Jeni Gilbert Talks Endurance with Everything Horse
In this article we talk to HorseHage & Mollichaff-sponsored endurance rider, Jeni Gilbert, who is based in West Yorkshire, to find out how she became involved in the sport of endurance.
Jeni is a former Novice Champion, Endurance GB Senior and Supreme Champion (2007, 2011) and winner of several other titles. She competes on her Connemara, Ballydoolagh Alfie, who has now completed more than 2300km in 48 competitions in his five-year endurance career – an impressive feat for a native breed in a discipline that is dominated with Arab horses.
When and how did you first discover your love of riding?
I started riding as a youngster but due to moving around a lot it was difficult to continue so it was in the background until middle age arrived with the right job, money and time! I started riding at a riding school with lots of other adults and we had a great time, then one by one we bought our own horses.
How did you first get involved with endurance?
I started endurance riding in the early 80’s, spurred on my reading about the Golden Horseshoe Ride on Exmoor and being fully aware I wasn’t brave or talented enough for jumping and dressage. However, we did like riding for hours and exploring. I could also map read!
You don’t compete on a professional level, can you tell us more about your day job and how you fit the horse sport in around it?
For most of the time, I had my own business and so whilst very busy I was able to work around my riding hours. It helped enormously when we bought a house with stables and land. Now I am retired, things are much easier.
When and where did you win your first competition/title and how did it feel?
My first year competing with Flurrie was amazing – he really enjoyed long distance and he had the knack of relaxing as soon as we returned, which meant his recovery times were great. As a result, Flurrie was the Novice Champion in 2002 with a perfect score of 10 Grade 1’s! We also appreciated our crew that year and learned a lot about my new horse. It was amazing winning the trophy as we had never won anything before – we had just enjoyed riding in different places!
You’ve now campaigned and been very successful with two Connemara breeds, Flurrie and Alfie. What do you think it is about the breed that makes them a good horse for endurance?
As a breed they tend to be good to handle which is very important in endurance. They also are fairly tough so cope with different terrains. BUT you still need to find THE special one, there are no guarantees. I also look for good conformation, hooves, and legs that hopefully will become a sound balanced horse.
How did you come about purchasing Alfie and how has he differed from Flurrie?
As Flurrie and I aged, I decided it was time to find a second one. It was a very long, frustrating search as Connemaras are so popular. I eventually saw one that fitted the list and passed the vetting as well, so we were good to go. I was able to continue competing on Flurrie, while Alfie learned his trade.
What would be the top five points to consider when purchasing a horse for endurance?
An endurance horse needs to be sound, tough, good to handle, able to switch off and adaptable. A horse you will enjoy riding and one that will enjoy exploring different places.
What training exercises do you consider essential for your horse when training for endurance?
I would aim to vary the training so that you improve each aspect of the horse’s fitness – tough conditioned legs and feet, cardiovascular, agility, balance. Variety is provided with flatwork, jumping, poles, TREC etc. Training is needed to keep consistent paces and ride your own ride. Rider fitness is also very important so you can help your horse.
How do you mentally and physically prepare yourself before competition?
I try and ensure that we are both at the right level of fitness for the type of ride. The training tapers off the week before, new shoes are fitted and the packing list is checked. It takes a while to pack everything for Alfie and me especially as the weather can change so quickly! We always try and ensure that everything under my control is as good as I can manage. After that, luck takes over.
Does Alfie have a special diet? Does it differ greatly from other horses competing in other disciplines?
Alfie enjoys his food so it makes things easier. As an endurance horse, he needs lots of fibre and oil, and he receives this from Mollichaff Hoofkind Complete. He enjoys this feed and eats it even at a busy venue during a ride. It’s important that Alfie’s diet provides all the vitamins and minerals he requires and Mollichaff HoofKind Complete, when fed at the recommended levels, provides these. If he is working very hard I will also include additional minerals and vitamins and maybe electrolytes. At competitions, he drinks well as he loves sugar beet water. So far we have not had to supplement this feed as he has always had lots of energy!
What would you say are the most difficult challenges of riding endurance?
Riding at home your horse can become bored so you need to provide variety – box up and go to new places, ride with friends, try other disciplines and/or use pleasure rides to keep him interested. The time for resting is at the back end of the year so January is the time to start training again. Sometimes it is hard to motivate yourself to go out in the cold/wet to ride your horse, but it is so worth it when the day is cold, crisp and sunny.
What advice would you give to a rider training their horse for endurance?
As you work your horse you can seek advice from those who know. Regular vet checks will be needed, teeth will need checking, shoeing is frequent, physio checks are appreciated, tack and saddles need checking. Your horse will change shape and as you are asking a lot of your horse you must make sure your horse is happy and comfortable. You as a rider will need training and you need to ensure you are fit so you can help your horse travel over the terrain in balance. You will have a great time and so will your horse.
For further information on Jeni Gilbert and her sponsor, HorseHage, visit visit www.horsehage.co.uk or call the HorseHage Helpline on 01803 527257
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