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Beth Langley's Endurance blog

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Red Dragon 2015

I genuinely don’t know where to start, but let’s put it this way, when we got home from the Red Dragon ride Dad turned to me and said ‘If you dreamt your perfect race, where you get the perfect results and you get everything you wanted, I don’t think you’d have dreamt it as good as it actually was’.

So with that in mind let’s give you a bit of background. Red Dragon is a very important ride to me. It was the first time my Mum represented Wales; the first time I crewed an Endurance ride; home turf; ran originally by a very special lady to me, Pat Conn, who played a very major part in igniting my love of the sport; and one of the toughest rides in the UK. Whoever in past years has won the two day 160 km ride over the unforgiving Welsh hills I have held in very high esteem, so to go and attempt it myself seems very surreal. Of course I’ve done this distance at Dragon before, but it was 4 years ago and I’ve learnt an awful lot since then, the main difference being I believe in myself and I know how to get the best out of Tissy. So this time, for the first time, I was out to win and I knew damn straight that I could.

On Friday morning Tissy, Pria and I set off on our journey to Wales. Pria came along too because after the race they were both going home for 12 weeks R&R in the hills before starting training for next season. We arrived and I hadn’t quite realised the logistical nightmare of being by yourself with two horses that needed to be in two separate places, both of which needed setting up. Needless to say they both behaved beautifully and Pria was all set up in her stable whilst Tissy was chilling in her corral.
























We were also riding for the Welsh Team as part of our yearly Home International & Celtic Challenge Championships. So I donned my kindly donated Welsh Team kit, a very smart coat by Ffwnci Mwnci and Wales Chaps by Just Chaps. Tissy had a lovely head collar and lead rope from Plas Equestrian. I plaited her up and made sure we looked as presentable as you can when you’ve spent the last 45mins running around with straw, shavings bales, haylage nets and sloshing water down your wellies trying to fill up gorilla tubs!

Tissy was very keen, doing her snakey, Araby show neck and snorting whilst prancing on the spot, you would have thought she was 7 not 17! But she loves to race, she loves the attention of being at a ride and this was her first of 2015. She had had 10 weeks training to get her to peak fitness (when they’ve competed for as long as Tissy it doesn’t take long to get it back). I’m pretty sure her juvenile display was to remind me that she still had it, and boy was she up for it. The farrier checked her shoes and the vets passed her to begin the race so here goes..............

Saturday Morning was very foggy and I was pretty chilled. I knew I had a plan that would work, I knew I had a horse that was fit, I had an exceptional crew behind me and I had the experience of being in partnership with Tissy for the last 13years. We set off in the lead group with barely 50 m visibility. After the first climb it was just me and a Young Rider, Katie, out in front. My tactic, having learnt a lot from the Dutch over the past couple of years, was a slow and steady trot up the hills, fast on the flat and downhill. The key was rhythm, so we kept around a 12 kph trot just plugging away at the steep climbs, a 14 kph trot on the downhills and around 16-18 kph on the flat. This tactic served us well, although it took a lot of mental grit to not want to blast up the lovely grassy banks. I definitely saw a difference in energy consumption and Tissy’s recovery post climbs.

We came into vet gate 1 in a pack of about 5 or 6 of us. Tissy doesn’t have the best presentation times so I knew from then on I needed to be slightly ahead coming into a vet gate if I wanted to be leaving with the main pack. I didn’t want to have to chase around a loop.

The next loop was even foggier than the last, about 10 m visibility. It was like the set of a horror movie, if you missed one marker you’d be lost on top of a hill with no sense of where you were. I was very glad for Katie’s company on that loop but going into vet gate 2 we’d made an unexpected lead. This is where Tissy’s secret weapon came to light, into every vet gate and into the finish were some massive and, I mean exceptionally steep, descents down grass tracks and tarmac. My farrier had fitted 8 road pins for this exact reason. We could go at a speed down the hills that no one else appeared able to attempt and, most definitely, couldn’t keep up with. Years of balance work, a good core, trust that Tis would stay upright and strong beneath me and also her trust in me that I would keep her safe and balanced meant by the end of day 1 we had made a 6 minute lead.











