Tough Wild Coast horse race is not for the faint-hearted

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Tough Wild Coast horse race is not for the faint-hearted

In total, there were 12 vet checks throughout the 350km race. These were put in place for the sake of the horses and to ensure that the riders have been riding conscientiously while the horses were fit enough to continue.
By Nicky Hoseck

Ancois  Naude and horse

A total of 13 contestants entered the inaugural Rockethorse Race run in October starting at Port Edward and continuing into the Wild Coast and they were committed to riding a team of three horses 350km across challenging terrain which included swimming rivers and navigating a complicated route.

The training period beforehand were enough to dissuade one would-be contestant from continuing as he found navigating the training rides difficult enough while he also had concerns over his physical fitness. Experiencing a problematic swim in the lagoon, he resigned from the race before the start. This event was clearly not for the faint-hearted!

And so on  October 22 at 9am, 12 riders crossed the start line just south of Port Edward, embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. The first leg of the race stretched 94km to Port St John’s and this leg was considered the easiest. The younger horses primarily made up this initial team. It was certainly tough on these less experienced horses, making it tougher on the riders, many of whom walked or ran a considerable distance alongside their horses at the start of day two.

One rider, Katja Joachim arrived at the horse-change spitting blood after her horse, Dromedarus, proved reluctant to run, or even walk, with her, Fortunately all horses breezed through the vet check, proving the riders were not only adventurous, but also meticulous in their care of the horses.

In total, there were 12 vet checks throughout the 350km race. These were put in place for the sake of the horses and to ensure that the riders have been riding conscientiously while the horses were fit enough to continue. On arrival at the vet check, riders had 30 minutes in which to present the horse to the vet. The horse’s heart-beat rate was then taken while the horse was thoroughly checked all over for any signs of injury, lameness or ill-health.

With fresh horses, the riders then headed off on the 58 km stretch from Port St John’s to the next overnight stop at Hluleka, after which horses and riders faced some of the biggest river crossings, including the Mthatha river, a 40m swim for horse and rider.

The contestants then had to negotiate some of the biggest climbs in the race.

By this stage, the riders had already taken their mounts down big rock steps, along tiny cattle paths on the edge of the Wild Coast’s dramatic cliffs but it is on this leg that their navigation was put to the test.

While the racers overcame these challenges, the behind-the-scenes crew and organisers had their own problems. The truck transporting the horses got stuck on its way to the first horse change at Port St John’s. The horses were offloaded and after two hours, the truck was finally free, but a little worse for wear.

The next day, the truck headed to Hole in the Wall with the horses for the last leg of the race and again it got stuck, this time 18km from its destination. The horses were then walked the remaining distance by crew and local volunteers.

As the third-leg horses eventually arrived safely, the horses overnighting at the Kraal made a bid for freedom and two volunteer crew members were commited to a sleepless night of hiking over the rolling hills of the Wild Coast in darkness, searching for the missing contenders, without which there would be no race.

The errant horses were finally back in their camp at 3am. The first rider’s alarm went off 30 minutes later.  

The final leg of the race saw the riders cross the intimidating Mbashe river, after which the land starts to level out and the long stretches of beach made for easier going for the horses. Nevertheless, two of the leading pack of three lose horseshoes along the way and opt to wait for a farrier to re-shoe the horses at Kob Inn before continuing.

Contestant Sarah Cuthbertson was now in the lead on Moolmanshoek Ramkat but Monde Khanyana and Sam Jones soon caught up on Moolmanshoek Kadar and Moolmanshoek Madonna respectively.

By now, most of the crew were gathered at the finish line, eagerly awaiting the culmination of lots of hard work, most of it implemented months before by the two main organisers, Barry Armitage and Joe Dawson. As the leading pack comes into view, so the cheers begin and the excitement is fever pitch as Khanyana races to the finish line, just ahead of Jones, with Cuthbertson two strides behind. Jones was the 2014 Mongol Derby race winner.

Khanyana, the only South African-born contestant, was the winner of the inaugural  Rockethorse Race.

  • Nicky Hoseck is co-owner of Peas on Earth Backpackers and Volunteer Farm near Kei Mouth and runs a natural horsemanship volunteer project. She has worked as a trails guide for Wild Coast Horse Trails for many years. She volunteered to be a part of the Rockethorse Race crew having previously ridden with Armitage and Dawson  on their first recce trail along the Wild Coast.
    Ian Haggerty is an amateur photographer, specialising in pet portraits, from Secunda.

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