Yorkshire RC Endurance Team Win the Red Dragon Riding Club Endurance Championships 2018

GREAT WIN FOR YORKSHIRE RIDING CLUBS ENDURANCE TEAM.

When Linda Birkitt rang me a couple of months ago to confirm I had qualified for the Riding Club Endurance Championships, I didn’t know what to think. Firstly it was a really long way to travel and secondly ‘Red Dragon’ has the reputation, even amongst us hardy Yorkshire folk, of being one of the toughest experiences  you can attempt on horseback.     As it was, the six of us from Yorkshire who had qualified formed the Yorkshire Riding Clubs team and made the long journey down to Builth Wells in the middle of Wales.  Many thanks must go to Linda who has been the driving force over the last two years in organising the qualifiers and our trip to the championships. A lot of our success must be due to her organisation.   The six hour journey was made easier with a half hour break near Chester, where the horses were grazed and watered, and then onward we went, arriving at our venue in mid afternoon.  A long journey by all accounts, but well worth every inch,  as we were about to participate in The Red Dragon, the most gruelling, but at the same time the most breath taking of Endurance rides.

Dressed to attack the mountains. The bobble hats were apparently an essential part of our equipment  !!

On the Sunday morning Linda Birkitt (Selby and District), Tricia Heaps ( Harewood ), Sarah Mumby (Scarborough), Tahnee Burgess ( Scarborough and White Rose ),  and myself (Northallerton) participated successfully in the pre ride vetting. Val Swann (Ackworth) , who did the 40km ride on the Saturday was going  to join us, but could not get her horses heart rate low enough to pass the vetting and  Jaquie Harrison (White Rose) had also qualified during the season but was unable to attend the championships   With the help of our ultra efficient crew, Elise McCall and Andy Birkitt, we soon tacked up and were on our way.  It was about 4 kilometres before we met the first hill, and when I say it was long and steep this is a complete understatement. It just went on, and on, and on and when you thought you had got to the top it just carried on again. Buzz was a real star, completing most of it in canter or trot with only the odd break to walk to get his breath back. Linda was with me on her fantastic pony, Sophie, and the other three members of the team were close behind.

    On the way up.  25 minutes of trotting up a hill like this proves how fit your horse is. Buzz looks confused. I dread to think what is on his mind !!

The tops of the hills were fantastic. Miles on miles of wide open spaces and views to die for.

         Heaven on top of the moor.

We kept a relentless pace up on the tops either in canter or trot. The only break being a  short stop for the horses to drink at the crystal clear limestone dew ponds we found on route. The going was brilliant, the track was really well marked, we were spoilt with almost perfect weather and for once Buzz seemed to be behaving himself. For those of you who haven’t ventured down to the Red Dragon before I would highly recommend it. The complete satisfaction of Endurance riding, is best  summed up in these few photos.

Surprisingly, the journey down off the hills was just  as difficult as the journey up. No risks could be taken on the stony track way to spoil the excellent speed we had made but walk was essential . We were aiming to complete the 36km course in excactly 12 kilometres per hour. Any faster would be no advantage and would affect the final heart rate. Any slower would lead to a poorer score by the Performance Chart.

On the way down. Care was essential.

As it happened, after a quiet jog, Linda and I arrived back at the venue with a speed of exactly 12 kph.  I was extremely proud of our timing but I would be the first to admit that it was more by good luck than sound judgement. Tricia, closely followed by Tahnee, arrived 5 minutes behind us but unfortunately Sarah’s cob was suffering a little after the extremes of the ride and didn’t finish for another 15 minutes.

Perhaps the most nerve wracking moment of any Endurance ride is the final vetting. We all took the allotted half hour to cool our horses but at the same time keep them loose enough to pass the final trot up. Mine, Linda’s, Tricia’s and Tahnee’s horses all finished with heart rates between 41 and 45 bpm and all trotted up perfectly sound. A great result on such a demanding course. Unfortunately, despite heroic efforts, Sarah’s cob failed the final vetting as we couldn’t  get the heart rate below 64 within the allotted time.

And then the wait for the results which were given in reverse order. With 4 teams yet to have their scores announced we knew we stood a chance. And then it was down to just 2 teams. ‘And in second place’ said John Hudson ‘is the team from (a moment of quiet as he drew out the suspense)  the team from The New Forest’.  We all leaped in the air.  The Yorkshire team had won.

Summary.  People think us Endurance Riders are slightly round the bend but I can tell you now, that there is no greater satisfaction than forming a lasting partnership with your horse, over hours of training sessions, getting him truly fit and then competing in some of the most beautiful areas of the country.

Well done John Hudson and his team for running the Red Dragon for us (no mean effort) and especial thanks to British Horse Feeds for sponsoring the festival. Hattie I’Anson drove the whole way down from Yorkshire to present the prizes, an Endurance feat in itself. Thank you.

Robert Blane