WELL-known endurance rider Helen McFarland from Co. Down, writes:
I had the recent privilege of saying a final goodbye to ‘Just Paddy’, my equine companion for over 30 years. Without the benefit of ‘Paddy’s’ indomitable spirit and iron constitution, I would never have gone on to enjoy an endurance career, which has enabled me to compete all over Ireland and Britain, as well as further afield and to have the honour of representing Ireland at European and World Championship level and at the World Equestrian Games.
‘Paddy’ and I started out together in mid 1990 and spent several happy years hunting with the North Down, flying round cross-country courses and doing all the usual Riding Club activities. Nothing ever seemed to tire ‘Paddy’ out and when we took up the newly emerging sport of endurance in 1995, he made swift progress through the various qualification levels at 20, 25, 30, 40 and 50 miles, with ILDRA (Irish Long Distance Riding Association).
I caught the endurance ‘bug’ myself and quickly became addicted to the fascinating challenge of competing over long distances, riding across different terrain and adapting speed and tactics to my horse’s level of fitness. But I can still remember the astonishment I felt when Lorraine Sloan (whose help and guidance were invaluable to me as a very novice endurance rider), casually mentioned one day that she was training to do a ride of 100 miles in a day – I had no notion such a thing was possible, 50 miles seemed more than enough!
My concept of impossibility was however no barrier to ‘Paddy’, who became the first ILDRA qualified horse to ride 100 miles in a day at the 1997 Summer Solstice Ride at Wincanton, England.
It was a long day – a 4.30am start and a 10.30pm finish with many lonely miles in between – which might have deterred a lesser horse, but it merely gave ‘Paddy’ the chance to show his mettle… and his mettle consisted of a supremely powerful trot (his cruising speed in trot was once clocked at 30 miles per hour by a following crew car!) and a refusal to admit defeat. This stood him in good stead for our next competition, a one-day 100 mile (or 160km as it is now known) FEI 3* ride in the Glen of Imaal, Co.Wicklow.
Out of 20 starters, including former Tevis Cup and Quilty winners, ‘Just Paddy’ was the only horse to finish the punishing route over the most mountainous course in Ireland, coming home with only minutes to spare just after midnight and becoming the first horse to competitively complete 100 miles in a day in Ireland.
I believe he remains to this day, the only ILDRA graded horse to have won a one-day FEI 3* 160km ride.
His exploits had by this time attracted a lot of attention within Ireland, where there was an explosion of interest in endurance riding – and further afield – from whence came requests to ‘name my price’.
Suffice to say, ‘Paddy’ was not interested in moving!
More heavy duty endurance rides followed – the 120 mile (200km) FEI 3* Al Maktoum Cup; the Moors and Dales 100 mile ride; yet another Summer Solstice 100 mile ride and many ‘shorter’ rides of 50-75 miles (80-120km).
‘Paddy’ also took his familial duties seriously, winning competitions and championships for my daughters. He took part in endurance events for 12 consecutive seasons, amassing a total of over 3,500 competitive miles (5,630 km) before cutting back and eventually retiring to a country retreat!
Have I yet mentioned that ‘Paddy’ was a (fairly unprepossessing looking) 14.2hh chestnut gelding, with masses of attitude (the threat of his teeth was legendary amongst endurance vets), a fixed belief that he was a stallion (he assiduously ‘covered’ my mares and was very pleased with himself when one who had been put to a real stallion, produced a foal!) and an unshakeable sense of his own superiority.
I was very privileged to partner him all those years and even more so to support him through old age and a fitting exit. My thanks are due to Chris Akkari of Ringneill Equine Clinic for both his professionalism and kindness.