Lyme Regis Endurance Rider back competing on UK shores

PUBLISHED: 20:00 07 April 2013 | UPDATED: 20:00 07 April 2013

Dace Sainsbury with her horse Lottie

Dace Sainsbury with her horse Lottie

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More from East Devon Endurance rider Dace Sainsbury.

Upon arrival back in the UK after our fantastic trip to Abu Dhabi with Ballota I had to take a moment to breathe, get back to reality and plan the year ahead for the other horses I am fortunate to ride in Endurance. Alongside my youngster who this year I am qualifying (hopefully) to an international level, I also have the fantastic opportunity to take the ride of French Lieutenant, a truly out standing Arabian gelding owned by Carol Legg of Hillside Arabians.

French Lieutenant is a seasoned horse who came out of a successful career flat racing to excel in Endurance. In his years competing in endurance he has won 120km FEI 2*, 80km FEI 1* and national rides and last year, achieved the ultimate, at a very respectful speed completed a 160km FEI*** at Euston Park with senior rider Lorna Kidson.

This is my first year of competing French Lieutenant and have to say I have loved every minute of training and competing. He is a very cheeky chap and certainly does not like the idea of ‘slow’, you definitely know when he is feeling well! We took him to Cannock Chase to do a 64km training ride which we completed at a speed of 15.7kph - a good speed for the upcoming 120km FEI 2* being held in Thetford Forest two weeks later.

It is pretty common knowledge that the weather this year has been less then helpful in training and preparation for endurance rides, but nothing was to prepare us for the horizantal driving snow we encountered whilst driving up the M3 on the Saturday before the ride. Carol Legg, James Comber (chief crew!) and myself were very quietly contemplating what was to happen the next day if the ride was to go ahead.

When we arrived at the venue it was absolutely freezing, snow was still falling but thankfully it didn’t seem to be settling, so we vetted ‘Frenchie’ quickly, loaded him back in the box and started to drive to where he was being stabled for the night. Again we all fell quiet as the roads started turning white and the snow came thicker and faster. By the time we had set Frenchie down for the night and were ready to leave for our hotel the countryside surrounding us was turned into a total white out. The snow didn’t cease all night and when we went to bed that night we were seriously wondering if the ride would even run.

Sunday Morning, 5am. Wow, it was cold alright, the car was telling us it was -8 and it felt every bit that cold, coupled with a freezing wind. Nevertheless the roads were okay, the gritters had obviously been busy all night so we had no problem in picking Frenchie up and returning to the venue for the start. The one concern I had was navigating whilst en route, the route was marked with arrows on the floor and after the nights snow fall they would be ipossible to see. However the amazing organisers had been out al night remarking the route with paper arrows and new spray paint on top of the snow! We have to give huge thanks to these women for managing to think of a contingency and allowing us to still ride! This contingency however was for the 120km FEI 2* riders to ride the same 32km loop 3 times and have slight diversion on the last loop, not ideal but for those wanting a qualification it would definitely do!

So, the 120km starters set off at 7.45am (slightly later then planned). Myself and a fellow competitor Lauren Mills led the group out on the first loop, which also meant we were the first to try the conditions. The snow was around four inches thick but very soft so the horses actually went very well in it and we managed a good speed for the first loop. The scenery was just beautiful, but I did have a few fall outs with tree branches that had sagged under the weight of the snow leading to a few collisions thus both myself and Frenchie covered in freezing cold snow!! By the end of the first loop the snow had ceased but the temperature was still below zero.

As the day went on the 120km riders grouped together and the positions were really down to how quick you could vet your horse and get out on the next loop. Frenchie was vetting phenomenally and on the last loop we had a slight lead of twenty four seconds. Frenchie felt good and he just knew he was out there to race, as we were counted down from five to one Frenchie exploded and flew the last loop consequently having a very comfortable win! Of course his win over the line depended on the final vetting, always the most daunting part of a ride!) after his inspection we had a nod from the ground jury and I think both Carol and myself let out a little woop! Frenchies first outing of the year in less than perfect conditions and he wins it at a stunning speed of over 17kph, the fastest speed of all classes of the day!

It was very surreal to me from just coming back from riding in the desert in 36 degree heat, with non stop water being constantly poured over the horse to riding in the UK in March in sub zero conditions. We certainly did not use any water! It really shows you how well the Arabian breed can adapt to their conditions and excel with careful management from crew and rider.

We now look forward to competing French Lieutenant at the prestigious 2* race being held this year at Windsor Park which is incorporated with the Windsor horse show. Not only is this the first time an Endurance ride has been held in conjunction with this famous show but we will have a large international presence and hope raise support for Endurance riding in the UK.


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