In one of the most challenging courses around the world, 73-year-old Robert Gielen of Flesherton, ON, Canada, came in 41st place at the 18th edition of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) Endurance World Championships 2022 Butheeb on February 25, 2023. Finishing in this position in a field of 37 countries and 129 starting combinations was quite an enormous achievement.

Held in the desert of Abu Dhabi (UAE), the Championships were originally planned to be in Verona, Italy in October of 2022 but were postponed because of safety concerns. 

robert gielen riding bang for your buck

The bidding process was then reopened with an extended timeframe push to April, 2023. 

Riding his own “More Bang For Your Buck” (Doran x Forty Thieves), a 14-year-old Arabian gelding (also known as Bang), Gielen was one of two North Americans to compete in the prestigious event. 

When asked about his experience in the competition, Gielen was quoted as saying “This was a world championship, so every horse here was the top of their country. That makes the competition so special. This was my 4th world’s event, and each venue has its challenges. Here it is the sand, imagine running a marathon at the beach. In North America our terrain is varied and much more technical than here, so we must adapt to the course during the ride”. 

The course at the Butheeb International Endurance Village is a 160 km, which was run over six loops, and provides the best in both facilities and backdrops. The ability to ensure proper hydration and temperature control were set in place by using multiple water stations throughout the competition so that the riders could rehydrate as well as receive all mandatory health and rest checks as the temperatures hit 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) during the daytime hours. 

Gielen also commented about the hot conditions and endurance required to complete the competition. “Certainly, it was hot on ride day, but low humidity. Comparable to Florida where we train, but less humidity and the sun is more intense. The bottom of my feet suffered the most from 11.5 hours in the saddle! It is mind boggling to me how horses can adapt to what is asked of them. I am in awe of Bang’s athleticism.”

When asked about the strategy for the course Gielen said ”The goal for us was to complete the course, much like a clear round, and to decide when to push and when to back off, as illustrated by the completion rate of 43 riders out of 129 starters.”

robert gielen butheeb

With this great achievement, Gielen is ready to pass the baton to the next generation of endurance riders. He was quoted as saying “This will likely be my last world’s. I am ready to step aside for the younger riders of Canada. I will continue to compete locally. Bang, of course, will be on rest for a while. The stress of 36 hours of travel getting here, the competition, the return flight and 7 days of quarantine all take their toll.”

Gielen finished the challenging event and departed for home with a great sense of accomplishment. “I came to conquer this particular course…mission accomplished! I’m very proud of my horse, who is the real athlete!”

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