End of competitive year for Team Omar

The picture shows John and Omar heading for a 80kms vet gate during a 100kms ride.

The picture shows John and Omar heading for a 80kms vet gate during a 100kms ride.

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Brechin’s Endurance GB rider John Thomson and his horse Prince Omar are having a well deserved rest following the end of the racing calendar.

The rest is not for long as John and his pure bred Arabian gelding will soon be starting their six week work-up to take them into the start of next year.

It has been a demanding but successful year for Team Omar as, with the exception of competing in the comparatively short distance inaugural Scottish Man versus Horse earlier in the year, the focus has been on the big distance races of 80 to 100 kilometres, held mainly in England.

It has meant a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over the border, both in terms of travelling, but also, on one occasion, zig-zagging the border near Berwick-upon-Tweed some eight times during the final 80 kilometres of the year.

John remarked: “Thankfully passport control has not yet been implemented!”

Unfortunately, during one race ride a fundamental error by rider and crew and a failure to adequately monitor the ‘hold card’ saw Team Omar go into a 30-day competitive ban.

John explained: “It was a simple mistake, especially during the intensity of the vet gates and we paid the price for that. It’s disappointing when these things happen especially since we had just sailed though a 65-kilometres vet gate and had the final loop firmly in our grasp. But if there is one thing that an endurance rider needs to be it’s philosophical.”

During the enforced gap in competition, the team took the opportunity to send Omar to the University of Edinburgh’s Vet School where he spent a week undergoing a highly intensive work-up and nuclear scintigraphy. He left after seven days with a 100 per cent clean bill of health.

Team Omar then returned to action south of the border with their N&T Group teammates and took a credible second fastest speed time out of 48 competitors. This was followed a week later in third place during the final 80 kilometress of the year to ensure that horse and rider combination are staying firmly within the top five to seven per cent.

Sadly the season has been tarnished by a huge amount of controversy within an equestrian discipline that prides itself on an otherwise ‘squeaky clean’ image, rider fitness and ultra high standard of veterinary inspections.

The withdrawal of funds by the United Arab Emirates has hit the race riders very hard and the allegations of doping throughout the sport has done little to maintain that clean image.

The Federation Equestre International (FEI) has also reported alarming numbers of deaths of endurance horses during race rides, premature retirements at young ages and a growing split between race riders and the more purist exponents of the sport.

There is a growing level who now want to see the focus on the sport as returning to its roots whereby management over difficult terrain is preferable to high speed race rides.

It is anticipated that both the FEI and Clean Endurance will have their work cut out in 2014 to salvage something to improve the perception of the sport and perhaps take a backward glance at what was.

John said: “From my point of view, we shall continue to follow our training plan for next year, making sure that our preparations are well in place for the start of the season then wait to see what happens then.

“There are some exciting proposals on the cards for next year but those are for the time being staying as a fairly closely guarded secret!”