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Seren Capella (Ellie)


Here I am, 24 hours after leaving Dover on the final leg of our journey home from Mont le Soie, and I still can’t quite believe the week we’ve just had. Retracing slightly, a mere 5 weeks prior to the MLS ride, we went to the King’s Forest selection ride to do out first 1*80km and I was utterly convinced that we wouldn’t be going to Belgium. I was really not sure that my little team, horse, crew and rider, were ready for such a challenge. All I can say is huge thanks to Andrea Baker, Stevie Martin and the selectors, Di Latham and Pam James, for having such faith in us and convincing me that this was an achievable goal for us. If I had to run through all the things which were new to us during the week, this report would take up the whole magazine! This was, naturally, our first trip abroad but the arrangements for that were utterly seamless, thanks to Stevie Martin’s unparalleled efficiency. The organisation of the trip from the outset set the tone for the whole week. It was no problem at all to hand over control of the transport to and routine at the venue to people who were clearly far more experienced than me. On arrival at the venue, we were shown to the swanky barn of permanent stables, which Stevie manages to secure for the British team every year. It was great to see those 12 doors with the British flags on them. We exercised the horses in hand, or, in my case, my horse exercised me in hand (!), tucked them up in bed and went to our really lovely hotel for a much needed shower and bed. The next 2 days were spent riding out on course to experience the kind of terrain we were going to face, while our crews went off to familiarise themselves with the area and the crewpoints. On the first day of riding out, the going was extremely deep, with quite long stretches of boggy mud, as it had been raining for pretty much 3 weeks solidly prior to our arrival. On both days, I rode out with Jane Greatorex on her lovely Trust me Too (Rusty) and the second day we took a more stony track. I learned on this ride that my reins were inappropriate if my horse, Seren Capella (Ellie) was going to be extremely forward going! Luckily, though, there was a trade stand on site selling and making bridles and reins, so I was able to get a much more sensible pair of biothane reins, highly recommended by Alison House, who came and gave me some invaluable advice as I was lurking around the trade stand. After our ride on the Friday morning, it was time to plait up the horses in their red, white and blue regalia to get ready for the vetting. My infinitely patient crew member, Sarah Robins, spent over an hour and a half plaiting Ellie to perfection and I have to say that, without exception, all of the horses and crew looked stunningly turned out. Metabolic vetting was done in the stable block and all horses passed with no issues. At some point during the course of Friday, (I forget now when it was , as everything is blurring into one!), Sue Rich shared her wealth of experience and advised us on exactly how to ride the course. I must say that I’m certain if she hadn’t been so kind and generous with this advice, we might well have not got round the course. I can still hear her words echoing in my ears – ‘Respect the course’. She was dead right! WCSPS trot-ups were fitted in on the Saturday afternoon, so plaits were titivated. All horses passed the gait examination with no problems. Then it was home for a rest before the long day on Sunday. Sunday morning dawned – actually it didn’t dawn, as it was still nighttime when we were up and about getting ready. The horses were fed and walked in hand ready for us to be mounted and warming up in the sand school at 6.30. The start of the race had been moved on the Saturday from the field where it normally starts as it was just too deep and boggy. 22 of us started, therefore, on the track leading from the venue. From my point of view, the start was very civilised indeed. I had concentrated in my warm up on getting Ellie really listening to me and being as happy to go down the gears as up them. This really paid off. We managed to get into a gap where the majority of the field were out of sight in front. I had 2 Belgian riders just in sight and Jane Greatorex and Jo Malcolm just out of sight a couple of hundred metres behind me. We rode the whole first loop of 40km like this and it was absolutely perfect for getting Ellie into a steady rhythm without racing. That first 40km is the hardest 40km I’ve had to ride to date. There was never more than 50 metres over the whole ride, it seemed, where you were riding on the flat. You were either going up a hill or coming down one. Never on a ride have Ellie and I so looked forward to crewpoints. My crew, Sarah Alcock and Sarah Robins, whom I christened the Cock-Robins, were the most magnificent support possible throughout the whole week but particularly, obviously