Endurance, what’s that all about? A long hack maybe or a madcap dash across the desert? The reality for one dedicated endurance rider is four beautiful pure Arabian horses and a sea of mud in deepest, darkest Cornwall. BUT the endurance season in the UK has just started, spring is upon us and the days are getting longer.
A quick intro to the four extremely ‘individual’ Arabs: leader of the pack is Dilmun who has achieved so much in his career culminating in representing his country at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in 2014, but is now 18 and having a slightly easier time; Fantom who is the current superstar, HS Chiara who is the future and Wizard, an older boy who makes occasional appearances either doing dressage or pleasure rides.
There was big excitement this weekend as the first squad session was upon us. Fantom was to attend this squad session having qualified for the European Championships to be held in Brussels in August. After having six months’ holiday doing absolutely nothing, he came back into work about four weeks ago and we have been steadily walking, starting with 10 minutes on the roads to now over an hour over a more varied terrain. In preparation for his assessment he had his expert massage, new shoes and a new haircut (very chic!).
Squad sessions are usually in the middle of the country which I guess is the only fair way and this time was no exception; Milton Keynes the home of the concrete cows. I have clearly led a sheltered life and Milton Keynes was a first for me. Definitely a doughnut city, with roundabout after roundabout; not what you want when towing your precious horse. However, the hub, where we were staying, was a revelation, more European than British in its outlook with outdoor eating and a huge variety of cuisine, happy days!
While Fantom was preparing for his meticulous inspection by the team vet, farrier and physio, Chiara was approaching a reasonable level of work. This will be Chiara’s second season in endurance and, although she is nearly eight-years-old, it will only be her second season of being ridden. Last year her positive, enthusiastic attitude saw her through the grades from novice to advanced and she completed all her FEI novice qualifiers. This year the plan is to take her through one- and two-star levels and, hopefully, make a first trip overseas. There is still a lot of preparation to do in terms of schooling and fitness and her first competition is just two weeks away, a local 40km graded ride where the focus will be on maintaining her rhythm rather than on going any great speed.
Dilmun also had a long holiday after last season and also had to complete several weeks of walking. Now he has upped his work to include some trot work and some gentle schooling. He will be aimed at a 50km competition which he won last year in April in preparation for Royal Windsor in May.
The ancient Wizard had an outing last week, purely a pleasure ride which he thoroughly enjoyed and was well within his capability. Fun is the name of the game for this old campaigner.
On to my own preparation for the season; well, my highlight was a lesson on a mechanical horse! To anyone un-horsey this must sound pretty sad but for an endurance rider it was a very valuable session. I spent 45 minutes on ‘Eric’, as he is known, going through the paces to ensure that I sit as centrally as possible with slight adjustments being made to my posture.
Less enjoyable preparation involves jogging (I will be running soon, I promise!) and pilates-type strengthening exercises designed to improve core stability and strength especially in the legs. We endurance riders do have to spend an awful lot of time in the saddle after all and we need to help our horses as much as possible by being light and balanced.