How to keep up with Mary King across Dartmoor — at hunting pace

  • Eight guests mounted on hunters joined Mary King as they crossed Dartmoor on a luxury two-day riding holiday — and quizzed the eventer along the way on how she uses the terrain to keep her eventers fit

    “I can’t believe I’m following Mary King,” said Catherine Watts as she cantered on open moorland behind the straight back and long legs of the legendary event rider.

    Mary was the ‘celebrity guest’ on a new 30-mile two-day horse riding holiday organised by Liberty Trails across Dartmoor with accommodation in the luxury Bovey Castle hotel.

    “We must have covered about 18 miles on the first day, including river crossings, rocky tors, forestry plantations and heathery moors with skylarks singing above,” said Mary.

    With her were eight paying guests, most mounted on local hunters well-tuned to navigating Dartmoor’s rocky terrain. As she lives nearby, Catherine, who is a local equine physio, brought her own horse Bee, a 16hh Dutch warmblood who is still very green. “She learnt a huge amount,” said Catherine.

    Riders quizzed Mary about producing horses and how to get them fit along the way.

    How does Mary use the Devon countryside to keep her eventers fit?

    A true Devonian, Mary King is adept at using the county’s hills to keep her eventers, both young and old in peak condition.

    “We keep the young horses in a steep field about 400ft from bottom to top. It helps make them strong,” Mary says. “If a young horse grows up in a flat paddock it won’t develop as well.”

    Admitting she’d “be totally lost” living in a flat county, the family’s event horses are walked out every other day up the steepest lanes.

    Mary believes the fitness regime has helped many of her top horses stay sound for so long.

    “Maybe it’s because we have these hills and are constantly walking up and down them. They have less chance of injury when competing as they are stronger and harder than horses trained on flat ground,” she said.

    The bridleways round her east Devon home can be a bit rutty for her eventers, but there are plenty of hilly farmer’s fields to do the canter work.

    On Dartmoor, Mary was mounted on a young horse born on the moor so used to the going. The riders were shown the way by guides who had hunted on the moor and knew how to avoid bogs and open gates safely.

    “Once our horses are competing they need to be looked after and not going over rough terrain,” she said, “but the moor is a good education for younger horses.”

    Continued below…

    Riders also grew in confidence as they rode past newborn foals relaxing in glorious sunshine. By the end of the week two fit young 50-something riders who didn’t have their own horses were thinking about coming back to go hunting.

    But if they don’t want to brave the winter weather, Mary has said, depending on her eventing schedule, she will come again next year.

    “It’s been really special to ride over the moor I live close to but don’t get to see enough of,” she admitted.

    The new Liberty Trails luxury adventure with Mary King cost from £2,300 to include three nights full-board at the five star Bovey Castle hotel, horse hire, guiding, ground support, lunches en route and pick ups from Exeter if required. For more details visit: liberty-trails.com

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