This is the story of Lindi Liversage, who at age 14, has kicked dust in the eyes of the best endurance riders in Southern Africa this year - not only in her age group, but everyone.
Turning 14 in June, Lindi Liversage set her sights firmly on the South African Junior Endurance team and Young Rider World Championships in Bahrain in December. Hailing from the well-known Liversage endurance family, she had all the credentials and support for this not to be an idle dream.
Her biggest shortcoming, perhaps, was the fact that she was seriously short on experience on longer distances, as well as riding under FEI rules. (The FEI is the world governing body for equestrian events.) According to the rules riders may only start riding without adult supervision when they turn 14, which meant that Lindi had to had to ride with an adult all her life. Granted, that adult usually was her mother Mariaan, who was the number one seeded 100 mile rider in the country last year, but still, it meant that she has never had to take her own decisions on the road.
So she set out to prepare herself for election for the South African junior team. Her first milestone was an overall win over 120 km over one of the most difficult trails in the country - the Dullstroom ride. And that on a new horse that she did not know at all. To crown it all, she also took the -Best Conditioned- award.
Her next ride was the Louise Botha 120 km at Fauresmith. This she could fortunately tackle on Moolmanshoek Sweep, the horse her mom won the National Championship on last year at Hofmeyr. Once again she won and took Best Conditioned.
Next it was off the Christiana on her own horse Moolmanshoek Pula, a crucial ride because the national team was expected to be announced after the ride. Again she won, in a time of 5 hours and 50 minutes - giving her an average speed of 20,5 km/hour.
The national teams - both junior and senior are announced for Walvis Bay, and Lindi is in the junior team, while Mariaan gets selected for the senior team - it could be the first time in history that mother and daughter ride for the two national teams at the same time!
Walvis Bay is an international competition with junior and senior teams from Namibia, Botswana and South Africa fighting it out for top honours.
Walvis Bay, any endurance rider worth his (and certainly her) salt will tell you, is the place where the proverbial men are being sorted from the boys in a big way. Apart from the unpredictable weather, the dunes tend to change over the course of a year, so one cannot plan the route according to last year's experience. Apart from that, says Mariaan, the Namibians tend to build in a new surprise in the trail every year.
Lindi was well aware of the fact that this time she would be on her own. She would have to be able to read her horse extremely well, to know when to slow down and nurse him, and when to speed up. Although she had saddle maker dad Leon as groom, and Mariaan on the trail with her, this time, she knew, she was on here own.
Dune Seven. If only she and Pula could get over Dune Seven-.
It was the day of the ride and the first leg of 31 km was along the beach. Lindi had her ideal times per leg worked out, but this was always subject to conditions and how Pula felt. Evidently he felt good, for although she came in with a bunch in the middle of the field, Pula recovered so well that they were able to start on the next leg among the front runners.
Next leg, the desert: thick sand interspersed with hard tracks. Staying in the bunch and following the lead of the more experienced Namibians.
The third leg was the so-called salt leg - hard, flat and unforgiving. You underestimate this leg at your own peril, for Dune Seven and Dune Four lay waiting on the fourth leg. Lindi maintained her projected speed to the letter and kept Pula fresh and strong.
Mariaan told her that, approaching Dune Seven correctly, this is where you make your break. Lindi took this literally and made such good time over leg four that Leon nearly missed her at the grooming point.
She moved out first on the last leg. The last 11 kilometers. So near and yet so heartbreakingly far. Up one dune, down the other. Every time you think this is the last one. The finish line must be beyond the next one. And then it isn't.
Praying, related Lindi afterward, was all that pulled them through. And then, suddenly, the finish line is in sight and amidst enthusiastic cheering they gallop in triumphantly, tears streaming freely, nearly causing her to miss the route markers. She breaks the record by nine minutes, earning her Springbok colours. Her time, 6 hours and 21 minutes.
Life being what it is, Lindi was not elected for the national team. Although extremely disappointed, she remains philosophical about it. -Watch me next year,- she says.