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.
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.
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.
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