on ride day. Ellie came back into Endurance in March 2011 after 18 months off for pregnancy and nursing of her filly. Since that first ride at King’s Forest in March 2011, Sarah Alcock has been my crew and has learned with us as we have gone up through Advanced , our first ER, our first 1* and now our first 2*. She was able to pass on her finely-honed routine and knowledge to Sarah Robins, whose first experience of crewing was at King’s this year where we did our 80km 1*. They were possibly the youngest crew overall with the least number of ‘crewing years’ on their clocks but, in spite of this, they were slick and efficient in everything they did and it left me with nothing to worry about except the riding. I don’t even really know what happened in the vet gates as I was told to ‘sit down, drink and eat’! All I know is that Ellie presented faster than we’ve ever done with a total presentation time over all 3 vet gates of 9 minutes. A testament to my crew. We were also really fortunate to have Ellie’s breeders, Jan and Dom Atkinson, from Seren Arabians with us for the weekend. They had two full-time jobs on their hands – taking literally hundreds of photos of everyone and crewing for us to relieve some of the pressure on the Cock-Robins ensuring that they could be back at the venue ready for us to come into the vet gates. After the first vet gate, I left the venue and was about 4km into the second loop when I heard whinnying so loud that it even managed to drown out my singing. It was Jane Greatorex’s Rusty (Trust Me Too) coming flying up behind to catch us up. We then went on to ride the rest of the ride together all the way to the finish. The second and third loops, both 30km each, were not quite as punishing as the first 40km had been but were, nevertheless, not for the faint hearted. The mud was so deep coming into the 2nd vet gate that Ellie lost a shoe about 1.5km before the venue but having the whole management team there meant that Chris Pell was able to get the shoe back on within the space of about 2 minutes. It was also immensely reassuring that at every vet gate, Lee Clark, physio, checked all the horses and Anna-Marie Nagy, vet, was on hand at all times to help with the horses’ recovery pre- and post-vetting. There was huge support from all the management team in the vet gates and the atmosphere was incredibly uplifting. I already felt like I had won after passing the 100km vet gate as this was the furthest we’d ever been and we just had to get around the final 20km. I won’t say that it was easy and the final hill up to the venue was really tough going but Jane, Rusty, Ellie and I did it and as we rode over the finish there was just a sea of people in red, cheering and clapping. Unfortunately, that’s not the moment you can really breathe because you’ve still got to get through the final vetting. It’s almost worse when you have the possibility of a full 30 minutes in which to vet because you have to call it exactly right so that the heart rate is definitely low enough but the horse has not stiffened up. In we went. The vets give no inkling whatsoever as they are taking the metabolics as to what the stats are. Nerve-wracking. Sarah Alcock set off with Ellie at a spanking trot and I couldn’t help grinning as I could see that my little ginger girl, after 120km over one of the toughest courses in Europe, was as sound, balanced and rhythmic as it was possible to be. She trotted back and the 3 vets checked that they had all written the same thing on their cards. The principal vet turned to me and said ‘Number 98…..’ and then there was a massive pause. It was like the X Factor or some such. ‘Number 98…..Congratulations!’ That was it, the floodgates burst. I could not have been prouder of Ellie and the team. The icing on the cake was that Jan Atkinson, who had seen Ellie get to her feet as a new-born foal, was there to see her achieve something so incredible. 22 people had set out at 7a.m. that morning and only 7 had managed to complete the ride. 4 of those 7 were British. A huge amount of this is due to the care, attention, advice and encouragement of the management team at all stages. I’m sure that I speak on behalf of all riders when I say a massive thank you to Andrea Baker (Chef), Stevie Martin (Team Manager), Chris Pell ( Farrier), AnnaMarie Nagy (Vet) and Lee Clark (Physio). We would never have done this without them. None of us had ever completed that distance and to do it over such a tough course was down to the help of the team. Thank you. One of the questions on Stevie’s feedback form was ‘Would you undertake this trip again?’. Would I? I’m just off now to ride Ellie’s younger brother, Seren Rigel. Think we might do some hill work. (Winks!) Ellie and Rigel have both only ever been fed on Simple Systems feed since the day that I had them both and it has proved a fabulous feeding system for them. Photos credit: www.arabianhorse.co.uk: Jan Atkinson, Seren Arabians