My gosh, if I thought I was nervous for World Equestrian Games it was nothing compared to how I felt on Sunday morning. The fog had turned to cold mist and it was quite literally making dew drops on my eye lashes. Tissy was sprightly, but it didn’t make the fact I was the first horse of the entire day out on course and I was being hunted any easier. I wanted this race so much for so many reasons and I felt the weight of achieving it bear down on my shoulders. Not only did I want it for me, I wanted it for the Welsh team, I wanted a race I was proud of as the last few on Tissy were good but not the best we could have done. Even more importantly I wanted it for two people who I know would have been so proud just to see me out and competing in the two day 160km ride. These two people had seen me compete from the age of 8, had nurtured me through endurance, berated me, encouraged me and taught me an awful lot. They aren’t here anymore but I hope very much were watching on Sunday! One is Pat Conn, who used to run the Dragon, she was my next door neighbour and my first Chef d’equipe. The other, Hugh Salmon, was the first vet who passed me on my very first competitive endurance ride. Although he probably never knew it, that day when he gave me all that advice and encouragement, when I was just 10 years old, was the day I started collecting as much information, advice and tips as I could to make me the rider I am today. I loved seeing his smile at the end of a ride and I never got through a vetting without being teased. I so wanted to make them both proud, to do something in their memory.

So out I set, quietly determined face set. I rode every step and I planned every line, over every bit of terrain. I paid an enormous amount of attention to our pace as I wanted to save every ounce of Tissy’s energy so that if we had to race the last loop she had enough in the tank to give me her best shot. I made myself concentrate on moving forward and never once looked back for the riders I knew were chasing me down. And that is how it stayed. I spent the first 30 km by myself, followed by the next 30 km. Luckily this time round I could actually see as the fog had finally lifted and I came into the final vet gate in the lead and alone, no one in sight of me.

I don’t quite know what my lead was going onto the final loop but the two riders behind me were tacked up and stood next to me as I was counted out. I felt horrendously sick, the feeling of being prey and being hunted was enormous. The stress that we’d been leading all day and it could be taken from us in the last 20 km was eating away at me. I tried to stay focused and maybe I got tunnel vision because 10 km in I realised I’d gone the wrong way. Memories of being in the lead at the 2012 Europeans and realising I’d lost it all came flooding back, but this time I wasn’t going to make the same mistake. I listened to my gut much sooner than I had done at the Europeans and turned around as soon as I felt something wasn’t right. I had only done an extra 3 km but that was enough to now put me in third. So that reserve tank I’d been keeping over the last 150 km kicked into action, I only had to ask Tissy once, and boy did she go. I was only in third for about 4-5minutes but it felt like an eternity. As soon as I saw the white hats of the other two riders I knew no matter what happened I could still take them on the last downhill to the venue. But Tissy had other ideas. She was flying, out the window went the slow up hills, out the window went the conservation of energy and we galloped up the longest hill of the whole race. The two riders initially hot on our tails and jostling for a big race started to fade behind me but Tissy just kept going. When I looked at my GPS later I realised that she had got up to 31 kph and did the last 10 km at an average of 21 kph. I didn’t push her, I just asked once and that was enough to get us a 5 minute lead in just 10 km to cross the finish line in first.
















The emotion of going wrong, the enormity of what we’d just achieved, the heart that Tissy had put into that final stretch was overwhelming. I crossed the line and very unceremoniously burst into sobs of relief. I knew she was sound, I knew she was metabolically ok, there was no doubt in my mind that she’d pass the vetting but still, as I waited for the official to give me the ok, I was nervous. But when I heard the ‘You’ve passed’ the barn erupted with Welsh team cheers. My world narrowed to a very small 14hh living legend, once in a lifetime best friend, my pocket rocket had done it again and we’d done it in style. My mistake had actually made it that little bit sweeter and more exciting.

But it didn’t stop there. At the prize giving we were called up, not only as The British Horse Feeds Red Dragon Winners, we had also won Best Condition, which is a great honour and the best prize of all in my opinion. We also got ‘Best Shod’, so thanks must go to my absolutely, amazing young and very talented farrier, Ben Wyles, who’s four shoes all made it round WEG too (one of the few horses not to lose a shoe that day). Then we won ‘Best Presented & Handled’ - that plaiting was all worth while! Thanks must go to British Horse feeds, Pioneer Endurance (Zoe Lindop) and Performance Equestrian (Steve Beresford) for all my lovely prizes. We were also awarded ‘Best Welsh Rider’ but the best wins of the evening were that the Welsh Team won the Home International and the Celtic Challenge, beating the Scots, Irish, Cornish and English to a double home win.
















