- Janice Cockley-Adams and HS Echo crowned National Champions after epic two-day 160km Red Dragon class at British Horse Feeds and The Golden Paste Company Festival of Endurance
- Advanced 80km championship goes to Hertfordshire rider Gemma Grodkiewicz and Magical Merlin
- Novice championship goes to Dorset rider Georgie Davis and Welsh Section D Plasbach Twm
Often billed as an end of season party, the iconic British Horse Feeds & Golden Paste Company Red Dragon Festival of Endurance was back for the first time since 2019 featuring an array of Endurance GB’s National titles.
The Red Dragon ride, which sets off from the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells, is seen as a bucket list event for most endurance riders. This year’s track offered firm going and in places, slippery grass tracks, which in humid conditions needed careful navigation.
Just 4.5km from the start, the Red Dragon route takes riders over the legendary feature climb over the 400-metre Aberedw Hill. After tackling this, competitors are led out onto a spectacular grass covered plateau and onto mountain trails.
Janice Cockley-Adams from Cheltenham was one of a field of six starters to set off in the two-day 160km Red Dragon National Championship class but in a dramatic turn of events the three other combinations left in the ride at the start of day two were forced to withdraw leaving her and HS Echo the challenge of tackling the 80km route alone.
Bred at Halsdon Stud, the 13-year-old, 15hh pure bred grey Arabian gelding did not disappoint.
Janice said: “This year’s National Championship was always going to be tough, but I didn’t imagine day two would turn out as it did. It was a little emotional going out for 80km solo at the start of day two as this was unknown territory for Echo who had never done this distance alone after such a long ride the day before.
“I walked up “the hill” (Aberedw) and the view was great but it was hard work and once at the top we started to steady. It took a few kilometres to get into his stride as the slippery going affected his confidence a little.
“After vet gate two, I knew we were on the home straight and the Championship was within our grasp. We took it very steady as at this point it became so important to me to succeed, not just for us but for the organisers, sponsors and everyone who had given up their time to run the event both on the days, weeks and months before.
“I wanted to succeed for all those in endurance who have had it tough through COVID and were out there willing us on through the power of social media. I love this sport and the people who do it and wanted to finish for all of us.”
Janice who is crewed by her husband Iain and friend Eva Reichardt added: “I have had some great results over the years that are special for the horses I rode but this is well up there as I’ve never been National Champion and the journey with Echo hasn’t always been plain sailing. One of my first wins was on a horse called Dahook who won the 80km race at the Red Dragon some 20 odd years ago in a race finish. I’ve been placed in the Red Dragon a few times since but always the bridesmaid never the bride so I am pleased we can now claim a win over the 160km course at that event. It is so gratifying to see how well he looked at the end. The judges awarded him the best condition and they thought he looked so good at the end he deserved it.”
The 80km Advanced Championship went to Hertfordshire-based Gemma Grodkiewicz and her grey 14.3hh 12-year-old part-bred Arabian gelding Magical Merlin. Gemma said: “I was full of nerves as we lined up at the venue as this was our first ever group start. I asked Merlin to stay at the back of the pack and take it steady and he was so good. I got Merlin as a scruffy 18-month-old, his condition was quite poor but he was a really chilled out little horse so I couldn’t resist and bought him.
“We did our first pleasure ride back in 2014 and our novice season started in 2015 which went very well. We upgraded to open in 2016 but disaster struck when he injured himself striking into his tendon and managed to damage 80% of it. After two years off by some way of a miracle he came right and our endurance riding commenced again! We had been easing him back in slowly until this year where we have done two 80km graded rides and this was our first 80km competitive endurance ride at Red Dragon.
“Becoming Advanced Champions is very unexpected. From Stevenage, our local training is in East Anglia at King’s Forest, so we work in flat country. I knew we couldn’t go charging up the hills so we went round very slowly, but it paid off in the end. I was just so pleased we got back safely and in time and becoming advanced champions was just the icing on the cake.”
Dorset-based Georgie Davis and her registered 15.2hh 14-year-old Welsh Section D Plasbach Twm (Thomas) took the Novice Championship. They train locally on the Dorset coast over all terrain including beaches, hills and forest tracks.
Georgie said: “Thomas is my absolute horse of a life-time. This is our first season in endurance together and wow what a year! He’s done seven graded rides this year and has always been sound and has always been quick. We competed at Cirencester as part of the Wessex Inter Regional team in the 64km Open class and he aced that and now this!
“I’ve never been so proud to work so in partnership with a horse. I couldn’t have found a horse as passionate about endurance as myself.”
Barry Jones, who also came second in the Northern Novice Championship, earned victory the Novice Championship novice rider and horse section with Son of Zebedee.
