On the 13th July, Barik and I reached the biggest point of our endurance career together, the big 160km FEI *** at King’s Forest. The National Championships were also being held here incorporating both the FEI and National 160km classes.
Our aim: to complete the distance at qualifying speed so that we would be qualified for the World Equestrian Games due to take place next year.
After competing at King’s Forest twice last year and being very successful, I felt this would be a good course for Barik to do his first 160km. It is a flat course and the going is relatively good apart from a few flint stones to watch out for. The route runs through the forest and is quite technical due to the numerous twists and turns, so it is not one of those rides you can ride on “auto-pilot”. For the 160km there would be 6 loops (all different routes); 40km, 32km, 32km, 23km, 17km and 16km.
The weather forecast was due to be hot so Gran and Krissie froze as many bottles of water as possible, whilst I sent an email round the office of In the Saddle to ask for as many Tupperware boxes as possible in order to make some giant ice cubes. It is a good thing my lodgings have one very big freezer as I ended up filling two large cool boxes as well as two smaller ones in total. Oh plus the bags we’d ordered from the person at the venue. I did wonder if I had gone a little overboard on ice at the time!
On Friday morning (day before the ride) Barik and my grandparents headed off to Kings Forest, whilst Krissie and I followed in my little car. Unfortunately, my little car pumps out hot air continuously so we were driving in a sauna for 4 hours!
Vetting was later in the afternoon so Barik had a few hours to chill out in his corral, whilst we got the vet gate all sorted. I think the only thing missing was the kitchen sink – we take everything!
Barik vetted perfectly and Krissie even had the comment from the vet for “Best Trot Up”. So that was that, the following morning we would be starting in the 160km. Following vetting I went off to weigh in. Despite having a muscle supplement and eating a tonne of food I knew that I was not going to make FEI weight without some lead. However, when stood on the scales I had actually gained some weight (I must be the only woman to be pleased about gaining weight!) so it was only an extra 2kgs of lead needed. I prefer to wear the lead on myself and do this by having racing lead (which belonged to my great grandfather) placed in the pockets of a scuba diving belt. The belt is designed to carry lead anyway for divers so it is nicely padded and strong. I had spent the last few months training in the lead up to 80km, so I had hoped that this extra weight would not be too much of a hindrance during the ride for either Barik or I.
Well that evening it was an early night for all of us as the race started at 5.30am so we would need to be up at 4am.
Saturday – THE 160KM
Barik had been fed an early breakfast at 4am – not that he ate a vast amount of it as he knew something was up. I managed to eat a bowl of cornflakes at least.
Time ticked by quickly and before we knew it, it was time to mount up and begin warming up before the start. My plan was to not go out with everyone else as I did not want Barik becoming over excited and resulting in us being dragged along. So, although we warmed up with everyone else I took him away once it was announced a minute till start. We were only in the vet gate area so saw them all start but Barik was not phased by this. We went out at a canter and could see the rest of the competitors not far ahead of us but not once did Barik pull or race to try and catch up. He has definitely gained a lot of experience in this past year and matured well.
The first loop was a 40km but incorporated two loops (red and white) to make the distance. The red loop we would do again as our fourth loop and the white as our fifth. All three of my crew, my grandparents and Krissie came out to crew us on this loop. Most of this loop consisted of us over taking a French rider and then him racing past us on to his next crew point. Apparently his horse had an allergy to something as each crew point he would leap off and attach what looked like a large inhaler to his horse’s nose. A very odd sight to see indeed!
Into the first vet gate, only a bit of water thrown on at this point and we presented in about 4 minutes. A large thumbs up from the vets to carry onto our 2nd loop.
The next few loops passed in a bit of a blur. Krissie stayed at the vet gate to prepare everything for Barik’s arrival as we would be able to get back to the venue faster than the car as it was a shorter distance compared with coming by road. Most of the vet gates Barik, Krissie and I were entering the vetting just as my grandparents pulled up.
By the middle of the day the sun was out and shining over head. At this point we were repeating the red loop (4th loop) and the temperature was reaching about 38 degrees. We piled on the water at each crew point in order to keep Barik cool and I was also throwing a bucket or slosh bottle over myself. Being hot and then having ice cold water over you has got to be one of the most refreshing experiences! It may of looked funny to other people but it was well worth it to remain cool. For the final half of this loop we were joined by fellow Offas Dyke member, Louise Rich, on her homebred Cziko.
Into vet gate 4. Barik trotted up perfectly but as he had come in on a pulse of 64 bpm and due to the heat I was asked to come back for a represent 10 minutes before I was due to depart. During this vet gate my crew carried on putting water on him as he stood in the shade of the gazebo in order to keep him cool. He did not mind at all and rather enjoys everyone fussing over him as he munched his way through his feed of Bailey’s endurance mix, horse nuts, outshine, chaff, oats, apples, and pears. Into the re-check and Barik’s pulse was nice and low and all his metabolics looked good.
Out onto loop 5 of 17km. Barik jogged round this loop mostly on his own with me talking to him and giving him encouraging words. Yes, I was having a one sided conversation with my horse, maybe the sun had gone to my head a little by this point? If anyone saw/ heard this, I am completely sane, well as sane as the next person riding a 160km in a day. We did, however, catch up with a French rider in the 120km a few kilometres before the venue so at least had some company.