I’m so proud of my crew, for keeping it calm despite being very mad at me for going the wrong way and as always being the best crew you could ever hope for. I wish I could tell the whole world how grateful I am for their support but there isn’t a prize good enough to give them, so this will have to do: Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Displays of affection aren’t my thing but I love you guys!

Pat, Hugh I hope I’ve made you proud. That one was for you. 
 
 

Pros & Cons in 2015

Pria didn’t manage to get round her second attempt at a 120km 2* this month. On paper 2015 looks pretty bleak for me, no rosettes, no GB team, first year living alone etc.  However I feel like I’m having a pretty amazing year really. I’ve learnt a lot about myself, how to juggle life and horses and most of all how to be super happy no matter what is thrown at you. Don’t get me wrong I am known for the massive strop, dramatic temper tantrum or full on sob fest but this year I’ve curbed the crazy and focused on the good, so when Pria got vetted out at 70km in the second vet gate I wasn’t too upset really.

Hanslope was a new ride to the UK FEI calendar, headed up by a super dedicated Young Rider Bella Fricker, so I had no idea what to expect. I trundled the two hours down from the yard with Pria all plaited and bathed on the Friday afternoon ready for our 5:30pm vetting. I arrived in plenty of time so I popped her in her corral and went to set up the vet gate and hold area……1025kg of water later! Yes, it took 41 25L water containers to fill everything and prep the crew car - you realise these things as for the first time I set up everything by myself because my crew were stuck in traffic somewhere in the middle of England. I didn’t mind to be fair, it was a lovely day and I was feeling pretty chilled.

So a few hours go by, I’ve set up my vet gate and still no crew so off I go to get changed into my trot up gear, groom Pria and go vet by myself. The UK FEI steward contingent have known me since I rode my 11hh pony Amigo, aka The Fluffball, and even since the age of 11 I’ve always had my family/crew with me so I got a good ribbing for being grown up and by myself! None the less Pria was exceptionally behaved (nothing phases her, she’s raced at Windsor Great Park don’t you know) and we passed the initial vetting.
A couple of hours later and the crew arrive (I had started to think I might have had to carry another 500kg of water out on course so I could self crew)! William immediately sees the vet gate set up, deems it in an inappropriate place and we laugh our heads off moving it to his desired location because normally it’s me having a hissy fit about the set up!! But I hold my hands up, Will does know best, he is one hell of an experienced crew member and can spot a time efficient, race winning vet gate spot at 100 paces!  Thankfully the hold area was acceptable and I didn’t have to carry any more water anywhere for the rest of the weekend.

We were racing against a small but good field with the absolute superstar and silver medallist Laiza (that’s the horse) and her Dutch rider. So if she wasn’t going too fast, I wanted to learn as much as possible from her.  I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be as her trainer Anzac once gave me the very sound advice of picking your races to race and your races to learn and this would be a training race for the duo as the European Champs are just around the corner,.
Pria was as usual (can’t believe I’m saying that this year) beautifully behaved for the mass start and the entire ride ahead. The course was hard going and technical with a lot of tight turns, change of surface , bridges and gates to manoeuvre. The main thing I learnt from the superstar duo was that she was much slower than the Brits uphill as the British riders tended to canter up hill and trot down, whereas Laiza was happy to let them go and trotted up hill, conserving energy, and cantered on the down and flat.  It’s something I’ve always tried to do but didn’t realise quite how much more the European nations did it - she never fell back though as she caught up on the flat or downhill. You could see a difference between her and the other horses after every climb and it really hit me about riding to effort, not to speed. It’s something I thought I did but just not quite well enough in comparison.

