First Horse Endurance

The following is a short story about a New Member’s first Horse Endurance event.

This is from Mark, a new member in 2016, who volunteered to help steward at the Tresham Horse Endurance event on Sunday 12th June 2016.

Like most chaps my age, my off road riding experience was limited to DT175s and the like whizzing  around local tracks over 25 years ago.  I always had a road bike until a few years ago.

Last year I bought a 2002 TTR250 to use with a friend who also wanted to ‘get into’ a bit of trail riding. Unfortunately after just a couple of afternoons blatting around locally, he had a small stroke and had to sell his bike and so the TTR sat in the garage pining for some action. I joined the TRF and found myself, via last month’s TRF Glos meeting , in an empty field in Tresham at 7am on a very wet Sunday in a borrowed Transit loaded with the bike and far too much food and changes of clothing (but not enough water as it transpired!)

Phil arrived with a trailer and wheeled out his KTM690, making my TTR feel rather underendowed. I wondered what I’d got myself into and so it was almost a relief when Damon and Jacky arrived and wheeled out their saner Serow and CRF.

After being directed to our parking area (well away from where the horse boxes were going to be located) we corralled our vehicles, had a quick dose of caffeine and split into 2 pairs. In pouring rain; wearing new kit; and generally feeling a little like a fish out of water, Jacky and I set off. For the rest of the day, the Serow generally proceeded to stay upright; seemingly floating over muddy ruts that had me paddling like a frantic duckling and generally humble me all morning. And I say ‘me’ because I know that my bike was so much more capable that I was giving it rein to do. I was issued with a map of the routes which I strapped to the handlebars but to be honest it acted more as something to deflect the rain as I was able to follow the markers or else followed Jacky who knew the area well.

Over the day, we covered about 60 miles of incredibly varied off road surfaces, including taking in some quite dramatic normally off limits areas on private estates with so little tarmac work that it was only when blasting across higher ground fields that the tyres could shed some very tenacious mud. My tumble count was almost into double figures officially with a couple more offs I’ll pretend didn’t happen as they weren’t witnessed! I certainly felt a little privileged riding some of these areas  but I couldn’t spend too long looking around or I would end laying in the mud yet again. At one point we emerged through the trees into a clearing and were greeted by an uninterrupted lake of what looked like rhubarb leaves.

The morning was spent finishing off the task of placing some of the markers and check some existing routes before the first horses started. The markers at this event were red ribbon bands about 18” in circumference. There is a fairly simple system of placing the markers so they can be followed easily but it took me a while to grasp it as I was mentally overloaded with the task of staying upright in the pouring rain and my new cheap ill-chosen Wulfsport MX boots hindering me from changing gear. The markers are looped around suitable foliage, branches or existing signage. At one point Jacky got me to ride in front at some sections to ensure that the marked course could be followed from a horse rider’s point of view. The longest route was about 50 miles in total made up of 3 laps. There were shorter courses that were separate but had some common routing in places.

Lunch was rather civilised as we met Damon and Phil back at base and set up a few chairs and makeshift table. A cafetiere was produced, fresh coffee drunk and much chocolate eaten. There were tokens issued by the organisers for a drink and butty from a snack wagon that was pitched up on site but I felt obligated to eat the sarnies I’d lovingly prepared the night before. It was quite amusing to be sat on a camp chair, boots and undergarments saturated with sweat and rain water; bikes parked close by caked in mud, whilst drinking proper coffee and scoffing dark chocolate.

The afternoon dried out a little and after the nod from the organisers we started collecting the markers and signage from the route behind the last riders. At times, this necessitated riding 100 yards; stopping; finding neutral; sometimes using 2 hands to wrench the marker from it’s host; pulling off any errant foliage from the marker then looping the marker over a handlebar, then setting off again. Mostly this can be carried out while seated on the bike as obviously whoever placed the marker had to do the same previously. I did manage to have one off (oddly the only time I fell to my left) when, on a tarmac section, I stopped the bike on a grass verge and went to place my left foot on what I thought was terra firma only to find that the weeds had grown deceptively tall and successfully camouflaged the 2 feet deep drainage ditch! It gave Jacky a laugh if nothing else!

Partly through the afternoon I realised that I’d hugely underestimated the amount of hydration that I’d need and would have probably have drunk gratefully from a trough if it had looked half clean. Half a carton of pineapple juice donated by my co-rider was gratefully accepted. Later we met the other chaps back at base after they’d been covering the other half of the course, and after another brief stop (for me to clean my barrel’s cooling fins which by now more resembled Richard Dreyfuss’s sculpture in ‘Close Encounters’), we set off as a team of four, leapfrogging each other to collect the markers over the remaining sections. Even though I felt my riding had improved a little over the day, I still felt the pressure of 3 more capable riders around me and often whizzed past a marker, having to point it out to the rider behind me. I expect I was called a few choice names in the privacy of my colleague’s helmets.

With our yellow hi-viz tabards and “horse event steward” signs taped to the front of our bikes, we were waved at and generally acknowledged in a friendly manner by many occupants of 4 wheel drives and horse lorries. We tried not to cross the path of any horses whilst on the tracks but the few we did encounter (who were therefore very fast,  very slow or lost) were all friendly and seemed appreciative of what we were doing. At one point, Jacky was able to redirect 2 lost riders who were very pleased to have been set back on the right course. We then investigated the cause of their misdirection: a slightly ambiguously worded sign; and set about a correction with a marker pen.

I was quite surprised at how many gates we had to secure open or shut and at one point, probably due to the bad weather, near the start of the day there was a difficult narrow track rendered impassable by some fallen tree branches. My Leatherman was (slightly smugly) pressed into action and after 15 minutes of sawing, pulling, pushing and snapping we got the track cleared. We were miles from base in a steeply banked muddy section with dense foliage and small trees both sides and the fallen branches would have stopped the horses in their tracks.It brought it home to me the importance of our role.

Things I wish I’d had that day were:  much more water (thanks for saving me from dehydration Phil!); a neutral light (now fitted); better quality boots with an enduro sole (to stop me looking like Bambi on ice every time I got off the bike.)

Things I’m very glad I had were:  a bash plate (the big dent in it proving the necessity);  the Leatherman (for that Bear Grylls moment!); a reliable electric start.

Overall a very enjoyable day where we got to ride many miles of varied terrain, much of which isn’t normally accessible.