Jambo: Eventing Safari in Kenya – Full Report – Mike Marsden

Overview

Team South-Africa joined team Zimbabwe and Uganda in the first regional Eventing competition in Kenya. The event was set at the Kenyan novice level (85cm Cross-Country and 90cm Show Jumping) and held at Sanctuary Farm on the shores of Lake Naivasha North of Nairobi.

The South African Champs podium finishers Heidi Caine, Douglas Welsh and Linda Squair represented South-Africa in what was a very successful and enjoyable 5 day sporting and social happening in the Rift Valley game park.

In a well run well contested competition Kenya led after Dressage but Zimbabwe moved to an one fault advantage over South-Africa after Cross-Country and held on to this narrowest of margin after Show Jumping.

Kenyan hospitality was wonderful and excellent relationships were forged and it was illuminating to note the long history of Kenyan Equestrian pursuits and their well established circuit of events in “Upcountry” the Highlands North of Nairobi.

Their horses are good quality and versatile, riding skills are high, grooms happy and competent and the official friendly and efficient. It was a privilege and pleasure to have taken part.

EVENT

Teams Zimbabwe and South-Africa arrived on Tuesday afternoon and were hosted at a cocktail party in Karen (“I have a farm in Africa”) where a draw was made for the two pools of horses.

Uruguay was able to box their own horses (8 hours drive from Kampala). Kenya are to be lauded for making available 6 horses to each of the 3 man teams of South -Africa and Zimbabwe thus each rider had two horses to ride . Wednesday was the scenic drive from Karen just North of Nairobi further North down the escarpment into the Rift Valley and the event venue Sanctuary Farm where there is a well established comfortable camp site.

All horses in the pool had useful humorous pin pictures and cv’s scribed by owners and the team enjoyed choosing their rides late morning before heading off for lunch at a wonderfully sited and decorated lodge on the shore of the lake.

No time for rest though as the show started that afternoon with Dressage and Jumping competitions and thus riders were able to get arena time with both their mounts before a decision on the team horse was required.

The show format and program was very interesting as the 5 day involved pure Dressage, combined training of Dressage and Jumping, Eventing and Show Jumping all at different classes and often with two pools or sections and the majority of horses were entered in many events in their class. Horses are versatile and resilient in Kenya and they need stamina for their 4 -5 crowded shows.

All the allocated horses were entered in the various formats and it was left to the riders in conjunction with the owners in which events to compete and then once the team horse was selected the rider’s second horse could continue to compete in other classes. Whilst in Linda Squair’s words it was very daunting with much going on albeit in fairly close areas the efficiency of the Stewards and the Grooms and the keeping to the published program times allowed the busy riders to cope and focus such that many rosettes were collected by the visitors during a busy few days.

Thursday riders declared their team mount and the draw was made for starting order we drew second of the 6 teams with our order being Douglas, Linda and Heidi.

Course walks were wonderful accompanied by herds of non plussed Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala, Waterbuck and Giraffes. Final decoration of the jumps including beautiful “reject” roses from the adjacent flower growing farms was only feasible on the Cross-Country morning as the game love to nibble on some as a change to their normal diet.

The course was rustic African with very few portables and full judicial use was made of the undulating ground and small dongas. A small string of race horses are trained on site and the training track had to be crossed after jump 3. The harrowing of the track had created quite a bank and the first debate on the walk was where to negotiate the in-over and out of the track. A sunken road and jump out of the water complex raised eyebrows but in fact rode quite well.

Thursday night had the additional excitement of an inquisitive hippo being chased through the camp site by a posse of stone throwing grooms. Friday saw the Dressage in a 40 x 20 arena and although callers were allowed, the very short trip from salute to C caught Dougie in two minds but he recovered well to lie in 3rd of the 18 and very competent rides by the ladies saw South-Africa lead the “Powder Puffs Girls” one of the Kenyan teams by one point with Zimbabwe 12 points behind in third.

Saturday morning Cross Country was well organized and most of the jumps could be seen from the start/finish area and together with an excellent commentary this made for a very enjoyable event. Doug was on a very moody in and out mare that was difficult to read. He was the pathfinder and came home after a hard ride with 2 stops and a few time penalties. Doug said on reflection maybe taking a few black options may have been plan A but she was giving him a good feel.

