When you saddle your horse and head off on an 80km endurance ride before dawn, you quickly realise you’re not the only thing moving through the forest as your head lamp picks up the reflective eyes of all the other creatures active in the dark.
Some might find it creepy but 10-year-old Blakeville rider Ben Freeburn finds it calming.
The Ballarat Grammar pupil recently completed his first 80km endurance ride in 8.5 hours, including a five minute nap while his horse Teddy continued on the course.
To qualify for the 80km distance, Ben and Teddy had completed two 40km rides earlier in the year.
“There’s not really any thing in particular I enjoy about endurance riding, just everything and getting to know my horse Teddy.
“He’s done three rides with me and one of them was the 80km which I came second in and won the best condition horse.”
Because of his tender age, Ben rides the course with mum Donna Freeburn who has been endurance riding for about 20 years and is one of the organisers of the second annual Colbrook Challenge being held next weekend in the Wombat State Forest, north of Ballan.
“Pretty much as soon as he could sit he was on a horse, but he’s only been doing endurance riding for the past two years,” Ms Freeburn said.
About 100 riders, and their support crews, will take part in the Colbrook Challenge event with around 60 tackling the 80km ride and the others taking on the 40km, 20km and 5km events.
“Ben won’t be riding because we are running it so I can’t ride with him, but he will be saddling up for another 80km event later in the year. He’s too young to go out on his own,” Ms Freeburn said.
Ms Freeburn said preparing horses to compete over such long distances took many, many hours.
“It’s a lot of hours in the saddle and a lot of hours of training and really getting to know your horse. Endurance riding is very highly geared toward horse welfare, and over the longer distance the horse is vet-checked at least three times and they’ve got to meet certain requirements,” she said.
In a regular 80km endurance ride, the front runners finish in four to five hours, but the Colbrook Challenge in to the hilly Wombat State Forest is more challenging and it’s expected that the top riders will take five to six hours to finish.
“The Colbrook Challenge is a bit tougher than the average ride because of where we are – the ground is hard underfoot, it’s quite hilly and it’s a bit tougher.
The course is marked by coloured arrows pointing the way and distance, and regular manned checkpoints keep an eye on horses and riders.