Anyway Pria felt pretty good cruising along at a comfortable 16kph, we came into the second vet gate in the lead group and were asked to represent 10minutes before leaving on the 3rd loop as she was looking stiff behind. Unfortunately, despite a massage and plenty of walking while she munched feed out of a bucket Will carried round for her, we were vetted out. My grand-parents, aunt and two people from the livery had come to watch so I felt pretty bad that they wouldn’t get to see much but I didn’t feel too sad about Pria, she was sound only hours later, she had again performed well achieving her best presentation time yet of 2:16, she didn’t slip once, I couldn’t think of a single moment where I wasn’t concentrating or actively riding her so I couldn’t blame the day or ride or criticize our performance in the slightest. What it came down to was preparation, she simply isn’t strong or balanced enough yet to take on an FEI 2*, there’s nothing else wrong with her so, she’s still young and she’s very, very tall and leggy so she will take more time to develop. Pria has shown an aptitude for learning, a glimmer of great talent and hasn’t given me any reason to doubt her ability over this season, I still firmly believe she’s going to give me some of my best races and were going to make some amazing memories together but she must know that every success story needs a bit of failure at the beginning to make it interesting!!

So whilst Pria won’t be out again this season, guess who’s coming out to play?!?! Hell yes, it’s the little pocket rocket demon Tissy. I’ve only ridden her once a week over the last 3 months. I just decided after she had her foot abcess that made her miss Windsor that I’d concentrate on Pria for the start of the season. So now she’s back in full training I’ve realised how insane she is, never a dull moment with this pony, it’s like riding a demented pogo stick with a mind of its own. But because I completely know her and she genuinely knows what she’s doing (I swear she counts her circuits) I don’t mind letting her get on with it because I trust her with all my heart, I can’t believe I forgot what it felt like, I was grinning for days after our first gallop session. 

So all being well we’re off to the Nationals on our home turf in Builth Wells for the Red Dragon Festival of Endurance where England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales will go head to head over distances of between 40km to 160km to gain points for that coveted Home International trophy!! All I can say is, ‘Go Wales!!!!’.

Whizzing Round Windsor!

I can’t think of a cooler place to race in the UK than the Queen’s very own back garden. The Royal Windsor Endurance race is speedily becoming the most prestigious race in the UK, with a championship style venue and a list of experienced competitors. The course is known to be fast, furious and tough so deciding to take Pria there to do her first 2* instead of Tissy, who sadly had a foot abscess so missed too much training, was another gigantic jump into the deep end.

I secretly had quite high expectations. Her first 1* speed was phenomenal and, if I’m completely honest, I expected an 18-20kph 2* out of her; in hindsight this was my one and only mistake. Going with that mind-set may have skewed my judgement out on course but we’ll come to that. And really it was the only mistake of the entire weekend, which quite frankly is pretty good going!

Pria was to spend her first ride away in temporary stables.  She is not normally stabled and I expected her to at least kick up a fuss about going in but, nope, she let the FEI vet check her over, off the trailer and then strolled quietly in. She started playing with the shavings, (strange horse) popping her head over the door to see other horses arrive, then munching her hay and even whinnying every time she saw me. She was totally relaxed, having fun even!!
 
The venue is like a championship would be, flagged start/finish. White post and rail vet gate, with giant black water tubs, undercover vetting marquee, with cordoned off trot up lanes, viewing galleries on either side, loud speakers, music and crowds. Every excuse in the world for a young inexperienced horse to quite rightly have a hissy fit. I was expecting hysterics from my spooky 16.1hh Bambi of a horse so William took her for a walk, just to see everything before getting ready for the trot ups.  Instead of spooking, snorting and being overwhelmed she took one look at all the flappy flags, that Will had walked her straight up too, and started to graze.
"Dolled up" and ready for the trot up!
I plaited her up, donned my white jods, put on her GB rug and my GB jacket and off we went. I was actually quite proud of how smart we looked; Pria got lots of compliments all weekend on how lovely she is (they obviously have never spent 5 hours trying to catch her or been squished underneath her when she has a meltdown) but I had to agree, nothing phased her, not the loud speaker, the tent, the people or the electric atmosphere. She’s a born laid back competitor, at complete contrast with her yard jumpiness but that’s exactly how you’d want it!!