Into vet gate 5 and we took a fair amount of time putting as much water on as possible in order to make sure Barik was well and truly cool before going into vet. He vetted very well and the vet was very pleased with him.
By this time it was a lot cooler and Barik ate and drank a lot during this vet gate, whilst our squad vet and I massaged his hindquarters. That is until Gran told me to go and sit down and eat as others could do that. Gran runs a military operation when it comes to our vet gates and all will obey!
One loop to go of 16km!!! I had no idea who was left still riding at this point but presumed the UAE riders no doubt were leading and about due to come in. I saw Nicky Gilbert leave the vet gate followed by Georgina Hirst and then later Barik and I were also off.
I guess my body language had changed as it channelled into Barik and we left the vet gate at a flat out canter. This last loop went in a different direction to the others, which I had forgotten, and we over shot the turning to go over the bridge. Doubling back we saw the French rider had also passed to be able to come out on her last loop. I was pleased to see her as it would be good for Barik to have some company.
Both our horses happily went side by side either in canter or trot. As we wound our way through the course, we saw a rider just up ahead. My French companion (I still do not know her name) pointed and asked if that was someone in my class. Yes it was and it was Nicky Gilbert. “Do you want to catch her?” My reply “No, I want to go by and beat her!” (Oh dear my competitive side had come out). I got a smile from my new friend and a “Let’s go then”. We powered on round passing Nicky who kept up with us and whose horse, Crazy Girl, had picked up on having some company.
Then another horse up ahead, Annette Masterson? My mind was going over the day, why were we riding against these top Championship horses. Who was left in? And for the first time all day I wondered where we were ranked in the competition, as I had no idea.
On into the compulsive walk way (we had one compulsive walk through a farm as the owners did not want the dust being kicked up and covering their machinery and implements). This was a good chance for Barik to take a breather as we walked into the crew point. Meeting us here was Charlie Fleming (who had ridden in the 80km FEI and also part of the Offas Dyke endurance group that I belong to) and her crew Jane and would be giving us a good crewing, so that Gran, Grandad and Krissie could see us cross the finish line.
Endurance is one sport where you will find a lot of camaraderie between fellow riders!
Barik stuck a vast majority of his head in a very large bucket of water and had a good drink, whilst I took a slosh ready to pour once he had finished. No sooner had he finished his drink, he was ready to go and it took a lot to hold him one handed and pour. I managed two sloshes before he was keen to be moving along. Jane noticed my hind boot had slipped but Barik would not stand still and with about a kilometre to go, we just decided to take the boot off and go. Nicky was also just leaving so I tucked Barik in behind and he did his usual extended trot whilst Crazy Girl was in canter (my boy has one very long stride). The home stretch and my competitive side was really coming through.
Must keep sane, logically thinking head on at all times, I just want to get round. Oh sod it!
Tweeking the right rein so Barik could come along side, I decided to see what Barik wanted to do. I should of known, he’s as competitive as I am. Pulling away in gallop we came flying round the corner (I might just say my crew were sat on the ground apparently waiting for me to cross the line sedately). I saw them jump up but my mind was on our goal. Checking to see where Nicky was, all I needed to do was lean forward into jockey position so Barik would extend and we crossed the line ahead of her.
Adrenalin running, heart stopping and sane brain returns. Oh god what had I done? I could of blown our chances in this last kilometre if I could not get Barik’s pulse down.
It was all hands on deck; Gran, Granddad, Krissie, Mary (chef d’equip), Zofia (squad vet), Charlie, Jane, Lesley (Charlie’s other crew member) plus me. Water on, massaging hind quarters. Followed by walking to make sure he did not stiffen whilst more water. His pulse had dropped but we were not taking chances. When he wasn’t walking we were massaging his quarters. One last check of the heart rate by Zofia and we decided to take him.
To say I felt sick is an understatement. I had waited for this moment since I had first started out as a junior rider on a 13.2hh Welsh pony, with the stories my Gran used to tell me of her 100 mile horse. His heart rate was under 64 (phew), metabolic checked and now the trot up. With three vets to watch and give their verdict, Barik trotted alongside Krissie up the lane and back just as he had done in each vet gate all day. Checking of heart rate again and more checks of the rest of Barik’s body. I’m sure the minutes were ticking by and all I wanted to know was had we passed.
Finally and……….YOU’VE PASSED. Barik was strangled with Krissie and I hugging him from either side, hugged each other and proceeded back to Barik’s team of crew. Gran was crying, Krissie was crying and so was I.
We had done it in 10 hours 29 minutes and 34 seconds at a speed of 15.1kph coming at 5th place in the FEI 160km class and 4th place in the National Championship which is run across the National and FEI 160km class. In my class there had been 32 entrants, 23 had started but only 6 had finished. A vast amount of horses had been vetted out due to lameness, although the first two riders from the UAE were vetted due to high pulse.
I had never dreamed to have risen up the rankings like that but what a ride Barik gave me. I am sooo proud of him!!! We have now qualified for the European Championship this year but our main goal is next year’s World Equestrian Games due to be held in Normandy. So this is now a watch my space to see if we will be selected to represent Britain for the Games…….
Thanks must go to all my crew, the help Charlie Fleming, Lesley Dunn and Jane had given me, Mary Stubbs the Chef D’Equip of the British Development Squad and Zofia the Vet for the Squad. But of course to my amazing horse and partner Barik who had given me such a fantastic ride and had even had the energy to gallop in at the finish!