8th June - Three Rivers – 80km ER - Barik
I entered this ride with the primary reason of getting some further canter work in as I am so limited at home and to practice our vet gate procedure. There were 6 competitors in my class. The ride had little road work and would run across the Downs, and through headlands. There would be three loops with two vet gates; 35km, 33km, 13km.
Barik stabled at the venue and I decided to camp. It was a particularly windy night so I had very little sleep. Barik, however, was bright eyed and ready for the day’s competition. He was nice and chilled until a fellow competitors horse got loose which made Barik get extremely excited. By the time we headed down to the start he was on his toes and would not stand still for me to hand my start card in. We set off at a fast pace weaving in and out of the cross country jumps and out onto the old drove roads. Lauren Mills and Carri Ann Dark soon caught me up and from there we rode the next two loops together.
The course rode well and Barik eventually got into a nice canter rhythm without his usual pulling to lead. In the first vet gate, Lauren managed to vet first followed a few seconds later by me and then by Carri Ann. Back out on course we each caught each other up and rode the next loop of 33km together again.
Into vet gate 2 and Carri Ann vetted first 40 seconds ahead of me, with Lauren a minute behind. Up to this point, the three of us had been in the lead for the entire race, with no sign of the others in sight. Carri Ann left the vet gate and it felt a particularly long 40 seconds. As soon as we were told we could go, Barik flew out of the vet gate. A couple of kilometres into our final loop we caught Carri Ann up. The last 13km were a bit of a blur as we cantered round. On the home stretch when we were about 3km from the venue, Barik started to pull away. He has a great turn of speed and a long stride so on the straight headlands we could gain some distance. Barik cantered over the line into 1st place!!! We had averaged the final lap at about 26kph but he came into the vet gate barely puffing. It is no wonder he excelled as a racehorse.
Barik gave me a fantastic ride and did not even look tired at the end. We averaged the course at 18.18kph, which is the fastest course Barik has ridden to date.
15th June – Seacliffe, Scotland - FEI* 120km - Eskar
My friend, Kirsty Wiscombe, had asked me about two weeks before the event if I would ride her horse Eskar in the 120km class at Seacliffe. I of course said yes without a moment’s hesitation. Eskar is a 13 year Anglo Arab, gelding, standing at just over 16hh. Kirsty would also be riding in the class on her stallion Yawl Hill Billy.
The difficult bit was arranging crew. Luckily, my good friend Hannah Shotton stepped in at last minute to help me and Emily Secrett stepped in to help Kirsty. Kirsty’s other crew member was Billy (yes it did get a bit confusing with the horse also called Billy) who was used to crewing both the horses. As we only had one crew car, we would also be riding together.
We set off on the Wednesday night, 3 days prior to the competition. My grandparents dropped me off at the Strensham services off the M5, so that Kirsty could pick me up on the way. By the time we left these services it was 11pm and we had just over a 10 hour journey ahead of us. We arrived quite promptly at 9am, where we met Francis whose stables Kirsty was using and Francis was also one of the vets for the event.
Thursday was mainly spent setting up our campsite, not easy with the wind and getting the boys settled in to their stable and corral.
On Friday, we went to Edinburgh airport to pick up Emily in the morning who was flying up from the south of England. Once back at the venue we took both horses out for a leg stretch around the area. This would be my first time riding Eskar and I had been prior warned that he was a strong horse and could really take a hold but Barik (my own horse) is very much similar so I was not overly worried about this.
Neither Billy or Eskar get a along at home so I stuck a good horses length behind Billy as we set off from the venue and made sure that I maintained this gap. We went about 10kms and it gave me chance to try Eskar out at all paces. He has a nice long, comfy stride and I was really looking forward to the following day where we would be competing in the 120km.
Hannah was arriving that afternoon. So there was time for a quick catch up before weigh in. I had been munching all week to make sure I was up to weight so I could use Eskar’s light weight saddle. I weighed in just over 74kgs with tack so I was just over the weight limit for a 2*.
Saturday dawned. I say “dawned” it actually never got dark up there (no joke!). We would be vetting before the ride, which is a bit unusual as normally for an FEI we vet the day before. Eskar is an old hand at this so despite watching everything and seeming to grow an entire hand higher he had a pulse in the low 40s.
The route consisted of 4 loops with the second and third loop incorporating part of the beach. Riding along the beach was the part both Kirsty and I were looking most forward to out of the entire ride.
The first loop took us along field headlands, down lanes and through some forest. The second loop headed off in the same direction but before long we found ourselves at the beach. As we twisted and turned through the forest we could hear the sea just up ahead. Finally there was the sea in sight and we both took off into canter. Where was the photographer for this moment? Further up the beach the markers grew to almost non-existent and we could see hoof prints which went across the salt pans. However, we had been given strict orders in the ride briefing to not go on the salt pans under any circumstances. We consulted our maps to see where exactly we should go, by which point two other riders had caught us up. Kirsty and I decided to double back to the last marker we had seen whilst they headed down the rest of the beach. We had only gone a few strides when we heard a yell from the other two riders who pointed to tell us that they had found a marker. Kirsty and I turned around and followed the beach until the markers led us back into the woods and towards our next vet gate. We later learned that all those who had gone wrong across the salt pans had been given a time penalty and had to be held back for 11 minutes at this vet gate.
The third loop, also incorporated the other half of the beach we had previously been on but was a longer stretch. We followed the markers down a grassy path and met the ride photographer on her way back up so we only got a head shot. It was not late in the day we were not running out of time so why was she coming off the beach when not all the class had come through? This is something we still don’t know and were both annoyed to not get a photo of us cantering along the beach. But besides that the long stretch along the beach was great and Eskar and I got to lead. Despite by this time completing just over half way, Eskar still felt as fresh as when he started on loop one so it was a really joy to be able to canter along with the sound of waves crashing in my ears.
Both Eskar and Billy passed the next vet gate and we were off on the last loop. The loop followed grassy headlands so we just let the boys lope along. Upon getting near the venue I asked Kirsty what she wished to do for the finish. We decided to canter in together. I say “we” decided, but both horses had different opinions. Once we got onto the last grassy stretch of field towards the finish line, Eskar took off. Kirsty and Billy were in hot pursuit so it was a case of “go with the flow”. Eskar managed to beat Billy by just a nose! Apparently it was the best finish all day.
Both horses passed the vetting and we were so pleased with how they had performed. I felt very privileged to be able to ride Eskar in this competition and thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. He is a lovely horse and has some very comfy paces. Would I ride him again – of course!
23rd June - Berkshire Downs - 67km –Barik
I decided to take Barik in the 67km class at Berkshire Downs as a leg stretch in preparation for Kings Forest. The ride runs across mostly headlands and the downs so would be a nice course to take Barik on.
The route was split into two loops with a vet gate in the middle. I started the first loop with my old team mate, Charlotte Robinson. We had plenty to catch up on and I’m sure our crew could hear us before they saw us. However, we did split midway through our first loop as I wanted to average just over 14kph.
The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. The course rode well with being mostly on grassland although it was rutted in places. The halfway vetting Barik passed through easily and we were off on the second loop. Although we did lose a shoe about 3km before the venue but I had an Easy Boot to put on him so he trotted up sound for final vetting and passed the ride. His pulses had been excellent so we were awarded a grade 1!
I’m glad this ride is now back on the calendar as it is always has been a nice course to compete across.