I hate to admit it but boy I was nervous the next morning, would I survive the first 10km? We started in massive open fields; she had never been in a mass start with that much room to manoeuvre and horses undoubtedly were going to be ahead of her at high speeds. But, as a creature of habit, as soon as we started the process of tacking up and got into the routine I felt determined not nervous; I was the experienced one in this partnership, it was my job to look after Pria. She warmed up beautifully, even in an outline, and she was relaxed, even worryingly a bit disengaged, and I wondered for a bit whether she was in the mood to race today.
Pria and Beth ready to roll!
But 3-2-1 go and boy did she want to go, initially sideways in a rocking motion at speed, but then I laughed at her and she relaxed as if she thought, ‘Oh, I can just go forward.’ She then quietly cantered off completely in control, not even pulling, and we were exactly where I wanted to be in the middle of the pack - enough people in front to chase, enough people behind to pick us up if we were flagging.

The course was riding fast; 20kph over Windsor Great Park and all of us heading to our loop around Ascot racecourse. This is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever ridden round, the iconic massive stand completely and eerily empty, the famous course and jumps and a whole load of endurance horses cantering around it. I couldn’t help but grin the whole way round. The rain had bucketed down the previous day and the course was quite slippy, however, Pria never once lost her footing and I didn’t even think that the pace was too fast for her as she was bowling along effortlessly. We did have a minor hiccup - I fell off but I kept hold of the reins - she didn’t try to go anywhere and we found a tree stump a few paces away to hop back on although my white jods were now covered in yellow sand!

We came into the first vet gate in the 20’s and half my crew never made it back so it was just me and Dad.  Despite this, we made a respectable presentation time and she flew through her first vetting. The hubbub of the vet gate didn’t bother her; it was like she was watching the other horses, soaking it all in and learning. We were hitting an average speed of 20kph; on Tissy, I had never hit this speed for a qualifier, but Pria’s natural canter is 18kph and it didn’t seem too fast for her. It never crossed my mind that we should slow down so I planned to maintain that average pace for the rest of the race. Maybe I should have slowed but I wanted this horse to be fast so what would be the point of teaching her to go slower? She hates trotting, she wasn’t slipping with her pins in her shoes so I had rationalised the speed. Maybe I should have taken a step back as it was only her second race but the competitive spirit in me knew she could do well and I didn’t want to pull her up.
"Our ride had come to an end but we were still smiling."
The next loop was harder; with fewer horses in a pack, they have to do more work but Pria never once faltered and she maintained her speed. In the next vet gate, her presentation times were getting better but it was the next loop that challenged us most as we were in no man’s land, with the front of pack about 12 minutes ahead and the next horse behind us, 40 minutes away. It was just me and a young rider, Brett, the whole way round. Pria kept on going, not as happy as before but never once did she ask to stop.

Her next vet gate went even better; she was definitely learning and improving, she wasn’t physically tired, her recovery and metabolic rates were perfect but you could see that mentally the last loop had taken its toll. We passed the initial vetting and then, 10 minutes before you’re due on the final loop, you have to be re-vetted - Pria had stiffened up and she was eliminated for being lame. But it didn’t matter to me there and then as I was so unbelievably proud of her. Maybe she hadn’t been strong and experienced enough to take those speeds over that terrain and it had made her stiff, but that was my fault, not hers. She had been exceptional and I really felt like we were starting to form a bond - be a partnership - and boy did it bode well for her future. She had just completed a course over championship speeds, against championship-worthy horses and been in the top 20 and this was only her second ever race.

Later, watching my friends cross the finish line, I felt emotional because in actual fact it had been a very tough race and I did feel a bit melancholy. I wanted that feeling - it’s what we race for - the pride of getting you and your horse around safe, being proud of your team work and the weeks of training paying off. Without that closure and that feeling, I felt a bit lost in the wind but I’ve learnt. Pria has also learnt a lot and proved herself very worthy of following in Tissy’s hoof steps. All in all, despite the result, it was a very successful outing and here’s to the next one in August where Pria will take on her next 2* in the hope of starting her Team GBR qualifications!!

Pria's First FEI Ride!


We all knew Pria had the potential to be a talented endurance horse but in her first FEI 1* she shocked us all with just how talented she actually is!! On the bank holiday weekend my brother and I packed the trailer and drove off to my first Endurance ride of the season.