Cornwall-based Victoria Ham, won the 80km Little Dragon competitive endurance ride with her 14-year-old 14.3hh grey Arab gelding Cwyrtai Sharif and went on to compete with him in the 40km class on the second day but sadly Sharif was vetted out at the final inspection.
She said: “What a weekend! The highs and lows of Endurance! The two individual classes had been put together to make a special 120km class. The first challenge on Saturday was 80km and I ached afterwards having a keen pony who pulled the whole way round. On Sunday in the 42km we passed the initial vetting and were looking good – I had planned on walking in however Sharif, as keen as usual, cantered across the finish line. Sadly, the vets decided Sharif wasn’t 100% – he was tired and dragging his toe so there was no completion for us but it was a wonderful weekend with back with endurance friends.”
The Welsh Championships, sponsored by Hadley Hargreaves Ltd, moved to Red Dragon from Pembrey Sands. The 80km Championships went to Sarah Ollis and Yawl Hill Pollyanna while the 65km Open Championship was won by Brecon-based Fiona Griffiths with Hope.
John Hudson, who organises Red Dragon with his wife Jane, said: “A huge amount of work went into this year’s event and we would like to express our thanks to our sponsors British Horse Feeds and The Golden Paste Company for their generosity and continued support as sponsors and to Steve Hughson and his Royal Welsh Showground team, the officials and the numerous volunteers who worked so hard and local landowners who welcomed us.”
“With the addition of the National, Pony Club and Welsh Championships after a difficult 18 months for everyone, this year’s Red Dragon Festival of Endurance was an opportunity for the endurance community to gather, compete and celebrate our sport at this wonderful venue.”
As well as the National and Welsh Championships, this year the event played host to the Pony Club National Championships offering Pony Club members from across the country the unique opportunity to take part in this prestigious endurance event. The Pony Club National Endurance Championship winner was 13-year-old North Shropshire branch member Scarlett Chapple riding her seven year old pony mare Tansy. Scarlett said: “Becoming National Endurance Champion feels amazing. I was really hoping for a good result but this was better than I had ever imagined! At the moment, I am the only rider in my Pony Club branch who competes in Endurance. I was hoping to do well so that I can promote the sport I love so much. Endurance riding means working as a team, with your Crew, your Farrier, your Vet and all your family or friends who help you get through the ride.”
Amanda Barton, trainer of the 2019 Pony Club Endurance Open Champions, New Forest Hunt Branch and one of the organisers of the 2021 Pony Club National Endurance Championships said: “The entries for Pony Club Endurance Championships were very heavily biased towards newcomers and grassroots riders this year. While the grassroots class is usually the biggest at Pony Club level it was unusual to have so few riders in the 25km, 36km and 54km classes. Pony Club think that this was down to the inevitable cancellation of some EGB rides due to Covid-19 and uncertainly at the start of the season which led to many not getting horses as fit as usual in 2021.
“Alex Powell, who rode the 36km, course came in with a fantastic speed of 11.6km/hr and heart rate of 40 beats per minute (bpm) and achieved the highest performance points out of all the competitors. Scarlett Chapple, aged 13, rode the 54km course on her own. This was her first time riding without an escort and she really did a fantastic job with a speed of 11.6km/hr and heart rate of 50 bpm. This was a really significant achievement.
“It was great to see Fleur Alexander from Swansea come in from the 25km ride with a heart rate of 43bpm and win the Best Condition Trophy, awarded by the vet’s decision among all the ponies that finished with a heart rate of 43 and below.”
Hattie I”Anson of sponsors British Horse Feeds said: “The Red Dragon event is certainly one of the highlights of the calendar in the sport of endurance and we are delighted to once again have been supporting this wonderful event with both of our companies British Horse Feeds and The Golden Paste Company. Our carefully formulated products are ideal for the endurance horse or pony and we always get such fantastic feedback throughout and after the event.”
Endurance GB Operations Director and Vice Chair Esther Young said: “Without doubt this was a marathon event for organisers John and Jane Hudson and their team of volunteers and Red Dragon rewarded that by delivering a really wonderful competition and much needed boost to our sport. Thanks to all their hard work, the spirit of togetherness which is the hallmark of this epic, bucket list ride was as strong as ever and we are grateful to everyone involved from the sponsors British Horse Feeds and The Golden Paste Company to the venue, all the helpers, ride officials, stewards, landowners, riders and their crews for being part of it.”
Janice Cockley-Adams and HS Echo
Gemma Grodkiewicz and Magical Merlin
Georgie Davis and Welsh Section D Plasbach Twm
Scarlett Chapple and Tansy
Photo credit: Kerry Dawson
Janice Cockley-Adams and HS Echo crossing the line
Photo credit: David Saunders Photography
For more information about Endurance GB, please contact Elizabeth Peplow T:07825082595 E: firstname.lastname@example.org?