Arabians! Adventure! Action! Up close with this month’s CEI3* Longines Endurance Festival at Euston Park in Suffolk
Text Susanne Madsen Photography Longines
Endurance riding may not be the world’s most spectator-friendly sport, but when you’re zooming around off-piste at Euston Park in Suffolk in a Solaris buggy and see riders galloping up rolling hillsides or wading through ambling creeks on their finely chiselled Arabians, it’s not hard to see why endurance is the FEI’s second biggest discipline. While we quite like the jolly term ‘extreme hacking’, don’t mistake it for hacking, though: it’s a technical and strategic discipline testing stamina, fitness and some very clever team work.
This month’s Longines-presented Euston Park Endurance Festival supported by HH Sh. Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum drew 17 nations and the Mo Farah’s of the equine world (two and four-legged) including world number one, Spain’s Maria Alvarez Ponton. Watching the crews work on their horses between loops is fascinating: teams huddle round their horses, doing walk-and-bucket-showers, walk-and-massage, measuring heart rates to ensure they don’t exceed 64 bpm and presenting tasty flavoured water refreshments before the all-important vet gate, soundness checks and hopefully the green light to go ahead on the next loop.
The clock is still running every time a horse arrives back for the vet check and it keeps running until it is presented at the vet, so efficient time management is everything, reflected in the longstanding relationship between Swiss timepiece craftsmen Longines and endurance racing. The better shape your horse is in, the quicker the recovery, and while rides are timed you’ll win only if you also finish in excellent condition and pass the final vet inspection. It’s science and horse physiology skills but also intuition: knowing your horse and its abilities, when to change pace, riding with a lot of feeling and reading your surroundings from terrain to climate.
Foreign Veterinary Delegate, Piotr Szpotanski, commented after the race: “I was very impressed with the condition of the horses. Riders took care and in general speeds were sensible. We had very few eliminations in the 80 and 160km classes in particular and despite the humid conditions there were only very minor issues that were quickly treated.” The UAE dominated the winners’ podium throughout the day along with Algeria, and Sh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum (UAE) riding Tinka La Majorie took home the CEI3* 160km trophy with a total ride time of 07:55:55 (average speed 20.17km/h) and a handsome Longines Masters Collection watch.
But, in endurance, to finish is to win, and riding across Suffolk’s prime horse country is surely a prize in itself. Aside from the parkland and pleasure grounds designed by William Kent and Capability Brown (this year happens to be Brown’s tercentenary), there are 1500 acres of beautiful woodland, farm tracks and bridleways with natural water obstacles. Along the way, we saw watering holes where jockeys used to take dips in the 18th century, a temple folly that was once a prime spot for the Dukes to watch their racehorses from and a 17th century church, the final resting place of the Dukes of Grafton.
Henry FitzRoy, the 12th Duke of Grafton and current custodian of the splendid Euston Hall and its many acres, also hosted the 2012 FEI World Endurance Championships and similarly puts his land to work with R&B and farm festivals. It’s a wise way to ensure a large and expensive estate for future generations, and rather more sensible than the expletive-loving Francis Fulford and family of Great Fulford, Devon, whom we’ve followed on numerous UK TV programmes in their quest to pay for the upkeep of their crumbling manor. On the The F***ing Fulfords (a must-watch, here) Fulford buys a £99 metal detector in the hopes of finding lost treasure. “Hooray!” he yells when they find a 1 pence coin, “We’ve got another 9,999 of these to find before we get payback.”
The final Longines Euston Park Endurance Ride of the season will take place on 13 August 2016.