Pria has been at best unpredictable and at worst catastrophic over the past 3 years. She’s always a pleasure to ride but undoubtedly just one more turn from being a loon, having an accident or trying to injure me in some way. To handle she’s spooky and jumpy and to ride she’s determined and stubborn so the prospect of a 25 horse mass start, a busy vet gate and new people chucking water over her in a frenzy was somewhat daunting! We were all prepared for at least one drama every loop…
 
How very, very wrong we were. At the pre-ride vetting on the Friday she was a total pro, chilled for her vetting but excited and flouncy for the trot ups and when we showed her all the vet gate sights. I’ve never seen her so excited, confident and full of herself and it was great to see! In the warm up we had a few jumpy bucks and rears but not in an ‘OMG PANIC, I’m losing my head’ way, more like an ‘I’m up for this let me go’ kind of way. I knew she was raring to go!
 
The race had a great field of experienced riders on young horses, including loads of ex young riders, so I knew the best place for me to put Pria would be the front. She’d have no one to chase and we’d be controlling the first phase pace. She’s so Bambi-esque on her long legs that I wanted to have a clear view of the track and know I could control the speed for corners etc. So, 3-2-1-Go! Pria set off at an excited but manageable canter and that was that. Ears pricked forward, responsive to all my commands she rode like she’d been racing all her life.
 
In the lead, middle of the pack or at the back she DID pull my arms out 90% of the time but not once did she take a corner too fast or ignore a command to change canter leads. She was less than impressed by on-the-go sloshing over her bum but hey, who does like cold water there whilst you’re running around. The vet gate is where we have the most improvements to make. I have a talented crew but they’ve been used to Tissy for the past 11 years and it takes time to get to know a horse and Pria is a very different cup of tea. This meant our presentation times were poor so we were about 7 minutes behind the lead pack going out on loop 2.
 
I have the advantage with Pria that I’ve already been there and done that as Tissy and I learnt together. That little pony has taught me a hell of a lot! At every step of Pria’s qualifications I want her to learn her job as if we were at a Championship. So going out on the 2nd loop I tacked her up a little earlier so she could watch the other horses go and we galloped out after them. It took us about 25km of the 30km loop to finally catch the lead group even though they were in our sights quite early on. But I’ve learnt that instead of giving one big burst its much more energy efficient to slowly creep up on people even if it’s really frustrating and hard for the horse to be alone out on course. Luckily Pria didn’t mind! She just kept cantering on and even more surprisingly was tearing up the terrain in a perfectly balanced and controlled manner!
 
On the last loop we were going out in 5th position. I knew Pria had a lot in the tank but even though I wanted a speedy last loop so she learnt that was the drill I didn’t want to push her to the max as we needed the qualification. So out we went full pelt after the lead four! She didn’t even question leaving the venue and was more than up for speeding off into the distance again. I was so proud of her showing maturity and experience beyond her years and I had the added confidence boost this time round as I kind of know what I’m doing!
 
We caught up with the rider in 3rd about half way round the final loop trotting along, whilst we were at a full canter. She tagged onto the back of Pria and that’s when I knew we were going to be having a racing finish! Tissy has never ever done one. Although she’s very reliable and good out on course she isn’t the speediest little Arab so I’ve never put her in a position where she’s had to race for the line and we have played our tactics out on the loop. But Pria, Pria has some serious speed!
 
So having lead the last loop it was time to race in for 3rd but across the track about 100m from the finish line was a blue biothane pipe and Pria stopped dead and refused to go over it! The other horse overtook and broke into a gallop. Pria jumped over the pipe, I lost my stirrups and made the split second decision to try and go for it anyway, with the other horse having a 20 metre lead. If Pria spooked at the cheering crowd I would definitely be coming off. With my knees tucked up and arms out front encouraging Pria on, we reached about 70% of her max pace and just missed 3rd by a neck; a big gap to close down in 100m when not even at full pace and with a rider that couldn’t kick her on!!
 
I had no doubt in my mind she was sound and 20mins after crossing the line we passed our first ever race and first ever FEI competition together in 4th place in a big field of some serious talent. Yes I was a bit miffed about the pipe stop but it doesn’t matter, we qualified for the next step and now we’re hopefully going to be competing in the 120km 2* at the Royal Windsor Horse show! Talk about throwing her in the deep end but if any horse can do it, I now have complete faith that Pria can.

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