By Chelsea Boyle
As champion horse ‘Barack Obama’ was cantering cross country in a mammoth 160km race, his United States namesake was farewelling his presidency.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, Masterton’s Jenny Champion was on her way to winning her 10th endurance horse racing championship in Taupo.
Barack Obama, a “seasoned horse” at 19 years, proved more than up to the task in his third season of endurance racing.
“He would be the oldest horse out there competing, but he goes like a ten-year-old,” Champion said.
“He has an extraordinarily low heart rate.”
The 160km challenge is broken up into six stages, allowing the horses to rest for 40 minutes in between loops.
The horse’s heart rate must be below 64 beats per minute 20 minutes after each loop ended.
A vet is on hand to check the horses are fit to continue before a 40-minute official rest period begins.
“Your horse has to be really fit to even contemplate doing a 160km,” Champion said.
Setting out at 1am, the first two laps of the endurance event were raced in darkness, requiring a headlight and a great deal of concentration.
Fourteen competitors started the event but roughly half that number finished it, mostly due to horses becoming lame midrace.
Champion kept a close eye over Barack during rest periods, making sure he had enough food, water and electrolytes to stay in good racing condition.
Champion said Barack’s owner, Mark Round, was really happy with that performance.
Looking back on 25 years of competitive horse racing, Champion said winning her first 160km event in 2008 was an emotional moment.
“It’s very special to complete a 160km,” she said.
“You never think you are going to win one.”