Dace tells the story of her FEI European Junior Endurance Championships
PUBLISHED: 13:58 18 September 2012
junior European Event rider Dace Sainsbury writes: After final preparations were made ready for our trip to Belgium I could not help but check and re check that I had packed everything that I could possibly need for a week away.
Finally I felt prepared, so on Tuesday morning Samantha, James, my Mum and I set off for Dover. Apart from a slight detour that almost resulted in us being packed off into the eurotunnel, we safely reached the lairage in time for our 4pm ‘final’ vet check to ensure the horses were fit and ready for the lengthy travel to Belgium and of course the competition.
So, after all the inevitable delays in logistics we finally boarded the ferry on Wednesday morning. As it was the first time I had ever travelled Ballota on a ferry I was very nervous about the whole procedure but the team and the management assured me that there wasd nothing to worry about and she would still be in one piece on the other side. We were very lucky to have had a very smooth ferry crossing and the offloading procedure was relatively painless, within no time at all we were negotiating our way around Calais and were full steam ahead to the venue at Mont Le Soie. It has to be said that despite mydoubts about James’ capability in driving abroad he did not make a mistake the whole trip.
We arrived at Mont Le Soie at around 8pm. One more vet check for the horses, food for human and horses and then bed. The hotel was astounding and the hospitality was beyond expectations for a group of over 40 British riders, crews and management and were happoy to accomodate our late dinners and early breakfasts.
The next few days were crammed full of pre-ride exercise, vet checks, team tactics, vet checks, setting up vet gates, vet checks and generally getting to know each other and each others horses better. We had a fantastic time and the weather was beautiful, but by Friday evening, the eve of the competition, I can only speak for myself when I say my nerves were at breaking point and it took a lot of diversion tactics from my support crew to keep me smiling!
Four AM Saturday morning, the hotel was alive with riders and crews readying themselves for the day ahead. The hotel prepared coffee and croissants for us to have whilst flying out the door. By five am we were all at the venue, it was freezing! We were 550 metres up in the Ardennes mountains so the combination of high altitude and cloudless skies made for very cold nights. By 6.30am the whole team were mounted onto our horses and making our way down to the start for a 7am start. I have to say I have never known an atmosphere quite like it, horses everywhere, people everywhere, all going in different directions and missing each other by whisker.
Riders had been warned about the start, a huge downhill field scattered with ruts and the morning dew making the going slippery, followed by a gap big enough for two horses to file through, it could have spelled disaster with the inevitable speeds to break away from chaser packs. So a difficult but worthy decision was made that I would start a couple of minutes after the majority to ensure a safe start, especially for my first Championship competition.
The first 40km loop was tough, a technical course coupled with hard, stony terrain and the rising sun blinding us riders as it rose above the hills. No one was lying when we were told that this ride would test horses, riders and crew to the limits. We were able to pick off the stragglers that distanced themselves from the main pack and came into the first vetgate comfortably in 41st place.
After passing the first vetting we had a 40 minute hold in which we discussed changes of tactics, as Lottie was metabolically perfect and had a lot left in the tank I was told I could speed it up and start making ground, which we did and by the last loop we set off in fourth place.
The first seven riders all ended up leaving the venue at approximately the same time so within the first kilometre we were riding as a group. As the only British rider in the lead pack surrounded by very experienced French and Italian riders I have to admit I couldnt quite believe the position I was in.
By the first crew point I knew from the look on my mum’s face that she couldn’t quite believe it either as she swiftly dropped our camera, grabbed a slosh bottle and together with James and Sam flew up the road chucking water over me. The speeds of which we travelling at over such varied terrain very much overwhelmed me and at 5km from the finish, whilst travelling up a very steep hill, I made the decision to pull up and take the last few km of the ride sensibly to ensure a pass at final vetting.
As a competitve person, riding a competitive horse, this was a difficult decision however, I know that I made the right decision. When we reached the top of the hill I popped Lottie back into a canter and I was pleased when she took up the reins and pulled me across the finish line to a background of cheers from the British supporters. The nailbiting moments between finishing the ride and taking her to the final vetting seemed to last forever but thankfully my strong little horse had done it. She had passed her first championship ride and done it at a speed that broke all previous records and was the first of the British to cross the line. Despite not being in an individual medal position, Team GBR did get four of the six horses and riders around the course and gained Team Bronze. This is the first medal placing a British team have had in Endurance since 1997.
Plans for next year are to continue to strengthen and fitten Lottie in order to be selected for the World Championships being held in Tarbbes, France. With this experience behind us we can only hope for a spectacular result next year. Lottie is now taking a couple of months to rest and recover from a busy season.