Getting to know our members and sharing their endurance experiences - Claire Mellor
So Claire, tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm Claire, I work Full Time as a Music Shop Manager - and yes I am musical. I have been a member of EGB since 2010 with my other mare who I managed to get to Advanced. I love exploring the countryside and admiring the views/ scenery. Marie Baker suggested that I gave Endurance a go and took me to some Pleasure rides first, we then signed up for the following year and simply kept coming back for more. I had a bit of a break whilst I got Gem backed as Rosie was out of action but boy did we make up for it once I got Gem going!
Tell us about your Horse/s?
I have 2 horses both in work Rosie and Gemini but Rosie is now Retired from competitive rides.
Gem (Star Hill Sapphire) is now 10 I have had her 5 years. She came looking like a rescue case and 'lightly backed'. The latter proving not to be correct! This was discovered by a very good Rodeo, after that she was sent away for backing but 3 days in I got a call to say she was dangerous and that was just on long reins! I took her home wondering what to do with this little Mare who had clearly bonded with me - rather than give up I long reined her all winter and took her out on hacks being led off Rosie. It then took me a further 2 years before I felt she was ready for competitive. She started her Endurance career in 2016 finishing her 1st Season with 5 Grade 1's and 9 successful rides. In 2017 we started her Open season with a huge 16 competitive rides and with 11 Grade 1's. Finished off with her first 1 day 66km at quite a pace and gaining a Grade 1. Then to top 2017 off she won the Lindum Group Champion! Amazing achievement for a horse I was told to get rid of as she wasn't safe. We even picked up a Trophy at the National Awards.
This year she has done 9 successful rides including a 2 Day 80km and of course the big one 'Red Dragon'!
What's been your best achievement so far?
That has to be winning the Lindum Group Champion and the 'Royal Lord Trophy' at the National Awards.
Tell us about your Red Dragon experience and your training to prepare
So training wise I had plans to get some hill work into her but I struggled to get motivated to a. find some hills and b. to try and find some company to do it with. I did however manage to take her for a long Gallop on the Newmarket sponsored ride so we did manage some fast work 😅
Other than that I made sure that she had plenty of time after Euston park (especially as she got vetted out for a slight muscular issue), we had 5 clear weeks with no Endurance before Red Dragon. It started with a massage from our Sponsor 'Hans on', the verdict was that she was slightly tighter than normal behind but she didn't feel it should have caused lameness - however she is a sensitive soul and I think i prefer it that way. She then had a week off and other than the Newmarket ride she was worked gently.
So Red Dragon weekend appeared - I was nervous, excited and apprehensive. Having been on Holiday in the area and having ridden about half of the route with Rosie back in July I was well aware of what we were letting ourselves in for - OR so I thought!
Everyone who knows Gem will know about her 'big trot' and need for speed. However due to our lameness at Euston and the sheer scale of the days task I battled with her to contain it. 65km in hilly conditions on a horse that has had little hill practice, was a big ask.
She vetted with a high heart rate - but then she hadn't been out for 3 weeks! So back to the trailer to get ready to go out - someone was very ready to get going, down to the start and prancing whilst we were counted out. Then she proceeded to chase a horse in front of us - it happened to be a Novice horse so we overtook and settled into a rhythm. I was quite concerned as we had been told at the start that there was a hedge cutter out along the main road, I just didn't know what to expect and we were on our own. We approached the hedge cutter on a bit of verge that was deeper than the rest so gave us a bit more space. She didn't appear to notice it, I thought about asking her to walk but tried and got no response so figured she's happy, ears pricked wanting to go forwards so we'll just keep going. She passed it without looking at it and without breaking pace - not even sure she was aware it was there! I was super proud of her right there and then and we'd only just left.
Off the road and onto the start of our climb, the first bit we managed a steady trot where the going allowed, then we met the marshall at the gate on to the hill and boy did it then start to climb. Gem attempted to trot it - her way of attacking hills - I very quickly told her no and made her walk, she got the idea fairly quickly as the gradient got worse. But the views were something else especially with the mist visible in the valley bottom. The brow and photographer were a welcome sight.
Then we really felt we were on our way - the views were incredible, weather was perfect and the marking was absolutely spot on! At times it was quite nerve wracking looking around and not seeing anyone in sight with miles and miles of track.
Then came the section I knew so I was able to speed up a little bit to make up some time from walking up the hills - I did have one moment where I missed a flag as I was reminiscing about where I'd been before but luckily I realised fairly quickly 😅
Up the huge hill from Glascwm which never seems to get any shorter no matter how many times you have ridden it! Across the top and then down to Paincastle and the on course Vet Gate - a first for both of us. I spotted my crew as I came down the hill, they seemed to be miles away from the vetting but at least they were ready for me. (My Dad came and helped me out - a first for him, not an easy one to start with. But he was ace and even held Gem for me - which is a feat in itself! I made sure that he had another crew that he knew, who he stayed with all day and I think they all had a good giggle. So thanks has to go to Sarah and Colin for helping show him the ropes) In and vetted in 10 minutes ish, 43 I think, it was much lower than our start heart rate.
Out we went for our second loop - Gem decided to canter out of the Vet hold 😅
Quite a chunk of Road to get up on to the Begwns but it was worth it for the lovely bouncy green moor, back past the Vet gate and another chunk of road before returning to the moor. Still riding on sections I knew and very aware that I needed to try and speed up where possible. Meeting 2 groups of Welsh Ponies - 1 group were right on the track which concerned me somewhat but Gem didn't bat an eyelid and trotted straight past.
We came into Checkpoint 4 after having spent a while on foot for a steep downhill and stony track, to be faced with a very steep up hill - I have to say I groaned! Gem struggled up this hill she was beginning to feel quite tired and every corner we turned seemed to still be going up. I jumped off to do some gates through the Farm yard and decided to walk for a bit to give her some help - I didn't last long on foot going uphill 😅 I also lost count of how many times I had to get off for gates - it really is worth practicing gates for this ride - it is simply easier to hop on and off as Gem has a very short attention span when it comes to gates.
We were over taken by a couple of other riders which gave her a much needed boost, then she had a really long drink from a natural water hole on top of the hill which also seemed to help. I was getting quite concerned about our pace it looked like it was going to be tight. Whilst drinking we were passed by Janice who we have ridden with before and so we decided to come in together. This certainly helped Gem, it was a pleasant surprise when we got back to 'that hill', jumping off to walk the horses down the worst of it.
We gently trotted home and walked into the venue to cool off, we vetted in 15 minutes as I didn't want her stiffening up after hills she isn't used to. We finished on a heart rate of 52 and a speed of 10.4kph - our slowest all season BUT we completed!!! And managed a 5th Place in the Open Championship. I am so incredibly proud of her and how far she has come.
I'm sure we will return to Red Dragon but maybe not next year as the timing isn't brilliant with work.
Best bit of advice for anyone thinking of getting into Endurance?
Get out there, don't worry if you're alone - I attend the majority of my rides alone. I have made loads of friends and don't feel alone once I'm at a venue. Don't worry if you don't have crew someone will always help you if needed. Carry water bottles if you have no crew, you can use those for you and the horse if a slosh is needed.
Do some pleasure rides to start and try and build up your ride speed/ fitness on those.