NOT even being pregnant or suffering from food poisoning could stop Pretoria lawyer Bianca Rontgen and her purebred Arab horse Lourizon Washington from finishing the gruelling 206.5km three-day Fauresmith endurance race earlier this month.
The 29-year-old Bianca, who is practising at her family law firm Rontgen and Rontgen, together with her father and grandfather, is a keen horsewoman who started riding when she was 4 years old.
The petite, but tough mother-to-be heard three weeks before the race that she was pregnant with her first child, but as she had already qualified for the endurance race in the Free State, and because her doctor gave her the go-ahead to participate because she was so fit, she decided not to let anything stand in her way.
“To know that my baby and I finished this race without any problem, and that my horse was 100% healthy, is amazing. I can one day tell my child that he completed Fauresmith even before he was born.”
Bianca said Fauresmith is - like the Comrades - not for everyone. Not everyone can ride it and not every horse is able to finish it, and this year, 145 horses dropped out of the race.
Bianca attempted this endurance race last year, but dropped out. This year, despite the odds, she ended 31st in the lightweight division, with an average speed of 19.11km/* . She fell ill with food poisoning on the eve of day two, and despite vomiting all night, she was back in the saddle the next morning as she refused to give up her dream.
“I might participate every year and never complete it again, or I may complete it each time. It is something you never know before you have passed the last veterinary check on day three.”
It is not only the rider who has to be in top health, but the horses are checked by veterinarians throughout the race. If the horse appears slightly lame or there are other problems, it is the end for horse and rider.
The first endurance race at Fauresmith was held in 1964 to settle an argument among the horse community about which horse breed had the best endurance ability. The Arabian breed emerged victorious.
The following year disaster struck as many horses were poisoned and the next ride was only in 1973. The Fauresmith International Endurance Ride, as it is officially known, is considered one of the toughest in the world.
“We camped in tents in the bitter cold. In the evenings and the mornings when we start the ride for the day, everything is iced solid.
“You cannot feel your toes, lips or hands. You do not rest at all if you are not riding, as you are busy taking care of your horse. He receives a full body massage each day.”
Bianca said her husband, Renier Bezuidenhout, also a lawyer turned farmer, was her groom, and without him and her horse, she would not have been able to do this. “My horse is an amazing animal which does everything to please; he does not know the words ‘give up’.”
Bianca said her husband introduced her to endurance rides, and she has been hooked since. Her first endurance ride was last year when she did a 80km ride. She fell out of that race after 50km as her horse became crippled.
Earlier this year she completed two 120km races and won in her weight class. She also won the Battle of the Ladies Leandra 80km endurance race in April.
The three races qualified her to take part in Fauresmith. “It was always my dream to complete Fauresmith. My next aim is to prepare Lourizon Washington to take part in 120km races. If all goes well, we will tackle 160km races in two or three years.
“To partake in endurance races takes a lot of discipline and hard work. The horses are then on a strict diet and I spent many a night cooking for him. If you don’t work, you have to practise, no matter how tired you are.”
Bianca is on leave for now and has swopped her robe for jodhpurs and her high heels for riding boots.
“To hear the music of Chariots of Fire 5km before the end of Fauresmith was amazing. I could not stop crying I was overwhelmed with a feeling of accomplishment. I will do it again, but first I have to apply my endurance to our baby who is on his way.”