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Monthly Archives: May 2019

Endurance riding – A ‘Bucket List’ Experience – The Golden Horseshoe Ride

Golden Horse Shoe Endurance Ride – A ‘Bucket List’ Experience

Golden Horseshoe Ride

On the 17th – 19th May 2019 the 53rd Golden Horseshoe Ride (GHS) took place in stunning Exford, in the heart of the Exmoor National Park – one of the most beautiful places to ride in the UK.

Whilst beautifully stunning, Exmoor National Park is vast with a total of 267 square miles of varying and challenging terrain from deep wooded valleys, high sea cliffs, fast flowing streams and large areas of open moorland which together give can the sense of remoteness and wilderness in its true form.

Historically the Golden Horseshoe ride started in Exmoor with the first ride taking place in 1965, the ride then took place at different venues throughout the country before returning back to Exmoor in 1974.

With the challenging terrain and the weather system of Exmoor the ride requires a very fit horse and experienced rider to cope with the demands of the sport but over the years, organisers Barbara Wigley, Jo, and Andrew Chisholm have worked hard to broaden the ride’s appeal and to attract non-competitive riders who wish to explore the beauty of Exmoor by providing a pleasure ride and wide range of classes from 24 km to 160 km.

Although there were low entries for the longer distance classes, whereas previously these places were sold out well in advance, the smaller classes were well attended from riders around England and Wales.

RiderCise® attended the GHS as a sponsor and provider of Rider Therapy in aid of the Air Ambulance Service for Dorset, Devon & Somerset. I spent much of my time wandering around, getting in the way and asking lots of questions so I could learn as much as possible.

With so many riders today taking part in ‘Leisure’ riding in the UK, I wondered why there seems to be a lack of younger riders participating in endurance riding in general and why they were not participating in such a ’Signature’ ride.

endurance horse riding uk

Everyone was so very very helpful, yet totally focused on ensuring that the horses were fit and sound and riders were prepared.

Before the first day there was a briefing from Barbara who previously organized the ride, but now maps out to the rides personally by horseback and by foot well in advance of the ride in May, well, it is 160km! Barbara gave an encouraging and insightful talk on the North and South Ride routes, pointing out the going of the terrain, possible areas of concern and detailed information about the beautiful scenery on route. A truly invaluable briefing to help prepare riders so not only did they complete, but so they could enjoy the journey too.

The briefing was repeated on the evening of the first day, prior to the second day also.

With the riders having attended the briefing and armed with maps, it was down to the horses passing their initial vetting where they must be presented sound prior to being allowed to ride.

The ride routes were marked extremely carefully to ensure that riders stay safe, these included a number of watering holes but during the rides, crews (groups of your fan club, supporters, mums, and dads) were able to meet you at specific points to provide water and feed for you and your horse and anything else that may be needed. A horse can quickly become exhausted and overheat with the challenging terrain and the Exmoor’s ever-changing weather. It is also especially important that riders ensure they are taking on food and liquid, something I fear is often forgotten or not deemed important (us riders have a habit of caring so much for our horses that we sometimes forget ourselves, but remember, without helping ourselves, we can’t help our horses!)

On return from either a circuit or the total distance of the ride, the horses had a period of up to 20 minutes before they must be presented a sound and have a heart rate of 58bpm or under. You can present your horse anytime you like but If the heart rate is too high you can only re-present once more within the 20min slot. If they did not pass the vetting they were eliminated from being graded.

Throughout the ride, the organizers communicated extensively with each other, the vets and the trail bikes out on the course who look after the riders. This Endurance ride is orchestrated beautifully, with the welfare of horse and rider at the forefront.

With such a community feel, horse and rider welfare the first concern, beautiful surroundings with routes chosen for their beauty and challenges why are numbers declining for this ‘Signature’ ride in the high distance classes? I don’t have the answers but here are my thoughts.

exmoor wild pony

Points win Prizes

Many who take part competitively are looking for points accrual, completing the rides easiest for them and their horses, whilst gaining the maximum number of points counting towards mileage awards, in the form of rosettes or trophies.

Riders can gain the same amount of points from a local, less challenging 160km ride which seems to be, in my opinion, a huge contributor to the decline in riders for the higher classes of this signature ride. With this factor alongside the cost to attend such ride where you are no able to stay on site due to permissions and the extreme weather of Exmoor, meaning that you also need to pay additional costs such as stabling and accommodation, it makes a very expensive, high-risk ride.

Being such a challenging ride, it only makes sense (to me) that the GHS should award more points than another ride at the same distance on easier terrain. However, I can understand that this may be a difficult feat but feel that an adjustment in the rules which grades the rides not only on distance alone but also on difficulty due to the climate and terrain would help distinguish rides such as the GHS and give them more stature and appeal.

The Future of Endurance

This is my personal view, as an outsider, looking in and contemplating taking part.

I LOVE riding my horses and there is nothing better than taking a ride on amazing routes with beautiful scenery!

