First published in The Arabian Breeders’ Magazine Volume I Issue IV July 2017.
Celebrating the Champions – Vlacq Flint Accolade
It may be a one woman and her horse achievement, but it takes a team and a plan to make a champion on Exmoor.
Competing in the renowned two-day 160km Golden Horseshoe ride on Exmoor has long been my endurance riding dream and I knew only a special horse would complete it. Winning seemed an impossibility. My special horse, Vlacq Flint Accolade (Princeton Mariner x Amadar Finale), or ‘Taffy’ at home, is three-quarters Arab and one-quarter Welsh pony. A real ‘leg at each corner’ horse, bred in the hills and tough. It was a challenging two days but we completed when so many didn’t, and made Silver time despite the rain and boggy ground.
I bought Taffy from his breeders as an eight-year old; he had done little ridden work, so preparation started as soon as I brought him home in 2014, not specifically for Exmoor, but for our future together. Within three months he was taking part in the pleasure ride on Exmoor and I saw his promise.
I compete my horses infrequently, and choose their rides carefully. They get a rest day for every 10km ridden in competition, plus time off for travel. They are usually worked three times a week and rested after each major training session. For the first year Taffy’s work was largely walking plus some occasional faster work. I don’t turn them away in the winter but give them four to six weeks rest and then it’s back into mostly walk work at the end of November. By New Year they have built on the previous year’s fitness and any delays due to the weather, injury or illness then won’t detract from their base fitness. More serious training begins with monthly sessions at the local gallops. Not long sessions, but focused. Graded rides act as fittening rides, and add an element of fun, but always with the long goal in sight. In 2015 the goal was riding for England at the Red Dragon in October; in 2016 it was the 120km CER at St Patrick’s coast, again for England. And he won!
Vlacq Flint Accolade. Credit David Saunders Photo.
All this was preparation for the 2017 Golden Horseshoe; not a quick fix, but more of a slow burn, to mix metaphors! Suffolk is not renowned for hills, but whichever way I ride out from home involves short steep hills that we use interval training. In fact all gallop work and much of our home training involves interval work of some sort plus lateral work. Add two hilly rides and an intense training session in late April, some urgent remedial work on his saddle, and he was ready.
A key element in my success with Taffy has been my coach, Maggie Pattinson (www.onthehoofdt.co.uk) who has given me a wealth of support. She is a great facilitator. Jo Woodman, an experienced endurance vet has given invaluable advice and assesses both of my horses twice a year. Both experts, plus routine care by McTimoney specialist friend Peggy Sofley, are money very well spent. My crew was told to feed Taffy well, and offer electrolytes at every stop, but also to insist that I ate as well. Thanks go to Kathy Carr and Eve Gawme for crewing us both so brilliantly. It all helped earn us the Premier Award for Taffy’s condition as fit to ride another 40km the next day.
Words by Heather Weston