For many, competing abroad is just a dream, only a few get the chance to take off to another country to experience global competition. But could it be more accessible then first thought? Colette Armitage spoke to Julia Sheppard from Finn Valley Riding Club to find out what’s involved with competing abroad, and whether it’s accessible to the amateur rider.
Julia Sheppard and her fellow team mates, Shirley Stagg, Rosie Stevens and Lisa Kenyon, were given an opportunity of a lifetime back in 2014, when they were selected by British Riding Clubs to represent Great Britain at the Generali World Club Tournament in France. Representing their riding club, Finn Valley, the tournament was a friendly international competition for clubs all over the world. The purpose of the tournament was to create a friendly event in which all members met riders from around the world and shared their culture. Secondly, it offered riders the chance to taste the atmosphere of an international competition with a nation parade and national anthems. The famous event takes place during the Parc Equestre Federal in Lamotte Beuvron, France. For Julia and the team this was their first experience of competing abroad.
The teams’ preparation was a careful balance between continuing the horses routines and being fully prepared for the alien territory ahead. From the outset, the prep to compete abroad would seem massive, but as Julia explains, only a few things needed to be considered, “Our horses were pretty fit out competing in the run up to France, but we did increase the fast work so they would cope better with the hot temperatures. On the logistical side, the horses had to travel with passports and an accompanying document by DEFRA to cross the border, these two things had to clearly match up. So we checked (and checked again), that the name and passport number were the same, this avoided any problems at the port.
“We checked with our insurance companies to ensure we were covered. Interestingly the horses were covered but not our tack, so some chose to upgrade to insure ‘sports equipment’ on their personal health insurance. The health of the rider was considered just as important, so we all had a medical check from our GPs prior to entering. We had to send a medical certificate stating that we were all fit to ride, which was a condition of entry to the World Club Championships and not a requirement for competing abroad in general.”
With all the prep done, the team was ready to go, except for a few last minute essentials. “All the horses have a vet check 24 hours before departure,” continues Julia. “The vet comes and checks their heart rates, and scans their microchips. They check health, eyes, nose and general fitness for travel. This is the paperwork which is required by DEFRA. Once DEFRA approve your travel arrangements, they send the paperwork to the vet, and the vet does the check. The paperwork is only valid for a short period of time so had to been completed at the last minute, hence 24 hours before. To make life easier we moved all the horses to Red House Farm in Levington, where they stayed the night before we travelled.
“We left at 6am the following morning and in that day we travelled to Dover, where we picked up the ferry to Calais, and then onto Paris and then south to Lamotte. We used Eastelm Horsebox Hire to transport the horses to France. They were fantastic and in fact, the driver Stephen Gardiner stayed the weekend with us to cheer us on. He was originally going to drop us off and then head to Spain but he was exhausted. The company was great, and now that they have bought a new box, you’ll be traveling in style. When thinking about competing abroad, definitely take into consideration the millage you will be doing, it can be a very long way – we didn’t fancy the drive ourselves, so hired Stephen to take the horses. The other great thing about hiring someone is that they know exactly what they are doing with paperwork, different road laws and care for the animals. Stephen took great care of the horses. He stopped regularly to water and feed them but they stayed on the lorry the whole time. After 13 hours, I can honestly say the horses looked very fresh, so all credit to him.
“With Stephen driving the horses down, we loaded everything onto the lorry and we then took two cars and got the ferry. We had hoped to get on the same ferry as him but we just missed it -the horsebox goes on the first available ferry to avoid waiting. I would recommend taking into consideration traffic and time of day. The traffic around Paris was horrendous and the temperature was close to 35°C – with no air conditioning this was very uncomfortable and we were all concerned for the horses wellbeing.”
While the journey and preparation are a new experience in themselves, you then have the added challenge of attending an all new equestrian event. While appearing very similar, competitions abroad will have intricate differences that may throw riders off. In an already stressful environment, any added alienation and confusion can make the whole experience that much worse.
Luckily for Julia and the team, they had each other to see them through the strangeness of the new environment. As Julia explains, differences soon became very apparent. “The way they look after their horses in Europe was a real eye opener. It was like our National Championships at Lincoln, but times ten – there were so many horses, arenas and people. We soon realised that the way they ride is all about speed not style, they like to go very fast.
“However, it was home from home when we arrived – it was pouring with rain! Like typical Brits on holiday, we didn’t think to bring waterproofs! All the similar issues that you get on holiday played out, the organizer Maridie Bourgade spoke only French, so we had some fun trying to communicate and understand each other. There were a few differences we found with the general organisation of the site. As Maridie directed us to the stables, we were surprised to find they were full of muck, which added another job as we cleared it all out. Then, everyone seemed to just chuck the muck outside stable (by those that actually muck out) – no muck heap insight.”
The biggest doubt surrounding competing abroad is the cost. Competing in the UK doesn’t come cheap, so adding the miles and the extras needed to go abroad comes at a price. Julia gives her estimates for the teams’ total costs, “The total cost was about £6000 but we managed to secure about £2000 in sponsorship so worked out to be about £1000 per rider. So yes, it was expensive but it was a chance of a lifetime. Logistically it took a lot of planning and several ‘team’ meetings. We worked hard to get sponsorship and as much publicity as possible, which helped to get more sponsorship. Our riding club (Finn Valley) were fantastic and gave us a considerable chunk of money.”
“The set up at the event was crazy. The horses arrived in a massive thunderstorm but we had to get them out after a long journey. Luckily they welcomed the fresh rain. While this turned the show ground into a bog, it soon to dried out in the heat. The horses went for a leg stretch and then had time to relax in their stables. We took them all for a quiet walk out in the evening.
“For our accommodation, the first night we stayed at a hotel in the local town. The next three nights we had booked a chalet at the local Centre Parcs. This was just down the road and it was very welcomed that at the end of a long day we were able to shower and get a good nights sleep. Since we had two cars, we were able to get back to the horses easily. There was tight security at the showground entrance so we were confident in leaving them. We had chance for some rest and relaxation, and even went swimming and used the water flumes. For most of us, this was also our summer holiday!”
A special experience
The chance to compete abroad is a very special experience, but it’s not without its stresses and challenges. So would they do it again? Julia is not so certain, but recommends the experience to everyone, “Interestingly we asked ourselves the same question. We all said that going again would not have the first time wow factor for us. It was a chance of a lifetime and we don’t think it would ever be the same if we went again. Having said that, Rosie Stevens from Finn Valley was fortunate to be selected last summer to compete in Ireland with the Riding Clubs Area 14 jumping Team. So I suppose you should say ‘never say never’. But I would thoroughly recommend the experience to anyone. Yes it was expensive and a challenge at times, but it was worth it. As four amateur riders saying we have represented Great Britain on our ‘riding club’ horses, that’s not something you hear everyday!”