By Nordahl Flakstad
As vice-president of finance with Associated Engineering, Wayne Delbeke, P.Eng. has worked on many rehabilitation projects. However, one of the Edmonton engineer's most satisfying rehab initiatives in...
As vice-president of finance with Associated Engineering, Wayne Delbeke, P.Eng. has worked on many rehabilitation projects. However, one of the Edmonton engineer’s most satisfying rehab initiatives involves 980 pounds of horseflesh.
JR, a nine-year-old Alberta-bred Arabian, seemed doomed to equine death row when he arrived at the Tees, Alberta, rodeo grounds in May 1992. Spooky and unpredictable, he was quick to purse his lips, swish his tail and throw riders. Maybe JR could be converted to a bucking bronco? But the buck stopped there. Once the bucking strap was tightened, the grey gelding refused to perform. Elaine Delbeke loved the horse’s trot though.
Christy Janzen, a Delbeke neighbour, recently had introduced Wayne’s wife to the fast-growing sport of endurance riding. Perhaps, thought Janzen, JR’s tenacity might suit him for the long distant event.
The hunch proved right. After finding a new home on the Delbekes’ acreage at Devon, near Edmonton, JR emerged as one of Canada’s leading endurance horses.
Wayne Delbeke was no stranger to horses. Raised in Rossland-Trail, B.C, the University of British Columbia civil engineering graduate spent many younger days working on the Alberta ranches that have been in the family since the 1870s.
JR spent a couple of months alone in Delbeke’s pasture. Then, the engineer explains: “Gradually, I started to work with him. He did buck me off several times and he came home a few times without me. But we worked it out.”
In the fall of 1992 JR ran his first limited-distance, 25 miles, race. Finishing fifth, he was judged the best-conditioned horse, a sign for Delbeke that JR had the right stuff.
“He showed he could go long distances. He’s tough and has the ability to recover quickly. He’s loose-limbed, and doesn’t waste any energy,” says Delbeke.
Delbeke’s own 28-year-career with Associated saw him start off in British Columbia and later become the firm’s regional manager for Saskatchewan. There he chaired the provincial consulting association for a year. Upon moving to Alberta in 1990, he headed up a number of Associated’s initiatives, including ones involving GIS, mining and oil sands, computerization and international projects. Currently as vice president for finance, he is responsible for administrative and IT systems.
Endurance races, Delbeke notes, are timed, one-day events with horse and rider traversing at least 50, and often up to 100, miles of varied terrain. Tests of speed and stamina, the races include checks by veterinarians to rank horses’ condition and assess their suitability for continuing. There are no prizes for best-conditioned rider but Delbeke might qualify. To give JR an edge in races, he often dismounts and runs up and down hills.
In 1998 JR was one of six horses airlifted to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as part of Canada’s World Endurance Championships team. Delbeke didn’t ride JR in the 142-team competition but served in Dubai as a groom. Scorching 45C desert heat forced JR out after 70 miles.
Still, it was good preparation for 1999, when Delbeke and JR rode off with most of the Alberta points. They’ve also finished 39th in the annual Tevis Cup, a race in which fewer than half the competitors usually complete a gruelling 14,000-foot climb and 13,000-foot descent in California’s Sierra Nevadas.
Despite the vigour the horse still displays running about the paddock, at 19 “he’s slowing down,” says Delbeke. Still the Delbekes see JR’s legacy enduring. They’re crossbreeding Arabian mares from JR’s bloodline with Canadiens, descendants of the small, hardy breed originally brought to New France. “If JR is a Ferrari,” Delbeke concludes, “then these are more like BMW sedans.”