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The Zinder race track is situated a few km out of town (in the direction in Niamey). In the weekdays, I often send one of our horses to do a lap or two at the track (Sahara has been training quite extensively this season) and on the weekends when I have time to ride out myself, I sometimes take a little “detour” to the track before heading back into the Zinder bush.

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My almost three-year-old Ridgeback Sheba loves to go with me.

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High on adrenaline, the race track just the place where Sheba gets all of her sensations tickled. With races to keep track of (Sheba never misses the races!), strangers to keep an eye on and a who herd to keep together, Sheba has her paws full!

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The horses are all (except mine) stallions and the breed is the warmblooded West African Barb. An ancient breed with a unique gait, the Nigerien barb is the size of an Arab and will race you to the horizon if you will. It is both fast and endurant and impressively hardworking.

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After we had crossed the dried out tapki, I took my friend who had never ridden before to see the races. Sheba was happy to be the guide!

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Just as we arrived, three stallions set off in full speed,

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…leaving a trail of dust as a they flew past us.

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Sheba of course did not miss a thing,

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…eyeing them as they sped around the first corner,

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…and then keeping track as they made it to the second stretch.

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Ebony our gentle giant pricked her ears at the sound of thundering hooves but apart from that, she did not move.

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Sheba however was all about getting a good position- you can’t go to the races and not see what takes place!

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As the three stallions made it towards the last curb,

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…Sheba sat down in anticipation, knowing she’d be seated at the front row.

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Watching RR, perfectly positioned for the last part of the race!

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“Esther, are you getting this? They’re coming now. I’m not sure you are taking this as seriously as you should!”

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The winner coming up…

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Sheba: “1st position has been secured, now who’s going to come second?”

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“Ah, I see it was the grey stallion. Good jockey there!”

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“But I wonder if there wasn’t some cheating going on somewhere…? Looks a big suspicious to me!”

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When I first started taking Sheba to the track (when she was about 1½), I was a little worried that she would take off with the horses, as the level of adrenaline summed up within her is huge!

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However, the true ridgeback that she is, Sheba is also the mistress of self-composure,

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…and a small frown in her face is the only sign she will give that temptation was indeed tickling… :-D

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Then once the races are done,

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…Sheba looks at me, wondering if it’s our turn to hit the track? Normally, I would do a lap or two and Sheba will go with me – of course! – but Arwen had just recovered from piroplasmosis, and I was saving her some gentle ambling in the bush.

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However, Sheba wanted something else from me, which I discovered this year during hot season:

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…namely ice water!

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It’s not every dog that gets iced water in the warm West African bush, but when short of seasonal lakes to cool down in, ice water really does the trick and enables Sheba to follow me on long rides even during the hottest period of the year.

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And she really loves it too… I think she drank about a liter…

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Another reason why I hesitated to bring Sheba to the track was that I wasn’t sure how people would take to her. Many people in Niger are terrified of dogs and can get aggressive when a dog approaches (and Sheba likes to march around me to make sure that everybody knows that I am well guarded), and I wasn’t sure how Sheba would take to that, but as it turned out-

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…she is quite a hit at the race track! Whether it’s because she follows the races like a human, takesracing herself super seriously and is as fast as the horses (though not as endurant…) or, because she wears a bright yellow reflect vest and is called “The Dog with The Dress”, I can’t really say, but I’m happy to see that Sheba has won her spot at the race track and that people are happy to see her there. On our last visit, the griot (the entertainer of the people) wanted to pose on a picture with her – while keeping a respectful distance, of course!

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Guess who is a proud owner?!

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As the sun started to set, my friend and I left the track and continued into the heart of the Zinder bush, where a spectacular sky scenery awaited us… but that story will be told on Thursday, so stay tuned!

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