Linda at 2 and Heidi at 3 flew the flag high and came home clear with Linda winning the prize for best round at one second under. Her ride was a docile stallion who gave his all throughout the 5 days and as with all the loaned horse grateful thanks to owners must be highlighted.

The jumping was to be held later that day so the final trot up was held just after the Cross-Country and all having been accepted the Zimbabwe team were in the lead by ONE from South Africa going into the final jumping phase with the other teams a little out of touch.

Jumping saw Doug’s one pole down matched by the Zimbabwe’s lead rider but then clears by Linda and Zimbabwe’s number two followed by Heidi’s clear made a clear by Zimbabwe’s number three the doyen Eventer Celeste Wright a must clear . No pressure then!!! but she held her nerve and Zimbabwe were the worthy winners of a great event.

Saturday night was the Hootenany where a pop up dance hall adjacent to the Jumping arena suddenly appeared and a sit down dinner for 250 guests each one on an allocated table was efficiently served. The band was a lively eclectic mix of amateurs who keep the dance floor busy well into to the early hours.

Sunday was the Jumping day with team jumping on the second horse and also the main Jumping competition of the week which was a good standard. The main prize giving followed with due pomp and ceremony with a full attendance and it was an appropriate ending before the final lunch and farewells.

The well established horse events are the centre for community gatherings and the presence of the International riders and the generous support of the government funded sports fund helped to enhance this years event.

KENYAN EVENTING

  1. There has been a long proud tradition of Eventing and there are 4 regular annual events all of which have the same all in embracing format of Dressage combined Eventing and Jumping.

This is a logical development of a small spread out horsey community with poor road infrastructure and heavy traffic i.e. when you have a show make it a full one.

The Eventing annual schedule is:

– Gil Gil – 2 weeks after Badminton
– Soysambu – May /June
– Mount Kenya – August
– Sanctuary Naivasha – November

  1. All events have the same community spirit displayed at Sanctuary with a handful of organizers for each and they all help each other.
  2. The structure of the Equestrian scene is much like the old provincial structure in South Africa where there is one umbrella body for all disciplines and it functions well and suits the needs . The long standing president for the African FEI group 9 Kenyan Mary blinks was the TD for Sanctuary and when Dougie asked her the local rule for how many stop are allowed in the Cross-Country she quipped “2 at each fence” but she added with a smile she was trying to update the rules little by little as it was a conservative society and still have members who want to reinstate the rule that you could remount twice after Cross-Country falls!!!
  3. The quality of the horses reflects the long history of thoroughbred racing and breeding in Kenya and whilst both of these endeavors are taking strain they soldier on. It was noted that on the honour board of the one competition the Stromboli Trophy won by Heidi was won by Kenyan born now Joburg based Angie Terwin in 1997. Angie’s sisters-in-law Rachel Robley nee hunt was a member of one of the Kenyan teams and is a very active member of the Kenyan Equestrian community has the very proud distinction of representing England and coming second to Sir Mark Todd at Badminton.
  4. Again as a logic of the size and spread of the community the horses are very versatile and many competing at the show do duty as horse Safari ponies and play the odd Polo. When it was jocularly mentioned to an owner of one such Safari horses so willingly given to visitor riders that she could now advertise him as being internationally ridden she replied “My dear he is regularly ridden by the United Nations. We have international clients every Safari”.

GOVERMENT INVOLVEMENT

The head of the Kenyan sport body attended the show for 2 days and the permanent secretary joined our hosts and the South-African team for a semi formal dinner on the Sunday night in Karen. It was very enjoyable and hopefully productive for all. Dougie gave an excellent presentation of the African Cup/Shield concept and progress and the riders shared their experiences. In reply the PS who was an ex ambassador to Spain and South America thanked the South-African team for their visit and expressed much interest in the international aspects. He tempered fiscal expectations by noting that there are many calls on funding with the priorities on getting people to participate in sports for good experiences as spectators and good health as competitors and as a means for promoting Kenya as a safe attractive venue for tourism.

SUMMARY  

Well done to Zimbabwe for their very narrow victory but most of all well done to the Kenyan Equestrian community for hosting such a wonderful event . The South African Eventing Council will no doubt continue to develop their Kenyan and African links.