I’m still counting down until I can ride again; but it’s now only just over three weeks until both Wizard’s and Chiara’s shoes go back on and work commences. Usually I continue to compete right up to the end of the season and then rest the endurance horses until the New Year. This time, although all three of the horses were qualified for the national championships at the Red Dragon ride, I decided against competing there this year.
The Red Dragon ride is something of an iconic event held at the Royal Welsh Showground in the heart of the Welsh mountains. It has always been one of my favourite rides with a rather special atmosphere, masses of room at the venue and such an inspiring course. No two Red Dragon rides are alike as the weather conditions are so very influential on the condition of the terrain. I have ridden there in 30 degree heat and in constant driving rain with water running off the mountains. This year, I believe it was closer to the latter.
This was the first year of the new national championship structure and riders from across the country came to compete for championships at novice, open and advanced level as well as the overall national championships.
While the national and advanced championships are straight races, the open and novice championships are based on what is known as performance formula where speed and final heart rate are fed into a formula to produce the results. This produces a competitive element at the shorter distances and requires much skill to maximise the speed, taking into account the terrain, at the same time as being aware of the horse’s stamina to produce a low heart rate at the end: this must surely be the way forward.
All this non-riding time has given me a window for doing all those jobs that need to be done around the yard, you know the ones I mean: creosoting stables, fencing, strimming and I could go on and on. The best bit, however, is that work on extending and improving my tack room has commenced today. I did rationalise a lot of my equipment just before the Europeans but there is still so much stuff that is not horse-related and has no business to be in my exclusively horsey area.
Everyone should have a Gus! I am so lucky to have Gus as a near neighbour. He has worked in banking for years and years stuck mainly behind a desk and has now just retired. He refers to manual labour, such as building my tack room, as “like being in a candy shop”. He loves mending and making things, in fact anything that doesn’t involve being behind a desk. He has already built a man cave and made a bar out of old pallets and my tack room is now his current project (ably assisted by Robert, my husband).
The winter months for endurance folk are a little challenging. Unless wanting to compete overseas in warmer climes, there is no active endurance in any shape or form. While showjumping and dressage are amply provided for in indoor arenas and even indoor eventing is now possible, there is nothing for endurance.
This means that endurance people either hibernate or seek some form of cross training for themselves and their horses. Dressage is probably the most popular second equestrian sport for endurance folk with maybe indoor Trec or showjumping becoming a possibility too. Others may want a break from the competitive side of things but still wish to carry on riding so may concentrate on ‘practising’ things such as gate opening and closing, taking sloshes, crossing rivers and so on.
For me, winter is the time of planning and preparing for the season ahead. At first I think great, no riding for a while, I can get all those jobs done, I can catch up with the accounts, socialise more, that kind of thing. But after a while, the withdrawal symptoms kick in and, once the horses have rested sufficiently, I start to work on certain aspects that need improving and, yes, I have been known to do the odd dressage competition too.
With no riding at the moment, my own fitness suffers. We humans lose our fitness extremely quickly and, at my age, seem to take forever to regain it. It is important to me to maintain some degree of fitness throughout the winter to be in a better position to attain a much higher level of fitness at the beginning of the season. Schooling and jumping simply don’t do it, however many hours are put into it each day, and human cross training is necessary. I have taken to going on long walks across the moors, doing regular Pilates circuits and have just started to run again; very slowly!