When dairy farmers Beryl and Don Sagar decided to take up horse sports they wanted something different, choosing the sport of endurance.
“We looked at polo, polocrosse, maybe hunting. We wanted something that was different and decided on endurance.”
They were drawn to the sport by the opportunities to see country nobody else does and the comradery of the endurance community. “People in endurance are very friendly.”
Although Beryl rode as a child, it was Don who purchased his first Arab. Beryl opted not to ride herself, instead playing the vital role of ground crew and support.
Initially, as they were dairy farmers and the cows don’t milk themselves, Beryl stayed at home to milk. She would pack Don’s clothes and food in plastic bags for each loop and send them off with him.
But once Don started doing races longer than 80km it became obvious he needed someone on the ground to help. And besides, Beryl decided she was missing out on all the fun. They employed milkers and travelled around New Zealand together, competing.
“I’m the strapper. I look after the horse and look after Don between loops. You’re not allowed to do more than 40km without a vet check. Each time they come in the horse’s heart rate must come down below 64,” Beryl says.
“They check for pretty much everything – lameness, back issues, hydration, heart rate. Endurance is one of the strictest sports for animal welfare.”
Beryl says it’s not just a matter of getting on and riding. “You’ve got to know your horse, it’s not just riding. You’ve got to know when to back off or when you can speed up.”
While Don’s first horse wasn’t a great success, due to what the vet pinpointed as a double heart beat that was very hard to read, it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for their new sport.
“It was still a super horse. But Don got another horse and that’s when his season really started.”
Don had many wins over the years, but the highlight of their endurance careers came in 1998 when he was selected in the New Zealand squad to compete in Dubai.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, as the horse Don was to compete on went through a culvert that collapsed and was badly injured.
Not to be deterred, Don and Beryl still went to Dubai and acted as crew for the New Zealand team in the desert – and were delighted when the team won gold.
“The heat, it was in the 40s, but no humidity. And the sand was very different, you put your foot in it and it seemed to disappear under your foot. We had to be ahead of the riders all the time to supply the water etc.”
Not content with just competing, the Sagars decided to branch out and started breeding Arabs for endurance riding in 1990.
They purchased two in-foal mares to start. “It was for the thrill of riding something you’d bred yourself. Don really fell in love with Arabs once he started riding them.”
The Sagars look for an endurance horse with a good heart rate, good strong legs, a nice chest, good hindquarters and movement.
When they shifted to Kaukapakapa they started selling horses overseas, mainly the United Arab Emirates and the UK. Don takes the horses through to open grade and then they go on the market.
Don has shifted towards buying in Standardbred/Arab crosses, which he loves. “You virtually don’t have to do any strapping because they’re so placid…The market seems to be after bigger horses, up to 16hh or more.”
Even today, in his 70s, Don is still actively breaking in and riding horses, and both Beryl and Don still work.
Watch out for the final instalment when we find out about Beryl’s saddle blankets and her thriving business, BJ Merino NZ Ltd