Why you should take up Endurance Riding?

They have the most amazing community of people who all have the welfare of horse and rider at heart (yes, there are some that don’t, like in any other discipline but I want to focus on the majority, not the minority). They have access to some of the most beautiful riding areas in the UK, which you may not get to experience otherwise, and you can make some amazing friendships with a sense of belonging.

The sport feels a little being the times in that in any other discipline there are awards of monies or sponsorship opportunities when a rider wins an event, championship or class. I think many people used to compete at Endurance for the love of it but unfortunately, times change. Especially as owning horses, training, traveling and taking part in such events cost so much more money today, there needs to be an incentive or reward, other than just for the love of it and a rosette.

However, I feel this is a chicken and egg situation as, without the support of members and attendance at events, Endurance rides are not in a position to attract sponsors and obtain prizes in forms of monies and formal sponsorships, making them more competitive aspect of Endurance even more appealing

Many of us spend our time wishing and/or complaining that there are not enough events or opportunities to get our horses out and about in a welcoming environment where horse and rider welfare and enjoyment is paramount. For this reason alone, I personally will be joining Endurance GB, with my two Friesian mares to show my support, even if I do just enter the pleasure or low level/distance rides and I can’t wait to get out and about and experience some of the amazing routes on offer!

To enable these events to be provided to us, we must show our support – will you?

What part will RiderCise® play?

I believe that there should be a greater focus on bringing Endurance riding up to date and in line with the other disciplines.

Whilst there are still many competing in Endurance riding, there appear to be few younger riders who are interested in Competitive Endurance riding and for the sport to continue and grow it needs to appeal to today’s younger generation who need greater incentives and rewards to work hard and invest their monies in training and competing at these events.

Endurance riders spending hours in the saddle at a ride at a time, working with their horses to get them through safe and sound. Riders who understand more so that if they hinder the horse through their own lack of body control, condition, and fitness they could cause undue additional stress or strain in an already challenging sport. The commitment to the welfare of the horse in this discipline is why RiderCise® became the Title Sponsor of the Endurance GB Championships.

I hope that with the sponsorship of RiderCise®, not only will we be able to provide riders with the knowledge, support, and guidance on Rider Fitness and Conditioning Programmess needed to improve their performance and success but we will be able to offer the incentives, rewards and prizes to encourage more riders to take part competitively.

 

RiderCise® Vision: To improve the Fitness, Performance, and Recovery of Equestrian Riders.

RiderCise® Sponsor of the Endurance GB Championships

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By Ridercise
Manolo Mendez Clinic in Poland

Manolo Mendez Clinic in Poland

I believe that learning never stops and will always seek the opportunity to further increase my knowledge and experience, whether it be riding, fitness, horse training, anatomy, physiology or therapy.

The more I know, the more I can help riders help themselves, to help their horses.

I first came across Manolo’s training philosophy and approach about 1 year ago and have been following him from a distance since. This weekend (26-28th April 2019) I had the opportunity to travel to Poland to attend the Manolo Mendez Clinic in Poland with my friend and colleague, Anita.

Manolo’s is a seasoned horseman; he likes to say he has over sixty years of experience living, breathing, working with and training horses. He started his professional career at the young age of 14, training the Alvaro Domecq’s personal horses, to later become one of the six founding members of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. Manolo is well known for Classical Dressage training with specialist skills in training the Piaffe, Passage, and Pirouette, known as the 3 P’s without coercion or force.

Manolo uses a holistic approach to training, looking at the horse as a whole to sympathetically train, develop and rehabilitate. An approach that is sought after from many professionals and individuals across the world to assist with straightening, releasing tight, stiff, and crooked horses and to assist in the development of correct posture, movement, and gait enhancement.

Manolo Mendez, horse training, dressage, equinephotodesign.com

Manolo Mendez. Photo thanks to the courtesy of EquinePhotoDesign.com

Look & listen

For the 3 days, I sat in an indoor arena for about 10 hours a day in so many layers of clothes to keep warm in the cold and damp weather that Poland greeted me with. Despite being so so cold I was fascinated, mesmerized and moved by Manolo’s ability to see, feel and understand so much from a horse in such a brief encounter, that I was not able to leave. It was truly enlightening and awakening to see a person have such a connection, with not just a one horse, but all of the horses he met.

There were a total of 8 riders who each had a session a day with Manolo, which allowed you to see the progress over the 3 days of the clinic. Whilst many of the sessions started mounted, but if Manolo saw that the horse was stiff, tight, anxious, nervous or just unsettled he asked the rider to dismount, and un-tack horse to then work with him from the ground, while the rider was observing Manolo and absorbing his skills. There were times when Manolo would just walk to the horse and touch a specific area and the horse would immediately react as if Manolo heard the horse tell him exactly where there was an issue. It was truly emotional to see as you could see the change in Manolo as he felt the pain himself, sharing it with the horse.

