Report & Results:
The Home International and Celtic Challenge competitions are among the most important events in the British and Irish endurance calendar and are the eagerly awaited culmination of the year for many endurance riders. With classes for every level from complete novice to experienced race rider, this year’s competition at the Red Dragon ride in Wales had record numbers and a really exciting atmosphere.
The 2019 Irish teams were open to riders from all recognised Endurance clubs in Ireland - given that Ireland had not taken part in last year’s competition, ILDRA was doubly delighted to be able to field two full teams this year, particularly as circumstances had removed some anticipated combinations from contention. In the event, Ireland was indebted to the generosity of Scottish Chef d’equipe, Francis Bakker, who kindly lent two horses for Irish team members’ use.
The preliminaries began on Friday with the team vetting (all horses successfully passed the pre-ride vetting) and the team parade - where the Irish unleashed their secret weapon - the leprechaun. Once set free, the leprechaun roamed widely, bringing havoc and mayhem to the Builth Wells showgrounds and further afield, over the Welsh hills, before being placed under matrimonial constraint and shipped back across the Irish Sea!
Competitors in the 2 day rides - 160km (100 miles), 120km (75 miles) and 80km (50 miles) and the 1 day 80km (50 miles) rides all set off from the venue early on Saturday morning to tackle the infamous ‘Red Dragon’ hill. Visibility on the top was virtually non-existent with heavy fog shrouding the landscape. Ground conditions varied from reasonable to deep and slippery and riders needed to exercise caution over the difficult terrain. Unfortunately by the end of the day Ireland had lost two riders, Savanja Frissen in the 160km class and Helen McFarland in the 80km class were both eliminated for minor lameness, however Mary Thompson and Sarah O’Neill both finished the 1 day 80km class, Jenni Cunningham and Scarlett Chapple successfully completed the 48km class and Claire Barry, Lois Cooper and Nathan Sweeney all sailed (or rather rode!) effortlessly through the first day of their 2 day 80km rides.
Riding conditions deteriorated overnight with further rain and the next day competitors were slogging through deep mud and heavy going over the unforgiving Welsh hills. The Irish team was to suffer one further misfortune when Esther Groen was eliminated at the start of the second day of the 160km ride, however the remainder of the Irish team dug deep and finished without any further mishaps with Mary Thompson completing the final 40km of her 2 day 120km ride, Claire Barry, Lois Cooper and Nathan Sweeney finishing the second half of the 2 day 80km ride and Bree Rutledge and Robyn Catterall successfully making the grade in the novice 40km class.
At a Championships such as this, riding the competition is only half the story, with a huge amount of work going on before and during the event, undertaken mainly by the chef d’equipe and her crew. Ireland was fortunate this year to secure the services of Hannah Catterall as chef d’equipe - Hannah brought not only her boundless enthusiasm and energy to the role but also her own considerable experience as a competitor over many years. All of the team benefitted greatly from her informal but efficient approach and the invaluable support also provided by family members Kirsten Catterall and Kathy Conly.
Team spirit is one of the most elusive and difficult qualities to foster in any sport but it was certainly evident in the Irish teams at Red Dragon this year.
Having suffered a number of casualties, the Irish teams knew that they were unlikely to be in contention for the major prizes, however the final results were actually quite close, with some spectacular individual results for Irish riders - Mary Thompson took 4th place in the 1 day 80km class and won the the 2 day 120km class outright. The two junior riders, Scarlett Chapple and Lois Cooper swept all before them with Scarlett winning Best Junior in the Home Internationals and Lois winning Best Junior in her 2 day 80km class and Best Celtic Challenge Junior. (One for the archivist - Lois’ participation as a junior team rider is an interesting example of the ‘family’ aspect of endurance in that Lois’ grandparents crewed for the first Irish international endurance rider, Barbara Elwell in the 1990’s).
Final results placed the teams respectively third (Home International) and fourth (Celtic Challenge) overall, by relatively narrow margins.
Having experienced the highs (and some lows) of major competition, the Irish teams are now enthused and ready for 2020, when Ireland will host the Home International and Celtic Challenge competitions. Plans are well underway for running the event and potential endurance enthusiasts are planning their season already!
The input required to coordinate such a major event is massive - whether your talents lie in riding, crewing or organising, there will be a role for you to play - get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be part of our 2020 vision for endurance in Ireland. Details of forthcoming rides and news can be found on the ILDRA website www.enduranceridingireland.com or on our Facebook page.
See dedicated web site for information
The 2019 ILDRA Chef d'equipe, Hannah Catterall, is delighted to announce the the Home International and Celtic Challenge team that are heading to Red Dragon, Wales to represent Ireland in October!