Well the decision was made; Fantom was going to Windsor and Dilmun would be prepared for the popular inter-regional enduarance championships in July, this year to be held at Cirencester Park.
All the last-minute preparations were made for Windsor. We had a final training session of approximately 20km around a cross-country course averaging 20kph, a relaxing massage (for Fantom, not me!), and a new set of shoes complete with pads in the front to guard against any random stones with our name on it!
I have to admit that I was looking forward to this event with, shall we say, nervous anticipation. I had a plan! Now in endurance there is a saying that plans are bad as they tempt fate with the endurance gods, but in this case it was vital. Fantom was definitely fit enough and carefully prepared for this particular race, but our long term plan this year is to maximise our chances of being selected for the European Championships and to this end, we needed a solid result without taking any undue risks. My plan was to average 18kph throughout the race and make sure that we do exceptionally speedy vet gate presentations.
An endurance race is divided into loops, the number of which depends on the distance of the race. In the one-star at Windsor there were three loops with two vet gates in between the loops and a vetting at the end (there was also a pre-ride vetting the day before). The clock stops once you present your horse to the vet after coming off the loop, thus it is imperative to present to the vet as soon as possible. However, in order to pass the vet, one of the parameters is that the horse’s pulse is below 65 bpm. This is where crewing skills come to the foreground to help make sure the heart rate come down as quickly as possible.
Fantom is extremely easy to crew in this respect as his heart rate drops like a stone and we are almost always able to present without pause and my amazing crew are adept at taking saddle, boots, martingale off while he is still walking.
After the intermediate vetting, horses have a rest of 30–50 minutes (40 minutes at Windsor) where they eat and drink, the gear is cleaned and so on. At the end of the race it is a little different in that it is obviously first past the post who wins provided they then successfully present to the vet within 30 minutes.
The conditions on the day at Windsor were as close to perfect as they probably could be. The temperature was not too warm and not too cold and the going, although on the firm side, had benefitted from some light rain the preceding few days.
The mass start was a little hairy with interesting sideways leaps and swerves as Fantom made a desperate bid for the lead. However, I managed to contain him all round the first loop including the circuit around Ascot racecourse, and we soon arrived back at the vet gate having gone slightly faster than my planned speed. After a good presentation speed, we went out on the second loop just ahead of the group we were with on the first loop. Again, another loop flashed past, this time at exactly the planned speed and with less pulling on Fantom’s part.
On the final loop I set out in second place but was soon caught by Beth Langley and the amazing little ‘Tissy’ who is only 14hh and 19 years old. Beth’s little horse has this amazing ability to keep the same pace up and down the hills in total balance and I had to follow her! It sounds simple cantering downhill; eventers do it all the time, but here the terrain is varied, not only the contours but also the surface, and remember: we haven’t walked the course before the competition! To be able to do this takes very, very careful preparation and training. A successful endurance horse that comes out year after year needs to be very, very balanced in all paces to cope with the varied and unexpected challenges confronting them.
We both flew round the last loop and turned into the finishing straight together but I remembered the plan so there could be no risky racing finishes for us. However, after passing the final vetting, we were more than happy to complete in third place.
The following day was the icing on the cake. A podium place meant having our prizes presented to us in the main arena by HM The Queen and the King of Bahrain. This was like a dream come true but, initially panic; I had no clothes with me for the occasion! I have to admit to looking at my white breeches in the wardrobe before leaving home but felt that it would be unlucky to bring them. Fortunately everyone in endurance is so friendly and helpful that I was able to borrow everything.
Annie is preparing for an exciting competition, but…
The atmosphere was terrific and I was worried about Fantom fidgeting when he met The Queen, but to my amazement he stood stock still with a look of utter amazement on his face when we received our ceremonial dagger.
Well, it’s back to earth now and attention focussing for the time being on fitness training for Dilmun and Chiara.