Aloeride is extremely pleased to sponsor the Exmoor Experience 50 Miles Two Day Class Endurance Riding event in the glorious Exmoor National Park. Exmoor’s Golden Horseshoe endurance ride (May 11th – 13th 2014) is considered to be one of the toughest tests of horse and rider in Europe. It’s just you and your horse over hundreds of miles of some of the most challenging terrain in Great Britain. All against the clock and your fellow competitors. Endurance riding (timed riding over long distances) is one of the fastest growing sports in Britain.
It’s pure horse heaven as the village of Exford turns into a clip-clopping sea of bay, chestnut and grey. You don’t even need to ride to enjoy the spectacle. The atmosphere is distinctly carnival: crowds spill out of the pubs, while up at the event venue (above the village) there is masses to see and do: you can watch the competition horses being vetted, buy horsey paraphernalia at the stalls and parades of proud Arabians and their doughty distant cousins, the native Exmoor pony. “Horses have to be very fit so only the very best endurance horses in the country can compete,” says Barbara Wigley who heads the organising committee. “Most enthusiasts see a Gold award from Exmoor as having reached the pinnacle of the sport.”
However, there are several other classes (over lesser mileage) that help riders build experience and fitness. And, just for the heck of it, there is a 15 mile Pleasure Ride (in aid of local charities) on the Sunday, a gentler way to enjoy part of the course. What country it is too: picture-postcard villages, wooded coombes, babbling streams, heather-clad moorland. Ten to one you’ll see herds of native ponies and the wild red deer, buzzards wheeling lazily overhead and the larks flying up from under your hooves. Top endurance rider explains the appeal: “It is just you and your horse out there in the countryside. No judges watching you; no jumps to negotiate; no dressage tests to remember or showjumping courses to clear. The birds are singing, the breeze is blowing and the sun shining…” She pauses before adding wryly, ”Or, in some cases, the rain pouring down, the wind blowing a gale and the ground like a quagmire.”
The health of the horses is paramount and each one is vet-checked before, during and after the competitive rides. For me (and a giggling gaggle of pony-mad small girls), this is the secret joy of the Horseshoe: as the vetting is carried out in public you can play that horsey game of “which one I’d like to take home” to your heart’s content. The majority of endurance horses are Arabian or Arabian crossbred because, as Nikki Routledge explains: “They are tough in body, thin-skinned (so heat dissipates) and have a lot of stamina.” However, she points out that any sound horse can compete, including “Thoroughbreds, Welsh cobs, Connemaras, Irish Draughts, even Fjords and Exmoors.”
“It’s like an addiction,” says international endurance rider Nicky Sherry. “The more I do it, the more I want to do it. I have been in the sport for nearly 30 years and I haven’t got over it yet. The challenge of the course and the adrenalin rush compares to nothing else.” Routledge agrees. “As you come into sight of the finish you want to cry with the sheer emotion of getting to this point,” she says. “Your horse has carried you 100 miles – because you asked him to. Not because you are such a brilliant trainer or fantastic rider but because he wanted to. It is very humbling, that an animal will do that simply because you asked. How do you beat that kind of feeling?”
Photographs: by Barbara and Ian Wigley.