A Horse & Hound team completed the Golden Horseshoe earlier this month (17 May).
Showing, vet and point-to-point editor Aimi Clark, designer Emily Secrett, news writer/digital sub editor Rachael Hook and dressage/print sub editor Polly Bryan update us on their experiences of the endurance ride.
Aimi: ‘Welfare is top of the agenda’
I had mixed feelings as I arrived on Exmoor to tackle the Golden Horseshoe. It is exciting and I barely slept the night before, but it is also the unknown — I’ve never competed in endurance before — and the international side of the sport has been surrounded by controversy recently. To top it off my horse, Bee, has missed several days’ work after losing a shoe and becoming foot sore. Typically thoroughbred timing.
The veterinary inspection is one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done. Waiting to be called forward I see a chestnut with a distinctive nod. The rider is devastated that the beloved horse she thought was in perfect health is in pain, and thoughts of the ride — all that preparation, travelling time, financial investment — pales in significance. Two vets assess the horse to see what the problem might be before he goes home. Welfare is top of the agenda here.
Excitement gets the better of Bee and he struggles to stand still as a vet examines him, listens to his breathing and checks his heart rate. He trots-up rather enthusiastically. It’s just as well that I don’t have to be examined too, as nerves have greatly affected my blood pressure.
They meet us with water at the first checkpoint, but miss the second due to a lunch stop (whoops — we’re all novices here).
The ride itself is simply brilliant. Varied and testing terrain up and down (often very steep) moorland, plus the odd road, long fields and rivers and banks to negotiate.
Bee’s thoroughbred blood stands him in good stead and, looking back, I could have ridden him quicker. However, if my map reading was better and I hadn’t underestimated how far we were from the finish, I wouldn’t have had to.
Nerves return for the vet inspection, but Bee passes, his heart rate only two beats higher than in the morning. Now that I have had a taste of endurance I haven’t ruled out another go. Fingers crossed the Golden Horseshoe finds a new organising team for 2016.
Emily: not the easy ‘hack’ we expected
Last minute boot cleaning, map reading and sandwich making and we were finally ready for our 23km endurance ride. Waking to perfect riding weather with beautiful blue skies and a light breeze — our excitement heightened despite the early start and hour and a half drive to the venue.
My ride for the day was Sox a beautiful 16.2 Hanoverian, very kindly loaned to me by an old friend Niki Bradley. Having gained some practice on him before the ride I knew he was going to be the perfect horse for the job and was keen to get back in the saddle.
As we arrived at the venue and found our horses we all took in the relaxed atmosphere, with fellow team members offering us last minute advice and wishing us well.
With all four horses passing the pre-ride vetting with low pulses and good action, we were ready for our 11.20 start time. Having worked as a groom and trail ride leader for Burrowhayes Farm (a local campsite offering horse riding across the Exmoor National Park) I was familiar with the local countryside and its fantastic riding, and was keen to get out on the tracks. Although aware my navigational skills are not the strongest!
Half an hour in, and having negotiated rivers, gates, steep slopes and rocky paths we all realised it wasn’t to be the easy ‘hack’ we expected, and with a speed of between 10-11km/h to gain we needed to kick on. Sox proved to be the sure footed, ready to please ride I had hoped for. Happy to help with gate duties and ride out ahead or behind I couldn’t have wished for a more willing horse, allowing me to enjoy the views and scenery that greeted us at every turn.
Crossing the finish line, with aching legs I couldn’t help feeling proud of our team having completed our first endurance ride together. With only half an hour before our post ride vetting there was little time to succumb to our aching muscles and we got to work on washing our horses to cool them down in preparation for their second pulse check.
With our horses through the vetting and happily grazing we were finally able to pick a spot for our eagerly anticipated picnic, remove our boots and admire our rosettes.
Despite not winning we all agreed we had a brilliant time and felt lucky to have been invited to ride in such a well known and well loved ride. The organisers at the event were fantastic and the atmosphere was brilliant, with amateurs such as ourselves and experienced endurance riders mixing and helping each other out.
Rachael: ‘let’s hope for many more years’
I was impressed by the standard of competition across the board at this year’s Golden Horseshoe. Riders pushed on through even the trickiest terrain and kept their pace up right to the end of the long course.
My little mare Rozann, kindly loaned to me by Marion of Burrowhayes Farm, made easy work of the task (the same could not be said for myself!) My thighs started aching pretty early on and I completely underestimated the speed which was required to make the time.
Everyone was so friendly and riders were polite, asking us for permission whenever they wanted to overtake, which was slightly more frequent than we may have planned!
It was great that all our horses passed the vettings with flying colours and although our rosettes were yellow rather than red, we all felt a great sense of achievement finishing the tough challenge as a team.
The future seems brighter for the ride than originally thought — fingers crossed it continues for many more years. I would love to come back and take on the Golden Horseshoe once more.
Polly: ‘a great partner’
It was with a little nervous anticipation that I greeted my ride for the day, ex-racehorse Son Histoire (Sonny). On my one previous ride on him, he had proved fairly hot and buzzy and I wondered whether he would be a handful. As it was he strolled out of the trailer looking fairly relaxed and proved to be a pretty cool customer throughout the vetting.
As we circled at the start, being counted down, it felt a bit like waiting to begin a cross-country round, and Sonny definitely felt so too. He was not terribly happy with the anticlimax that followed, as we walked sedately across the line and down the field.
But the pace quickly picked up, as did the intensity of the terrain, which varied wildly throughout the ride from steep, rocky paths, to rivers, dense woodland, open moorland and country lanes. Far from being a 23km walk in the park, the ride proved more challenging than the four of us had imagined, and Sonny was a great partner, staying fresh throughout and taking everything we faced in his stride, as well as showing off his top gear when we had the chance for a gallop.
The fantastic views and kind weather made for a really enjoyable ride, even if my un-riding fit legs had turned to jelly by about kilometre 20. We received a lovely welcome as we crossed the finish, with all our horses sound and happy.