A week or so ago I spent a hectic three days helping at the famous Golden Horseshoe ride on Exmoor. This competition is about as different as you can get to Royal Windsor and still be ‘endurance’.
Windsor is fast, flat with excellent, and in part prepared, going and Horseshoe is rugged, rough and extremely hilly and the speeds considerably slower to reflect this. The challenges, and the rules to some extent, are very different and an alternative way of training the horse is required.
As usual, the event was not without rain and the venue is situated on top of a hill making it very exposed to the elements and usually up to 10 degrees cooler than the surrounding countryside.
‘Horseshoe’ is the oldest endurance competition in the UK and arguably one of the most famous in the world and certainly in this country. Two years ago, Horseshoe celebrated its 50th anniversary and had a break last year to be resurrected with new organisers who have great plans for the future.
The last time it ran in 2015, my versatile horse Fantom and I managed to complete the 160km Golden Horseshoe class (pictured top) in two days of torrential, driving rain for a silver award. This competition is a true test of endurance and stamina where speed is of less importance.
This weekend I had varied duties and have discovered that parking 200 horseboxes and trailers is an art form in itself; neat, even lines being the objective while trying to fulfil competitors’ wishes at the same time: the two not always being compatible. Now I know what it’s like from the other side…
I watched the finish of the main class; there were only three competitors left in the competition at the end and it was really heartening to see one of my good friends achieve her dream — there were hugs and tears all round at this very emotional time.
One of the horses was just a little unlevel at the end: a fail. With endurance there are generally two main results: a pass and a fail. The highs and lows are extreme and I really felt for the competitor whose horse failed at the end. This competitor will have prepared all year for this competition and then ridden for two gruelling days over rugged terrain and at times in driving rain over 160km (100 miles) and has now finished with no recognition or award, just the determination to go one better next year!
Our next major event was the squad assessment day in Warwick. OK, although not ‘just down the road’, it’s not too far, probably about four or five hours. WRONG! It was the journey from hell: six hours just to get as far as Bristol (from Cornwall) AND that wasn’t the end of our problems. There was then another three hours to reach our destination. Total: nine hours. However, we got the opportunity of putting into practice a lesson learned when travelling to Fontainebleau last year. Fibre beet tea makes an awesome travel drink and Fantom absolutely loved it and arrived fully hydrated (yes, we endurance people are obsessed with hydration and we checked his wee!).
At the assessment it was nice to meet up with fellow squad members. We were duly put through our paces and each horse assessed according to the stage of fitness they were at. The other, and also important, part of endurance assessment is how fit the rider is and to this end, a couple of fiendish exercises were devised: fun? Not sure, but they sure tested my poor body. The crew were not forgotten and their fitness was tested too in a manner rather reminiscent of “It’s a Knockout” involving lots of water!
Alas, we will have to wait until late July to find out whether we will be going to Brussels as part of the squad for the Europeans.