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14 February 2016

A “SURVIVOR’S” VIEW OF THE ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIPS OR HOW TO GET YOUR HORSE USED TO WATER! by Lynda Keeler

After almost 2 years of non-competitive rides due to injuries I was so looking forward to taking La Rouge [Ria] to the Scottish Endurance Championships being held at Perth Race Course at Scone. This time she would be travelling with Judals Just Dreamin [Pharoah] her field companion. We set off at Lunch time from Netherley in the glorious sunshine and on arriving at the venue set up our corral where the two horses had plenty of company.

I was doing 31km on the Saturday and Sarah (Pharoah’s owner) was attempting her first 50km as a Bronze Thistle Final grading. Sadly we wouldn’t be able to ride together as these were different classes and the route was not the same.

The weather forecast showed that we were all going to get wet this weekend but we didn’t realise how wet! The rain started late afternoon on the Friday but we are a hardy bunch and used to riding in all weathers and all the pleasure riders returned with smiles saying they had enjoyed the ride.

Saturday dawned with grey skies and the promise of more rain to come and the first rider was soon underway doing the 160km over 2 days. The vetting area had been moved as the rain during the night had saturated the trot up area, and it was now on hard and stony ground near the main car park! Both our horses passed and we went back to the trailer to get tacked up. I was a little worried as Pharoah had to start before Ria and I wasn’t sure how she was going to react to his leaving her.

I walked a little way to the start line with Sarah and then split off to try and connect with my companion on the 31km route. I had a very unhappy horse so mounted her and rode her around to try and keep her occupied – although with trepidation as she was calling out to her boyfriend and threatening to buck!! Soon however, it was time for our class so we headed over to the Start.

Once we were underway and trotting out smartly she focused on her job and settled down… we rode alongside the river passing cross country jumps and a glorious view of Scone Palace – back along by the side of the Race Course and as the miles fell away headed over to Muirward Wood. The tracks were great – the going a bit soft – plenty of puddles for thirsty horses. I was riding with Yvonne Thomson on Schadow and the two horses had got into a good rhythm and were covering the ground. The marking was good and we hardly needed to look at our maps. We headed up to St Martins and once we reached Check Point 2 knew that we were now going to be heading back. All the riders we met or passed were happy and enjoying the route. Arlene Parvin and her daughter Emma on her Arab Magic Moonshine [Dino] came flying by with the words “Nicky and Dino are on a mission” – they sure were - as soon they were out of sight our horses steadied back down again and we continued in a ground covering extended trot.

We did our loop at CP3 – the horses saying “we’ve done this bit before?” A cheery wave to the CP Steward and making sure he had our numbers ticked off headed down through the woods – retracing our steps through a very boggy wet field.

The rain came on again and soon we were soaked…. No need for sloshers – the rain was doing a grand job of cooling us down. We crossed the A93 with the help of Stewards and knew that we were on the homeward stretch. Surprise, surprise – I recognised my jeep that Sarah’s boyfriend was using to crew her – Steven said “would you like a slosher” – yes please says I and poured it over Ria’s neck – not sure if she was grateful as she was pretty wet already! Steven said Sarah was doing fine on her 50km but riding on her own was proving tough as prior to this Pharoah had always had a companion on the rides.

Soon we were cantering up the hill towards the Finish – stop watches off – big smiles from stewards and even bigger smiles from the riders.

Horses washed down – Sarah back for her half-way vetting – heart rates taken – then off to see the vets. Ria passed fine with a heart rate of 45 bpm and speed of 12.24 kph. Heart stopping moment when Pharoah had to be trotted up again … did I mention he is a barefoot horse? Not easy trotting on stony ground and proving you're sound!! Big sigh of relief he passed so back to the trailer to feed him and Ria.

Pharoah set off again to do his final 20km and Ria was turned out in the corral. Time for me to have a quick shower in the jockey changing rooms – fantastic standing under hot, hot water and getting warm again. Soon Sarah and Pharoah were back – I helped wash him down and we took his heart rate. It was starting to come down so we took him over to vet dreading having to run him up on the stones again. Rain still falling…. Was it never going to stop? Huge puddle to negotiate to get to vets!! Not good for a horse that doesn’t like going though puddles!

Heart rate 60 – not as low as hoped but under 64 – heart in mouth – trot up – can Sarah run him up again

please …. 2nd trot up – vet still undecided – 3rd trot up with all vets watching – 5 card trick…. Each vet writes on a piece of paper whether he thinks horse sound or not…..bated breath. YES - HE HAS PASSED SOUND – big hugs for Pharoah and Sarah.

After celebratory dinner that evening more surprises were in store…. The rain kept falling – the river kept rising and soon broke its banks – the water gushing out over the bridge from the hard standing car park into the grass parking area in front of the race course. Tents were starting to float in 2ft of water – horses were up to their knees in some of the corrals and others were up their bellies. Sarah phoned me at the Inn where I was staying and said the horses had to be evacuated so at 10.45 p.m. I set off to drive back to the Race Course (7 minutes away). I couldn’t believe my eyes when I arrived…. Horse Boxes, caravans, trailers all parked on the roadway leading out of the Race Course. Trailers were being towed out to hard standing through 2ft to 3ft of water. The camping area was completely underwater. It was organised chaos… I managed to get through hoping and praying the 4x4 would be high enough to cope with the water.

Sarah came up and helped me hitch up the trailer and then she walked in front of me feeling for the firmer ground as everything was now covered completely in deep water. The horses were being evacuated to the Race Course stables 2 miles away so after squeezing the trailer into a space between a box and trailer on hard standing in the main car park we went back for the horses.

I couldn’t believe how deep it was and how fast it was flowing … everyone was leading horses down the flooded park and across the bridge. There was no panic – everything done in an orderly manner. Poor Pharoah, who doesn’t like walking through water, had no choice but to follow Ria in the dark and over the flooded bridge.

Once safely tied to the back of the trailer we threw everything into the jeep so we could get them loaded.

We drove to the Racing Stables where the car park was full of boxes – horses being unloaded and people trying to bed them down for the night in the dry.

I dropped Sarah back off to her caravan at the Race Course which was now sitting on a dry section of half the car park – the other half was under water. Too tired to take the trailer off again I towed it back to the Anglers Inn through roads that were flooded so it was a matter of driving in the middle of the road. Parking on the pavement, I headed into the Inn for another shower and a much needed bed at 1.30 a.m. These Championships will certainly be remembered for a long, long time and now I even have a T-shirt saying “Survivor 2011 SERC Perth” – just as a wee reminder!