How To Prep For An Endurance Horse Race, And Lose Weight While You’re At It

At 58, Wayne Fairley placed 5th in a 350km horse race. Here’s how he does it.


Thaaqib Daniels, Images by Rocket Horse |

Placing bets, jockeys, celebs dressed in bright outfits – these are only some of the things you might associate horse racing with. But in Wayne Fairley’s case, his form of racing isn’t exactly the Seabiscuit or Racing Stripes kind. 

Equestrian cross-country racing isn’t nearly as hyped as the Durban July, but the followers and competitors of this sport know exactly just how grueling and intense it is.

Off To The Races

Rocket Horse is one of the toughest endurance races in the world,” says Wayne Fairley. The 58-year-old from Hilton recently competed in a 5-day race that stretches from Port Edward all the way to the Kei River – a distance of 350km (yikes!). But Fairley pushed, swam, climbed and ran all the way to the end, finishing 5th out of the 14 competitors that hailed from different parts of the globe.

“I had never attempted anything as challenging in my life,” he explains. “The terrain of the Wild Coast changes throughout the race. From hard sand on beaches on an outgoing tide, six large river swims, big coastal hills cut by ravine – where you have to run alongside your horse – to soft sand and tight track covered by forest.”

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There are two pre-race days where the riders are taught how to use the navigational equipment that will guide through the Rocket Horse landscape as well as how to swim across river crossings with their horses. Throughout the race, riders will change their horses every day, allowing horses to rest and eat. There are vets who check that the horses aren’t overworked and fatigued – a factor which can disqualify riders from the race.

“The horse’s heart rate has to be below 64bpm in a 20 minute rest period. If not, the horse is pulled from the race for another 30 minutes to rest more. Should the heart rate still not be 64bpm [after that] you can be disqualfied.”

Ready For The Rodeo

Like every endurance race, competitors will require to carry supplies with them in order to keep their energy (and sanity) at an optimal level. “ In my backpack, I carried cable ties, basic medical, daily food rations, water and a sleeping bag that wasn’t allowed to weigh more than 5kg,” he recalls. “All of this would have to be packed into waterproof bags for when we had to swim across rivers or race through extreme downfalls.”

And just like all athletes, Fairley had to prepare his body and mind months ahead of the race day – where he had to, of course, train on a horse as well as in the gym.

“Prior to the race, Rocket Horse co-founder, Barry Armitage, advised me to get running fit to prepare myself for the times I would have to dismount and run next to the horses.”

“I had a structured program with personal trainer James Kelly at Velocity Gym twice a week where I’d focus on core training and balance work. I ran 10km about four times a week on hilly terrains with guidance from ultra-marathon runner Matt Dove. I also spent a lot of extra hours riding on a horse.

“The training was all to get my body lean and as light as possible for the horse.”

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In a space of 12 months, Fairley lost an incredible 24kg and looks to improve his body and race medal count despite his “old” age.

“Pushing yourself to the edge of what you’re used to will expose your true self. I now have a greater self-awareness and confidence. I look forward to more competitions on my own horses as well as the new challenges life may bring. I’ve realised that 58 is just a number and my journey has just begun.”

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