The British Horse Feeds Red Dragon Festival of Endurance is traditionally the last big competition and culmination of the endurance riding season, with competitors and their horses from all over the UK travelling to the event for the unique atmosphere and spectacular riding through the Cambrian mountains. This year’s event was held between 29 September – 1 October 2023 and staged at the Royal Welsh Showground, Builth Wells.
British Horse Feeds (BHF) and The Golden Paste Company (GPCo) have been dedicated sponsors of the event for a decade. Our involvement extends beyond presenting prizes and setting up a stand; we also actively engage in the event. Avid endurance supporter and Customer and Sales Coordinator for The Golden Paste Company, Hannah Elsworth went along to crew for rider Helen McFarland who was competing for Ireland in the Home International. Hannah said “What a weekend I had! I arrived on Thursday evening and had been invited to the landowner’s meal at the local community pub in Aberedw which is organised by John every year as a thank you to the landowners. The landowners are so accommodating towards the endurance ride from moving livestock, keeping gates open and allowing over 100 horses across their land. It was so nice to speak with the locals and see firsthand the support that the endurance ride gets from the landowners.” We understand the importance of the landowners, quite simply the event wouldn’t happen without them and it was a great opportunity for BHF and GPC to fund the reception to say thank you.
What's it like to crew for an Endurace rider?
Hannah went on to explain her role, “We travelled through the Welsh hills to rendezvous with Helen at each check and crew point throughout the day before heading back to the venue to watch Helen and Lima cross the finish line. It was a very proud moment to see Helen and her horse, Lima, complete the challenging 80km course safely and successfully!”
Helen added “Lima (Chalima de Gueyte) joined my yard just before lockdown and Red Dragon this year was her first experience of travelling, staying away and competing at a major event. She more than exceeded all my expectations, eating and drinking well, coping with the exciting atmosphere and generally being a delight to manage and ride.”
Having been competing at endurance events for many years, Helen was a great person for Hannah to learn from “I first got the endurance riding ‘bug’ in 1995 when I was the novice rider for Ireland on the Celtic Challenge Team and have since then competed both nationally and internationally all over the world, but nothing brings me more joy than the satisfaction of completing the long, challenging, hilly rides such as Red Dragon, Golden Horseshoe or Cairngorms with a happy, healthy horse.
I’ve accumulated 22,354 competitive km (13,890 miles) in my career to date, having been fortunate enough to partner a relatively small number of incredibly talented and tough little horses, the most successful of whom – J.St.Jake – notched up over 10,000 competitive km, including the 160km Red Dragon six times and the Cairngorm 100 miles four times, on the final occasion at the grand age of 24!
Endurance riding in GB and Ireland is essentially an amateur sport – with horse welfare being the axiomatic factor – in which rider, horse and crew all have interdependent roles to play and I hope that my crew this weekend, (husband David, friend Les and on course assistant Hannah) all derived both enjoyment and satisfaction from a job very well done!
Unlike many more specialised equestrian activities, endurance is literally open to all kinds of horses and riders, with classes for every distance and ability catered for.”
What's involved at 'vet gates' during an Endurance ride?
Hannah explains her experience “When we arrived at the first vet gate, Helen had a holding time of 40 mins from the first vetting. Upon arriving, Lima was stripped of her tack, cooled with slosh bottles, and offered a drink. David then got on with checking her heart rate (their heart rates must be lower than 64BPM when presenting to the vet). During the vetting process, Limas heart rate was checked, eyes and gums assessed for dehydration, as well as checking legs and muscles and then she was trotted up before the vet decides on a fail or pass.
Back at the crewing area, a buffet of feed was waiting for Lima but she had her mind on one thing – Sugar beet! Lima happily munched on her sugar beet, carrots, and grass whilst Helen also had a well-deserved rest and re-energised before getting tacked back up and heading back into the Welsh hills.
The second time at the vet gate was very similar, but this time Helen and Lima presented to the vet and then re-presented 10 minutes before heading back on the ride so that left a 30-minute hold instead of 40 minutes. After Lima’s first vetting Helen was informed that Lima had a slightly tight hamstring, so it was back to the crewing point where Helen asked me to massage it. Lima was then kept walking to prevent any stiffening. Lima passed the second vetting and off they went.”
Who came out on top?
Several trophies and awards were sponsored by BHF and GPC throughout the event. In the two-day 160km CER, Linda Cowperthwaite and Newberry’s Ditto won the Speedi-Beet Red Dragon award, which includes a 12-month supply of Speedi-Beet. In this class, BHF also sponsored the ‘Best Condition’ prize, judged by the veterinary panel. This award also went to Linda and Newberry’s Ditto, who were part of the England Home International team.
The Eskalibar Shield was presented to the winner of the British Horse Feeds’ Little Dragon, a one-day 80km CER. This was presented to Saffron Bishop riding Hia Zimbabwe, who also won the British Horse Feeds ‘Best Condition’ award in this class.
Charlotte Allen riding Shadin Al Sahra took home the top prize in the Fibre-Beet Dragon’s Tail ride – a one day 80km CER followed by a 44km GER the following day.
There were also several single day GER classes at the event ranging from a 26km Foundation GER through to 80km GER.
In Endurance riding, the Crew plays an extremely important role which is recognised by the British Horse Feeds’ Best Crew award which, this year, went to Eilish, crew to Teresa Moore.
The Golden Paste Company is also title sponsor for the Home International which is a friendly competition run on an annual basis with each of the four countries, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales taking their turn to host the event. Although the Welsh team fought hard to win on home turf, it was Scotland who were eventually victorious with Wales taking second place ahead of England in third and Ireland in fourth.
Full results can be found here.
John Hudson, co-organiser of the event with his wife Jane said: “Jane and I are extremely grateful to British Horse Feeds and The Golden Paste Company for their support once again, for what is the tenth time that they have been involved. Their support is absolutely invaluable. We were also proud to deliver the event at which the Wales Endurance Team were able host the Home International team event this year. It was thrilling to see so many individual riders competing alongside those that had been selected to represent their country.”
British Horse Feeds’ Fibre-Beet and Speedi-Beet are a fantastic option for feeding an endurance horse due to the slow-release energy that these super-beet, soaked mashes supply. The fibre content in these mashes increases hind-gut fermentation which is one of the main sources of slow-release energy. Unlike other sources though, these stores can be used immediately to generate energy when the horse requires it. The addition of Alfalfa also provides quality protein for muscle tone and function while the optimal Biotin levels support the horse’s coat and importantly for endurance, keeps their hooves strong. The fact that these feeds are soaked before feeding also helps to keep the endurance horse hydrated, which can otherwise be challenging if they do not like to drink during competition.