Thursday, May 07, 2009

Great Britain: Endurance riders gather for Exmoor Golden Horseshoe - Full Article

By Adrian Tierney-Jones
07 May 2009

Forget hunting, endurance riding is all the rage among the horsey set.

Exmoor's Golden Horseshoe endurance ride, which kicks off tomorow, is considered to be one of the toughest tests of horse and rider in Europe. It's just you and your horse over 100 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 and, if you want to find out what all the fuss is about, you simply must trot down to Exmoor this weekend.

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 catch dog agility displays and parades of proud Arabians and their doughty distant cousins, the native Exmoor pony.

There are several different endurance races taking place over the next three days. The Golden Horseshoe ride itself is the big one with horse and rider competing over 100 miles on Monday and Tuesday. "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. No horse? No problem. There's even a fun run for those who prefer two legs to four. As Barbara Wigley points out, ''They all give a chance to sample 'Horseshoe Country.'''

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 Nikki Routledge explains the appeal...


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