Jenny Champion riding Barack Obama at the Blackrock North Island 60km CTR Championship. PHOTO/DEBBIE MORRIS
When it comes to 20-year-old endurance horse Barack Obama, age is just a number.
The big-hearted Wairarapa horse that rose to fame in recent years for his ability to take on a 160km endurance course in his old age, will soon be farewelling New Zealand to feature in the international arena.
For owner Mark Round, the decision to take him to the United States to represent the country in September at the World Equestrian Games was not an easy one.
Taking a horse to an international event will cost more than $70,000 for the round trip — which Mr Round and Masterton trainer Jenny Champion cannot fund.
After the world’s event, Barack will remain in the United States.
“It’s going to be sad to leave him behind, you know he is a good mate and certainly Jenny is very fond of him.”
Mr Round said it would be “heart-wrenching” to say goodbye, but with Barack ranked 35th in Open Combination World Endurance, they both would always think ‘what if’, he said.
“There’s only one Barack in this world, I probably will get another horse but he won’t be like him,” Mr Round said.
It was not uncommon for a horse to be sold while overseas to avoid return quarantine costs, but “no one is going to buy a 20-year-old horse”, he said.
Dubbed as “nuggety with a big heart”, Barack had surprised everyone in the endurance world with his achievements at his age, Mr Round said.
“He just has the right attitude, he just really wants to win and he can’t stand any horses being in front of him, he just gives his everything.”
Mrs Champion started riding Barack only 3-1/2 years ago after approaching Mr Round who spotted the horse in Eketahuna about a decade ago.
Mr Round had ridden Barack in a handful of competitions but did not know of his potential until Mrs Champion took hold of the reins.
She said it would be “heart-breaking” to farewell Barack but she accepted that this year’s world games will most likely be his last 160km ride.
As an Anglo-Arabian breed he is a strong, fit horse with a low heart rate which is his golden ticket in endurance racing, she said.
“He would be the oldest horse in New Zealand, and probably in a few countries, doing endurance . . . I don’t think there would be a 20-year-old throughout the world at his level,” she said.
“He’s a pretty amazing horse.”
He won the North Island Championships last month which qualified him to represent New Zealand in September.
He also won his first 160km North Island Championship three years ago and was the 160km national winner last year.
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.
Mrs Champion is gunning for a top 10 placing with an estimated race time of about 10-1/2 hours.
“With the right person on him, he’s one of those horses who is pretty unbeatable.”
They are hoping he will find a new home at an endurance riding school somewhere in the USA.
Mr Round named him after the previous President of the United States “because he’s a good guy”.
The World Equestrian Games will be held in North Carolina in September this year.