THE 2018 Irish Long Distance Riding Association (ILDRA) Ulster Branch season kicked off with a New Year’s Day ride spent at the beautiful Gosford Forest Park. Horseback riding is always the perfect way to wish in the New Year and the CTR riders were out in force at this pleasure ride event to begin their training for the 2018 endurance season.
Several stunning venues have been visited by ILDRA during 2018 and many of these venues are the hidden gems of the Northern Irish countryside, offering beautiful off-road riding in safe, scenic landscapes. Whether those attending are keen endurance riders or pleasure riders, everyone always enjoys the day out with their four-legged companions exploring the endless trails. The enjoyment offered by attending Ulster Branch events is evident in all the riders, they always return from their rides with beaming smiles and kind words of thanks for the ride organisers, praising their hard work and admiration for the riding venues offered by ILDRA.
Knockmany Forest Park, another secret gem of Northern Ireland, offered further training and fitness work, perhaps for both horse and rider! This is the location of the Knockmany chambered cairn of an ancient passage grave, which is one of the best examples of passage tomb art in Ireland. The CTR season began at Tollymore Forest Park for a romantic ‘Valentine’s Ride’, followed by another CTR in February, which returned to Gosford Forest Park.
Shane’s Castle on March 11 coincided with Mothering Sunday and several Mother-Daughter pairings attended the ride. Not only as riders together, but as riders and their ever-faithful crew and drivers. Shane’s Castle saw the first CTR qualifier completed by Jocelyn Willis and her horse ‘Sam’ for their Silver Shamrock. Jocelyn and ‘Sam’ had only begun competing in the sport of endurance last year and are incredibly dedicated attending numerous CTRs throughout this year.
Jane Hobson and ‘Glenoran Steps’ commenced their endurance season together in 2018, having gained their Bronze Shamrock Qualification. Young rider Amy Murphy, who represented Ireland at the Home Internationals and Celtic Challenge in 2016, has brought her new horse, ‘Sweet Honey Bee’ to several rides and completed a Pre-Novice CTR at the rugged Cam Forest in April.
Ulster Branch enjoyed two visits to Woodburn Forest Park, with riders enjoying riding alongside the vast Woodburn reservoirs. On the second return in June, several riders (and crew and drivers!) enjoyed a BBQ on Midsummer’s Eve, a perfect evening spent in good company with good food. Always an excellent combination!
Something different was on offer for pleasure riders attending ILDRA’s ride on July 29 at Mill Yard Equestrian Centre, with the optional extra of using Mill Yard’s cross-country facilities after completing ILDRA’s pleasure ride through the rolling drumlin landscape overlooking secluded lakes.
Helen McFarland and ‘J St Jake’ continue to compete in endurance, with ‘Jake’ entering his 17th consecutive season of endurance and has successfully completed over 8,800km in competitive rides. ‘Jake’, despite being 23 years old, shows no signs of slowing down and has attended numerous CTR and pleasure ride events this year. Both Helen and ‘Jake’ successfully completed an 80km CTR at the Mournes Ride. A very mountainous ride requiring good fitness of both horse and rider, which takes in the hills of Tollymore Forest Park, along with a bridleways ride to the nearby summit of Slievenaslat offering breath-taking views.
A further CTR ride was held once again at Knockmany Forest Park in August, a steep summit climb proved once again to be an excellent training ground. The warmer summer riding conditions meant that many riders allowed their horses to splash through the river running through the forest park and have a well-earned cool-off and a refreshing drink.
On September 23, ILDRA headed back to the spectacular Florencecourt Estate in Fermanagh for the second time this year. A truly wonderful ride leading through gorgeous woodland across quaint wooden bridges, before climbing to the backdrop of Benaughlin Mountains, which offer stunning views across the Fermanagh and Monaghan landscape.
Some spooky sights were on offer at ILDRA’s annual fancy dress ride at Gosford Forest Park for Hallowe’en. Witches and ghouls could be seen haunting the forests! A final pleasure ride around Delamont Country Park treated riders to spectacular views of Strangford Lough.
Ulster Branch’s rides cover all areas of Northern Ireland from Cam Forest and Shane’s Castle in the North, Florencecourt and Knockmany Forest Park in the West, Gosford in the South and Tollymore and Delamont in the East. There are rides on offer which are accessible to everyone, these are just some of the many different venues, which ILDRA visits on a regular basis.
Thanks must go to all the members who organise rides, dedicating their free time to ensure that rides run and to the estate owners and Forestry Service who allow access to the venues. The success of Ulster Branch is testament to the dedication and commitment of the committee members, the rides offered within Ulster are simply spectacular and ILDRA encourages everyone of all ages to come along and enjoy the friendly atmosphere at each of their rides.
The success of ILDRA’s rides were reflected upon during the annual branch AGM and awards night on November 2, kindly held at Woodville House – thanks go to the Greer family for allowing access. Numerous shining trophies and beautiful rosettes were handed out to riders and horses of all ages and types. From pleasure riders to competitive riders, there are awards on offer for everyone.
The deserving winner of the coveted Top Horse prize was Jocelyn Willis and her horse ‘Sam’, completing an impressive 590km over the season at both competitive and pleasure rides. Jocelyn and ‘Sam’ also won the Novice Trophy for Bronze qualified horses and riders, closely followed by Jane Hobson and her horse ‘Glenoran Steps’, who began to compete in endurance this year.
Hannah Catterall’s horse, ‘Ellanora’, who is now 23 years old, won the Gemini Trophy for the horse competing in endurance rides for the longest. ‘Ellanora’ has competed for over 20 seasons in endurance and has introduced numerous riders into the sport of endurance and is still enjoying rides out. Hannah and her sister, Robyn Catterall also won the Family Trophy, closely followed by father and daughter riding duo, Declan and Rachelle Lynch coming in second.
Helen McFarland continues to dominate in endurance riding in Ulster, winning the Open Trophy, for gold qualified horse and riders, along with winning the Veteran CTR Rider award. Winners of the Veteran Pleasure Rider trophy was Vivienne Andrews and her horse ‘Sarah’s Pebbles’, who both enjoy attending ILDRA’s rides and exploring the countryside together.
Winners of the Pleasure Ride trophy were Emma Hayes and her horse ‘Dukes Court’, a 23-year-old ex-racehorse who previously competed in endurance and now enjoys racing around the trails at ILDRA rides. The winner of the Creaney Trophy, for the highest mileage completed by Leinster Branch members at Ulster branch rides was Mary Thompson, closely followed by Dermott MacGuinness and Martin McNamara. Both Mary and Martin have attended several FEI rides and successfully placed.
The Sunnie Smile trophy is dedicated to John Rogers and his horse ‘Sunnie’ and is presented to the ILDRA member who is voted to have the best team spirit. The winner of this year’s award was Kathy Conly, an incredibly deserving winner, who has devoted herself tirelessly to furthering the sport of endurance, offer encouragement and advice to riders of all levels and is a pillar of endurance riding within Ireland, both North and South. All winners of all trophies and awards are listed below.
Why not come along to some of ILDRA’s 2019 rides and try out some pleasure rides? The 2019 calendar will soon be available at www.enduranceridingireland.com.There is always plenty of help and advice on offer and ILDRA encourages everyone to have a go at endurance riding. It is truly a sport for everyone regardless of your age, your horse’s or your horse’s breed. You could be winning one of these stunning trophies next year!