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Sport Alternative: Man vs. Horse

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By Kif Richmann

We’ve all sat around our local dive bar and had these debates.  You know the ones: the outlandish this-vs.-that debates that are exceptionally good for conversation precisely because of their near immunity from ever being settled.

Who would win in a cage match between Josh Hamilton (assuming his shoulder is healthy) and Brian Wilson?

Could the best boy’s high school basketball team in Texas beat UConn’s women’s team?

Darth Vader vs. Magneto?

Legend has it that one of these conversations led to the Man vs. Horse Marathon held every spring in Wales.  According to myth, two patrons were sitting at their favorite pub when a similar debate sprang up in the late 1970s.

Here’s how I picture the scene:

In dimly lit pub, the bar owner and a patron watch a game called “football” on the “telly,” which is eerily similar to watching soccer on television.  An escaped plow horse trots by the window, chased by a muddy and none-too-cheery farmer…

“A horse might be fast,” says the owner, “but covering a long distance over rough terrain, I think a man could leg it.”

“Bullocks,” says the patron. “Ain’t no bloke in the Queen’s brigade what could outdistance a horse, an’ that’s fact.”

“Rubbish,” say the first. “You’d have to be barmy to think a man don’t at least stand a chance. Why I’d wager three quarts of Boddingtons on a man over…say…22 miles.”

End scene

Well it turns out the owner pulling for the human runner was Gordon Green, proprietor of the pub as well as a nearby hotel. He had the time, energy, and resources to put the conversation to the test.  In 1980, the first Man vs. Horse Marathon was held in June in Llanwrtyd Wells, a small Welsh town that currently boasts a population of 601.

While not technically a marathon, as it doesn’t cover  the required 26 miles, the race features numerous competitors on foot vs. ridden horses. Although a horse has won 23 out of 25 races, mankind has actually made a push over the last few years.

In 2004, Hew Lobb became the first human to take first place. Lobb claimed the £25,000 prize, which had been growing by £1,000 since the inception of the event, waiting to be claimed by a human winner. (Why the horses couldn’t claim the money, I don’t know.)

Another small step for mankind was made in 2007 when the second (and currently last) human to win the event took home the trophy.

The race has featured hundreds of runners and usually attracts around 50 horse-and-riders.  There is also a required vet check, in which the horses are put through an inspection before starting the race.

In the past, bicyclists were allowed in the race, but after winning the race three times, they were politely asked to bugger off.

So far, neither Chad Johnson nor Chad Ocho Cinco has entered the race.