The sessions lasted as long as they needed to in order for the horse to feel comfortable and confident in their environment and with whatever task was being asked of them. For some this simply meant walking around, a little lunge work, some in-hand, and bodywork from Manolo. There was never any rush, pushing, forcing or frustration from Manolo and if the horse ‘expressed’ themselves Manolo was listening and would say ‘ok’ and go with whatever the horse needed.

When allowed a voice, many of the horses had much to say through their body language, head tossing, and resistance to settle due to nerves, anxiety or tension. Or perhaps they were already saying it but there wasn’t anyone listening or they didn’t understand what was being said?

I think it is easier to think that horses are resistant, lazy and naughty rather than that they are trying to communicate with you.

Manolo loves to give you analogies and detailed descriptions to help you understand to educate and increase your understanding, to show you that it’s not complicated; it’s simple when you look and listen. I love this, I will never be Manolo but if I am prepared to look, listen and feel then I can learn how to be better for my horses.

Manolo Mendez, horse riding, dressage, equinephotodesign.com

Manolo Mendez. Photo thanks to the courtesy of EquinePhotoDesign.com

Back to basics

Whilst the sessions were perhaps not what the rider originally hoped for it was clear that Manolo’s approach of watching, listening and going back to simple basics paid dividends as come the next session you could see the horse had changed. They were freer, more content, and soft in the eye and more willing to listen and work alongside Manolo and their owner/rider.

I am unsure of where it really comes from, the need to rush a horse through its experiences and education. It seems that society expects horses to be at a certain level by a certain age irrelevant of the fact that they are still young. To be able to perform a variety of moves such as Travers, Shoulder In, flying changes, Piaffe yet the horse has not been granted the time to become balanced, have straightness and rhythm to work with regularity and ease. I have felt that pressure myself with my girls, being made to feel that they should be competing at a specific level or have achieved such moves but I have never pushed them and at the age of 11 now, they are just starting to really expand themselves and for my resistance to the pressure I will have happy, healthy horses with longevity.

Manolo uses a cavesson and bamboo for groundwork and nothing more as it is important to allow the horse to work without restriction and stress and to develop a fitter, healthier, sounder horse. Whilst watching him working on the ground with the horses it was easy and quick to see how the horses started to correct slight imbalances such as leaning into a circle, flexing outwards and shortness on a side when allowed to move correctly and freely.

Manolo expressed that when working a horse on the ground it is important to make the work as easy as possible, and then they will give back 10 times more because you have allowed them to be comfortable.

Manolo has many stories to tell but the main message is you must treat horses with respect and kindness. We would not like to be strapped up and made to rush round unbalanced, horses are just like people. When given the opportunity to be comfortable and free through the body and mind the horse will be happy and want to work.

This is something that I think we may be starting to forget. Some appear to be more interested in their pride, stature or the money the horse can generate for them; the latest gadget, fashion or luxury item or promise of peer respect, success and vanity.  

“ Be kind to your horse”

Manolo Mendez –

Manolo always focuses on the horses and works on what they need to work on to find balance and regularity in their movement. Whilst the rider may want to more advanced work, Manolo does what the horse needs. This is a quality I greatly admire and respect.

A quality that I think many instructors have lost or never found. In order to create harmony between horse and rider, you need to work within the capabilities of the horse, not the desire of the rider.

“A trainer should act like a horse’s bodyguard and not let anything bad happen to them in lessons. The horse knows when the trainer’s instruction is causing him pain”

Manolo Mendez –

Manolo Mendez, horse riding, dressage, EquinePhotoDesign.com

Manolo Mendez. Photo thanks to the courtesy of EquinePhotoDesign.com

Learning’s

I have found it hard to write about such an experience as I came home tired, emotional and feeling a little broken. Feeling that perhaps I have let my horses down at some point.

Listened to an instructor to push my horse when I should have protected them or been too focused on what I wanted to achieve that I did not see what they needed. Whilst I know that this would never have been intentional I can’t help but think ‘have I let myself and my horses down?’ It has taken me a few days to get my head around how I have brought my horses up through their years but have come to the conclusion that yes, I have made mistakes but my continued desire to learn and strive for better a harmony and partnership and to help others achieve it too gives me some reassurance that I have and will continue to do the best that I can to make their lives better.

What I have learned or more so remembered is that I have horses because I love them and it is not about what they can do for me, it is about what we can do together.  

Treat your horse with kindness and respect and allow your horse to grow healthily both physically and mentally naturally. Protect them from those that may harm them, intentionally or not.

You are their partner, their friend, their protector.

I am quite shocked that most of the people I mention Manolo too have never heard of him especially in the dressage circles but I urge you, no matter who you are, go to one of his clinics, open your eyes, your mind and listen. Remember why you have horses and see that it is possible to help your horses through correct training,  kindness, and patience more than spending money on material items they just don’t need. 

Manolo Mendez, horse riding, dressage, EquinePhotoDesign.com

Manolo Mendez. Photo thanks to the courtesy of EquinePhotoDesign.com

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By Ridercise
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