Well, how to begin? Our European Endurance Championship adventure is now over and it’s back to drizzly old Cornwall (wouldn’t swap it for the world).
It was meant to be amazing, meant to be perfect and, above all, meant to be successful. Unfortunately for us it was none of these. We have had almost two years with 100% completion rate for all our horses at all distances and this time, the big one, our luck ran out.
In our wisdom (hindsight is a wonderful thing) we left to go to Brussels on the Sunday at the crack of dawn to stay the night near Dover with the ferry early on the Monday morning. This brought us to the venue at lunchtime on Monday giving us plenty of time to settle in, check out the route and plan; with the actual competition on the Thursday.
Packing and final prep of Fantom had gone seamlessly but the worries started on the journey. Fantom is normally very good at drinking in the trailer and eating on the way. However this time he didn’t drink at all and ate very little. At our overnight stop he seemed stressed and again refused to drink and ate very little, the pattern repeating itself on the ferry and on the road to Brussels.
On arrival he was very dehydrated, a situation that was rapidly remedied and he began to drink and eat well again. The whole venue was challenging being in a park in the city and space at a premium.
Stables, vetting, cooling and resting areas were all on tarmac so surfaces and bedding had to be laid on this. Coupled with the very small stables and the spectators in close proximity, there was no peace for the horses to unwind and Fantom didn’t handle this at all well.
On the plus side, the opening ceremony was fun and the pre-ride vetting went perfectly with all the British horses passing with flying colours (Fant pictured top and below). There was a slight blip with the weighing — I had lost weight and only just made the weight required. This is despite our hotel being situated opposite a Belgian chocolate shop!
The first couple of days there were spent with riders checking out the first and last bits of the loops which was navigationally difficult as the start and finish, being in the park open to the public, had not been marked. However, we soon got the idea of the general undulating terrain, mixed going and man-made hazards that we would encounter on race day.
Meanwhile, the crew tirelessly negotiated Brussels traffic to find the designated crew points where they would meet us along the route, often getting caught in traffic and often winding their way through residential roads — it was almost surreal.
Race day was damp and humid, not a bad day for a long race. Warming Fantom up beforehand rang alarm bells with me as he simply was too quiet; no leaps, no plunges, in fact generally pretty mechanical. He was checked by the team vet and there were no untoward signs so we started with the other Brits near the back of the field.
The start was on the edge of the forest and went down a short track before crossing major roads complete with traffic lights and bollards before proceeding into the depths of the dark beech forest.
We got to 3km when Fantom stopped suddenly and I knew our race was over before it had ever really begun. Trudging back through the forest in the gloom was definitely an all-time low. The good thing was that Fantom’s episode was relatively minor and he is now back home in his field and, with the mandatory 60 days resting period, his season has finished.
The rest of the team continued, gathering speed and coming into the first vet gate together, having moved up many places. Unfortunately one team member was spun for lameness at the second vet gate and another at the third. This meant that we wouldn’t be eligible for a team medal. The remaining two, Rachael and Harry, did a fantastic job riding together at a really good pace and both horses looking brilliant all day. These two horses are only nine year olds and look good for the future.
Next year is the World Equestrian Games but this is in North America so a no go for us. The cost is prohibitive and will severely restrict Britain’s capacity to take a team. Endurance is totally self-funded in this country despite being the second largest FEI discipline. It is an enormously popular sport worldwide with many countries benefiting from funding and established breeding and training programmes. Our time will come.