Finding My Way – Crewing at Red Dragon

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Here we talk to British Horse Feeds Customer and Sales Coordinator, Hannah Kitching, on her experience of crewing at the recent Red Dragon Festival of Endurance.

The British Horse Feeds Red Dragon Festival of Endurance is one of the biggest events on the equestrian endurance calendar and proves to be one of the ultimate test of stamina..

I was lucky enough to be asked if I would like to experience the event first hand by being part of a crewing team helping a horse and rider complete the gruelling Speedi-Beet Red Dragon ride over 160km.

Although I have ridden since the age of four, endurance riding was something I knew very little about. However I was really looking forward to seeing how the event worked and what the competitors and their crew had to do.

The organisers placed me with Liz Rowland and her husband Charlie who I would be helping and crewing with.

Liz and her horse Iggy were taking part in the 160km Red Dragon ride which is split over two days, so it really is a big test for horse and rider across the welsh hills.

Following the Red Dragon

6am – An early start and time to get ready. I made sure I had a big breakfast as I had been told it would be a long day!

7am – I headed over to the stables to meet Liz, Charlie and of course Iggy! Iggy is a gorgeous grey Arab. He was in his corral grazing and Charlie was trying to get him to eat as much as he could. Iggy looked keen and ready to go!

Liz started to get Iggy and herself ready to head off on the ride and I noticed that Endurance tack is a lot different to everyday tack. It consists of bright colours and big stirrups so that you could even ride in trainers if you wanted!

We also made sure that we had everything we needed for crewing from slosh bottles (an empty fabric conditioner bottle filled with water), buckets of water and feed to spare clothing, rugs and food for Liz too! Charlie drove the pickup and it was packed full to the roof with all the things needed for crewing.

Liz Rowland and Iggy – Photo by David Saunders Photography

8:30am – Charlie and I headed out on the road towards our first Checkpoint to meet Liz there. I learned that it was crucial to get the checkpoints, crew points and vet gates ahead of Liz so that we could prepare water, food, and anything else that her or Iggy may need. Charlie was using his sat-nav on his phone and I had a printout of directions and a map to make sure that we were heading in the right direction. That in itself is a task for any crewing team!

9am – We successfully arrived at Checkpoint 1 which was roughly a 15 min journey from the showground. We gathered a bucket of water, fibre nuggets and slosh bottles ready for Liz and Iggy’s arrival.

Liz and Iggy appeared between the rolling hills about 20 minutes after we had arrived, and I passed Liz the slosh bottles for her to pour down Iggy’s neck. Iggy didn’t want anything to eat or drink at this point so we packed the stuff away and headed onto our next checkpoint.

At each checkpoint the riders’ numbers are noted by organisers/volunteers to keep track of their time throughout the ride.

9.30am – Checkpoint 2 we arrived on time again and it was the same thing again with slosh bottles, food and water. Liz always carries a small bottle of water with her.

10am – It was quite a journey from Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3A and unfortunately Charlie’s sat-nav lost signal and internet which resulted in us relying on my navigation skills which, I must admit, are not the best!

We ended up taking the wrong left turn which resulted in us doing a loop and still not getting to the checkpoint. Both Charlie and I were now starting to get worried about not getting there in time! We then managed to get our bearings and made it back onto to the road we were originally on and carefully reading the printed-out directions, we made it to the check point on time! The scenery was breath taking at this checkpoint which was situated on the welsh moorland.

10.30am – Next stop was the first Vet Gate. It was crucial that we got here on time as we needed to help prepare Iggy for his first vet inspection. Liz was riding alongside another rider called Mary (who was in her 70’s!) so we decided to follow her crew team to the vet gate so we knew that we wouldn’t get lost.

There is a lot of preparation involved at the Vet Gate. Iggy is a bit fussy with his food, so he had a selection of things to eat from grass nuts, Speedi-Beet, other mashes, carrots and apples, as well as grass. There were plenty of water buckets laid out for him to drink from. He also had a rug, cooling boots and other equipment including a stethoscope which, Liz made very clear, was the most important thing to have to check Iggy’s heart rate. We also made sure that there was a chair for Liz and plenty of food and drink for her too!

Liz and Mary appeared at the top of the hill around 15 minutes after we had got there. Iggy was looking great, and we proceeded to quickly untack, cool him and offer him food and water. Liz checked his heart rate (which she was happy with) and then it was down to the vet inspection they went. All the horse’s heart rates must be below 64 beats per min.

During the vet check the vet does the following:

  • Checks the horse’s heart rate
  • Checks gums and mouth for dehydration
  • Checks their eyes
  • Asks for them to be trotted up to check for lameness
  • Checks the heart rate for a final time

Liz returned with Iggy who passed the vet check with flying colours. Iggy was then rugged up with a fleece and was offered more food and water by me and Charlie. Liz took this opportunity to have a well-deserved sit down and some food and drink herself.

