A non-rider who learned to jump a 1m course in just 20 lessons has set himself a new challenge for 2017 — to compete in the 40km endurance class at Royal Windsor.
Novice horseman Peter Wilkes, who is managing director of equestrian manufacturer Vale Brothers, took up the reins last year after being inspired by a talk on participation at the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) conference.
After the talk, he approached riding instructor Kay Scott-Jarvis to ask how long it would take to learn to jump a 70cm track.
“I asked her how long it would take at one lesson a week and she wouldn’t give me an answer,” said Peter, who was 53 at the time. “She said the worst case scenario would be 18 months. I said ‘I’ll give you ten weeks.’”
After successfully negotiating the first challenge, Peter was keen to up the stakes and after a further ten sessions tackled a 1m course.
“I fell off at the fifth fence so in some respects I don’t feel I completed it, as I need to do a clear round,” he said. “I made the statement beforehand ‘how hard can it be?’ I meant how hard can the ground be when I hit it!”
Not perturbed by his tumble, Peter summoned a new ambition for this year, and decided to confront the international endurance at the Royal Windsor Horse Show (May 12).
After his entry was accepted, Peter started prepaing for the contest which he says he is “really looking forward to”.
“I will feel slightly odd wearing a competitor’s bib rather than an exhibitor’s badge,” said Peter, whose company exhibits at Royal Windsor as Thermatex and Harry Dabbs.
“There can’t be many sports where you can enter an international event and compete as a novice. It’s a very accessible sport in that respect, which I think is a positive. You couldn’t do this in dressage or showjumping.”
Peter has been training for the event — which will only be the 30th time he has sat on a horse — with both Kay and international endurance competitor Linda Couperthwaite.
“I’ve been out for a beach ride with Linda on her endurance horses,” said Peter. “It was one of the more challenging things I’ve done and a little scary being on a horse that competes at international level. At one stage I was 100% certain I was going to take a swim but I didn’t fall off!
“I’ve also ridden 12k and taken two horses round the track at Wolverhampton racecourse — which was brilliant.”
Although he is excited by the competition, Peter admits the challenge is still a daunting one.
“I am reasonably relaxed on a horse but we’ll see how I feel when six Arabs go cantering past. I know it will be experience!” he said.
“I’m in pain in my hips and knees after a 45min lesson, so I’m expecting to be in a lot of pain after three-and-a-half hours. I will struggle to stand up when I get off — at canter I can’t sit, so I stand, so it will be harder for me physically than a decent rider.”
Peter will be borrowing pure-bred Arab Billy for the challenge, and will be accompanied on the 40k by Billy’s owner, 17-year-old Charlie Chadwick.
“It’s going to be old and young riding together,” he said. “I’ve told her we need to aim for a grade one. I’m quite competitive, so what’s the point in doing it if we’re not going to get the best grade?”
As well as hoping to inspire new people to take up riding — or lapsed riders to get back in the saddle — Peter is also using the challenge to raise money for the air ambulance and the Royal Drawing School.
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“I chose to include the drawing school as we need design and innovation as an industry,” he added.
Anyone wishing to donate can visit Peter’s page “An Idiot Aboard”.
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