerkat Challenge under their saddle blanket, SM Travel sussed out the terrain.

The farm De Zeekoe – situated between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn, beneath the brooding Swartberg mountains – is a scenic spot. There are five categories of rides on offer: children (under 12); junior (13 to 19); senior lightweight (72kg and under); senior standard weight (73 to 94kg); senior heavy weight (95kg and over).

Horse endurance riding is the only sport where the age or sex of the rider plays no part. They are incidental to the real stars of the show, the horses, whose heartbeat, mobility and digestive sounds are monitored by vets in order to establish whether the horse has been properly prepared for such an event. Every entrant has to have a complete record of the horse’s history of endurance riding, as well as vaccines against common equine ailments.

One of the organisers of the event, Nico du Bois, said riders participating in the De Zeekoe Meerkat Challenge are given the option of riding 36km, 60km, 84km or 120km. However, beginners may enter only as day riders on the 36km stretch, provided their vaccinations and deworming are up to date.

This year the event takes place on September 18, 19 and 20, and spectators can expect to see the likes of Springbok endurance riders such as Pietie Wannenburg, Andre O’Connell, and Dominique van Zyl.

What makes this particular challenge unique is that spectators can cheer on their favourite riders from various viewpoints along the Calitzdorp, Volmoed, Lategansvlei and De Zeekoe roads.

According to Du Bois, last year’s challenge attracted a field from as far as Cape Town, with about 70 entrants.

“Saddlebag regard it as their social responsibility to sponsor groups of underprivileged children, as well as those living in old age homes, to come and watch the riders in action,” he said.

A package is being offered to would-be visitors, which includes camping, meals and safe pastures for the horses. Contact Sonika Lareman on 084 221 7593.