Liz’s time was 11:17 to set back off on the ride. This meant that she had now split up from riding with Mary as she had an earlier time.

11.20am – Charlie and I packed up all the crewing equipment back into the pickup and headed back out onto the road to Crew Point 1.

Charlie’s sat nav was still not working at this point and we again proceeded to get lost by following the printed directions. Again we both started to panic about getting to Liz on time but as we drove across a cattle grid back onto the Welsh moor, we saw the Crew Point and Liz had already arrived!

We jumped out of the pickup and rushed with the slosh bottles, water bucket and food for Iggy. At this point Iggy took a big drink and then they both headed up the hill off the moor.

12pm – Charlie and I were back on the road again heading to Check Point 5. It was made clear to us that the journey from Crew Point 1 to Checkpoint 5 was quite a journey compared to the others. Luckily Charlie’s sat-nav kicked in so we were well on our way or so we thought!

We were around one mile away when Charlie came to a halt at a foot bridge. The sat-nav had taken us the wrong way so we had to retrace our steps again! We made it to a gateway that led down a rutted track which fortunately wasn’t a problem for the pickup. At the end of the track was Checkpoint 5, where we waited around 10 minutes before Liz and Iggy appeared again.

Iggy spotted us and broke into trot he must have been thirsty as he had another drink and I passed Liz more slosh bottles to pour down his neck. At this point Liz made a comment that it was a tough ride and felt that Iggy was starting to struggle a little.

1pm -It was back to the Vet Gate for Charlie and I, to prepare for Liz and Iggy’s second vet inspection. Charlie’s sat-nav was working now which was a relief but I still kept my eye on the direction sheet to make sure we were right.

Seven miles later we arrived in plenty of time and without getting lost! We set up quickly with food, water and slosh bottles at the ready. It was quite a wait before Liz appeared, so we knew her pace had slowed down quite a lot. Liz had said that it was tough out there on the hills with it being up and down with some rough terrain. She had mentioned that Iggy wasn’t feeling quite up for it anymore so Charlie and I made sure Iggy had a big, long drink and Iggy seemed to be eating plenty. Liz checked his heart rate and then it was down to the vet gate for inspection.

Iggy had everything checked and seemed fine until the vet said she felt his two front legs were quite warm, so she wanted Liz to re-present him in 15 minutes. We walked back to the pickup and got the cooling boots straight onto his legs. Iggy was quite happy to stand and eat at this point.

It was time to re-present Iggy and the vet was happy to pass him providing Liz would take it steady, to which Liz agreed. Liz was unsure whether to carry on but with some persuasion from Charlie they headed back out onto the hills.

2:30pm -We arrived at Checkpoint 4 with no hassle this time. Liz was taking it steady, so we knew we would be waiting a while, we expected around an hour. The checkpoint was situated in a village, and we could hear some hooves on the tarmac in the distance. Over the brow of the hill appeared Liz with a very upbeat looking Iggy! Iggy looked like he had got his second wind so with a few slosh bottles and a drink for Liz too, the pair continued their journey.

3:30pm – Crew Point 2 was the last crew point before we headed back to the showground. Charlie and I both thought that their pace had become a little quicker and after some more slosh bottles for Iggy they headed back to the show ground. I was starting to feel worn out at this point so I dread to think how Liz and Iggy must have been feeling!

4:30pm – After arriving back at the showground we got everything prepared ready for the arrival of Liz and Iggy. This would be their final vet inspection and we were all hoping that they would pass. It was so nice to see Liz and Iggy come round the corner onto the show ground and a part of me felt proud!

Iggy’s heart rate was rather high upon arrival, so he had more sloshes over him and was walked round. Liz checked again and it had come down to a better rate, so took him straight to the vet for inspection. Liz trotted him up and the vet asked her to trot him up again. I was starting to worry that something was wrong. There was a little bit of waiting around and then we were told that Iggy had passed. We were all so relieved and of course happy.

I congratulated Liz, as to me 80km was such an achievement. Unfortunately Liz decided to withdraw from the second day of riding on the Sunday as she felt it was tough out there and Iggy had done so well to get round as it was.

I’d like to say a huge thanks to Charlie and Liz for having me as part of the team for the day!

The experience was just amazing, and I loved being part of their team. It was slightly stressful at certain times when we thought we were getting lost but also a relief when we made it in time. Crewing is an extremely crucial part of endurance riding as you are helping to provide care for both the horse and rider, ensuring they have a successful ride. Charlie and Liz were both great and I will be forever thankful to them, and the event organisers for giving me the opportunity to experience crewing. It is something that I will not forget.

Speedi-Beet and Fibre-Beet from British Horse Feeds, are ideal feeds for endurance horses. They are both high in fibre, which helps provide the required stamina for horses to compete over long distances, and the water content helps rehydrate the horses after prolonged exercise.