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12th-13th May 2009

Report by Mary Korn

Although it is quite a long time ago, I feel I must write to tell you what a fantastic few days we all had at the Golden Horse shoe in May this year. I have not ridden the Horseshoe for five years so it was my first introduction to the new venue. It is much better than the old one, situated on top of a hill just outside Exford, with easy access and lots of space. It is a perfect setting for this classic ride.

The weather was ideal for riding. It was bright and sunny with a cool breeze all weekend and for the ride on Monday and Tuesday. Exmoor looked its best with miles of moorland, fast flowing streams, bright yellow gorse and green beech hedges lining most of the lanes.

As always the route is 80km on each day, ridden clockwise on day 1, and anti-clockwise on day 2. The route map (produced by members of Exmoor National Park) was outstanding, and considered by all the riders to be one of the best they had ever seen. An attractive feature of the ride is that all the checkpoints are sponsored with the name of a horse and indicated by a signboard. The vet-gate was at Erwood and well set up, again with plenty of space for horses and crews and the vetting area sheltered from the rather keen wind.

The going was near as perfect as it could be which makes a big difference to the horse’s staying power. I had forgotten just how up and down Exmoor is. There are some seriously big hills and very steep descents. It is certainly a challenging fitness test for both horse and rider. There was very little roadwork and miles and miles of grassy stretches. One section in particular is memorable where the route follows the coastal path along the cliff top above Porlock with fabulous views across the Bristol Channel.

My crew had to work hard to keep up with me. The ride route is 50km. And the crew route was also 50 km. They shivered at the higher, exposed meeting places and were basking in the sun and eating ice cream when I met them at the lower more sheltered places.

There was very little between the group of us doing the final stretch on the second day. Unfortunately Dougall, in his eagerness to keep up with the ‘big boys’ in front, cut through a gate and left my stirrup on the gatepost. I wasted some time trying to sort this out and ended up causing some amusement to the commentator by finishing with one stirrup. Sadly, the end result was that Dougall and I were out of Gold time by three minutes.

Never mind about that - it was a great few days with the usual busy preparation, last minute flaps, nail biting vetting and great camaraderie. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Barbara Wigley and her fabulous support team have made a great job of putting one of the best-known rides back at the top of the calendar.

Highly recommended - I hope to see you all there next year.

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