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15 September 2014

A Finnish Horse’s First Year in Endurance

By Lynsey Gordon

The best thing I ever did was to buy Valittu, otherwise known as Dino, a 14.3hh palomino Finnish horse which I bought from Kirsi and Mika Malaska when they came over to Hayfield Riding Centre. He had spent his first years competing in trotting races which is a huge sport in Finland until he decided that it wasn’t for him after kicking the gig to bits.  After that he was sold on and began to compete in dressage and show jumping at which he is quite talented

I am at the same yard as Yvonne Thomson and her pretty Halflinger mare Schadow. We were very quickly roped us into Endurance Riding.  Yvonne took us to our first pleasure ride at the Forest of Deer and I thought  ‘that was a long way!’  However we had really enjoyed ourselves and all the people I met were so friendly that I decided to join the club.  We did another couple of pleasure rides at Spyhill and Strathdon and the distance started to feel a bit less daunting.

January came and Yvonne got Dino and I out on lots of fittening and training sessions and all of a sudden I had a more streamlined fluffy horse rather than the barrel shaped one of before.  Obviously riding in the wind and rain was paying off.  Very quickly the Blackdog beach ride was upon us and we did our first training ride of 31km.  Had a great time and discovered that my little Finnish Trotting horse could really move, 0 – 14mph in the blink of an eye, way better than a Porsche!  Heart rate was good but I was as lame as could be so more fittening work for the rider rather than just the horse.  Kirkhill was next and proved to be another great learning experience for us both.

I decided that we would enter our first 32km at Durris and would also make it our BTQ.  Thankfully Rosemary Ashton and Spirit were with us to offer some much needed moral support.  The ride was fantastic and Dino seemed to float round without a problem, my star of a husband Craig did a sterling job of crewing for us.  However at the vetting I learnt another valuable lesson, it helps the horse’s heart rate if the potty rider doesn’t flap around like a lunatic!  But we got a heart rate of 48 so success, Gold, or was it!  Another lesson, stupid rider had worked out timings in mph so we ended up being too fast and it was Silver!

After doing a training ride at Blackhall decided that we would do our next BTQ at Clashindarroch.  This time I worked out the times using km and again Rosemary and Spirit kept us company.  Craig and Yvonne crewed for us and I think Craig got a first class crash course in crewing etiquette!  The scenery was beautiful and again Dino seemed to speed round but it gave us plenty time to walk in and calm down at the end. This time with a heart rate of 44 we got Gold and our second BTQ.

As I’m sure those that were there will remember Smallburn was a very hot ride!  We did another 32km there and decided to try on our own.  Dino’s little legs went like pistons and soon we had caught up with Simon and Bobby and Dawn and Erin who provided us with some excellent company.  Those riders doing the 80km race ride passed us at speed and Dino became very excited and wanted to chase them.  Took a while to make him realise that 80km was a little beyond him at the time!  Yvonne’s course in crewing paid off and Craig did a fantastic job getting Dino’s heart rate down to get another Gold.  By now Dino was learning his job and we did another 32km at Drumtochty to prepare for our BTF at Grampian Castles.

Yvonne gave me lots of advice on how to look after Dino and myself to make sure we got round and it certainly worked.  We rode with Alison Anderson from Tayside and Brenda Burnett from Highland caught up with us and we then rode as a three.  Alison was also doing her BTF and Brenda was great at encouraging us round.  This was the hilliest ride we had done so far and it was great to have the company and support of other riders and horses.  The vetting at half way had to have been the fastest 30 minutes of my life but we passed and were soon underway again.  The scenery was amazing and even the drizzle could not dull it for us!  The last hill before the venue seemed huge but we got home in good time and vetted well.  My plucky little horse did it and got Gold and his BTF.

Now that we had our BTF it meant that we were free to relax and enjoy ourselves doing another 50km at the Highland Fling.  The day started off dry but not long after we started riding the rain came on. We were having so much fun though I didn’t care how rain soaked my knickers were!  We caught up with Jamie Craig and passed him and then he would pass me and so on till we decided that it would be better if we just rode together!  The vetting came and it wasn’t easy to get Dino to do the trot up.  The horses leaving the vetting were setting off the other way down the road and Dino clearly thought Mum had lost her marbles and was going the wrong way.  Excellent heart rate achieved, off we went again.  We had a wonderful canter up a grassy track were Jamie’s horse showed Dino that although Finnish horses could trot faster than Anglo Arabs it had a faster canter!  We slowed down to a trot again but the horses were pulling strongly to catch up with Mary Stelmach and Absolut.  Dino would not let go of Solo’s bum and I think Craig got a shock when Les and Yvonne shouted to him that we were home with Mary (poor soul thought he had time for another cuppa)!  My plan of trying to walk Dino in went out the window and he came in still trying to race. I was concerned that Dino’s heart rate would be too high but he got Gold and I was gob smacked when I got my rosette and it was for SC1!

We rounded off the year at Whitehaugh where I was very glad I had clipped Dino as it was such a hot day.  Craig suddenly got sent offshore and I no longer had any crew but Dawn Saunders saved the day and stepped into the breach!  Again we rode the 49km with Rosemary and Spirit and the hills were impressive but he was fit for it!  The heat was telling and my face was beetroot coloured but it normally is bright red when I’m riding!  Dawn was wonderfully patient getting spat and dribbled on by the horses and then dealing with a panicking about heart rate rider at the end.  However it all went well and Dino achieved another Gold and a Best Condition (very pretty cream & tartan rosette)!

Dino and I have had the most amazing year in Endurance and it is not a sport that I ever saw myself in but we’re hooked.  Everyone has been so friendly and helpful and we couldn’t have achieved so much without their support.  I also have to thank Craig for giving up his weekends to crew and he has now taken up riding too.  Clearly a case of ‘can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!’  I am so proud of my little Finnish horse and I think Dino’s posh name Valittu really suits him.  Translated into English it means ‘Chosen One’ and he certainly seems to have chosen Endurance as his next career move!