En­durance Red Dragon

Tough con­di­tions re­ward ex­pe­ri­ence as a once-re­tired 20-year-old horse is crowned na­tional cham­pion

Horse & Hound - - On The Cover - By KIRSTIE GRAHAM H&H

Festival of En­durance

Bri­tish Horse Feeds’ Red Dragon Festival of En­durance,

Builth Wells, Powys

FIF­TEEN com­bi­na­tions lined up in the cold and wet at Royal Welsh Show­ground in Builth Wells to head up to the re­mote Welsh hills. Thirteen made it safely through a gru­elling day of re­lent­less rain and hill fog. Four com­bi­na­tions were spun af­ter the overnight hold then one re­tired early on course.

With in­ter­mit­tent driz­zle con­tin­u­ing the next day on to al­ready wet and now churned tracks, this race was about skill and ex­pe­ri­ence, not speed. By the fi­nal vet­gate, Lau­ren Mills and Oak­leaze Farm Czarko, aged 20, had a 15-minute lead as fog de­scended over the hills.

Lau­ren forged ahead, her ex­pe­ri­enced old boy tak­ing her safely home, to can­ter tri­umphantly over the fin­ish. This was a mem­o­rable and clas­sic feat of en­durance show­ing the trust built up over the years and miles between a horse and rider. This part­ner­ship took the class in

2014 and have been young rider na­tional cham­pi­ons and now won the na­tional cham­pi­onship.

It was a fairy-tale re­turn to form for Czarko, whom Lau­ren re­tired from top com­pe­ti­tion two years ago when he sus­tained a ten­don in­jury.

“He has been a training part­ner for my other horses and ended up so fit and full of beans, I had to give him a job to do,” Lau­ren said. “I rode the sec­ond day on my own, which is an ad­di­tional chal­lenge, but we know how to keep each other go­ing.

“Czarko is not the eas­i­est horse — he is strong and spooky. He wants to win and needs a rider that will let him do his own thing but help him out when needed. As we reached the bot­tom of the last hill, I spot­ted the two be­hind me over my shoul­der. He must have sensed it as he flew home and didn’t stop can­ter­ing un­til he crossed the line.”

SEE­ING DOU­BLE

THE two she spot­ted were Sarah Roger­son and the one-eyed War­rens Hill Rubyn and Rachael Cratch­ley on Open T’Of­fers, the iden­ti­cal twins cross­ing the line to­gether on their match­ing grey horses, caus­ing a few peo­ple to won­der if they were see­ing dou­ble. The pair had stuck to­gether at the back of the pack for a well­con­sid­ered ride, just pulling away af­ter the last vet­gate.

With War­ren’s Hill Rubyn tak­ing sec­ond, it was ground­hog day for Rachael Cratch­ley’s and Open T’Of­fers, who were third in the class last year.

This ride was about bat­tling the con­di­tions and the ter­rain and Open T’Of­fers, who won the Cairn­gorm 100 this sea­son, was awarded “best con­di­tion”, a tes­ta­ment to tough­ness over the hard­est rides Scot­land and Wales have to of­fer.

The win­ners of the Bri­tish Horse Feeds Lit­tle Dragon

80km ride, and the in­au­gu­ral En­durance GB ad­vanced cham­pi­ons, were Sally Mcil­waine and Mah­bubti, but ev­ery­one who sur­vived one of the tough­est Dragons went home feel­ing like a win­ner.

The wet con­di­tions are no prob­lem for Lau­ren Mills and 20-year-old Oak­leaze Farm Czarko, as they win the 160km na­tional cham­pi­onship

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