Submitted by Karen Corr, Team Easyboot 2012 Member
Thinking back, I'm struggling to remember how it all started but I think I'll have to blame the other half - namely Bond (yes, it is his given name but that another story).
We'd already arranged to take the two youngsters on a training ride at Formby Beach - a beautiful stretch of golden sand on the northwest coast of England - the ride incorporates a section through the dunes and some pinewoods which are famous for their red squirrel population, now extremely rare in the UK. Neither of us had been to this ride for six years: last time we'd taken another two youngsters.
Bond works part-time at our local horse charity, HAPPA, which stands for the Horse & Pony Protection Association. HAPPA are involved in rescuing cruelty cases, re-habilitation and re-homing horses and ponies. One of the grooms, Jo Anderson, had just been voted Employee of the Year by her fellow staff members. He suggested to her that she have a go at Endurance since none of the staff really know what it involves and if she broadened her knowledge of equestrian sports it might help when looking at potential new homes for the horses or ponies in the future. Jo was definitely up for it, so he asked her if she'd like to ride our pony Squiggle at Formby. Yes was the answer.
The idea then developed that she could also try and raise sponsorship for the charity. The office staff put up a poster display of Jo receiving her Employee of the Year award and a photo of Squiggle competing with me, explaining what Jo was attempting for the first time.
The next step was for Jo to ride Squiggle to get used to her and also get used to riding a pony in Easybohttp://easycareinc.comots. Jo hadn't any real experience of boots. Some of the ponies have had them for rehab purposes but she had never ridden a horse which wears them. Squiggle is a 13.3hh, six year-old coloured cob. She was green broke when we bought her last November. Luckily she'd never been shod so had great frogs and soles but her hooves did need some work since they had flare and were unbalanced. She took to endurance like a duck to water. She loves going to rides so much she now trots up to the trailer to get in first.
Squiggle had already completed nine endurance rides in Easyboot Gloves before Formby, so she knew her job and was raring to go. The first time Jo rode her she was actually barefoot. We went on a slow ride to let her get used to the pony. Jo loved her and all I could hear behind me was Jo giggling. Squiggle has a way about her that just makes everyone smile: don't ask me what it is, it's just special. Two days later, Bond took her out on Squiggle - this time she had her set of Easyboot Gloves on and they flew round the tracks and woods on a six mile ride. Jo was amazed at the speed we actually ride and that the horses rarely want to walk, she also soon forgot that she was trotting on tarmac roads downhill: something she would never have done on a shod horse for fear of slipping. Squiggle is such a gem, so Jo reckoned she didn't need to ride her again before the big day. Sponsorship was coming in and she reckoned she wouldn't be able to sleep the night before, she'd be so excited.
Other people had become involved along the way: Jo's partner James (who actually doesn't "do" horses) and John, a volunteer at HAPPA. They both wanted to come along, so it was agreed that Jo and Bond would ride and James, John and I would crew. We'd also arranged to help two other girls who are new to endurance get round their first ride, so we were going to be busy.
Ride day dawned: we'd been praying for nice weather since just about every ride we've gone to this year we've ended up soaked right through. The weather was glorious. The gang arrived at our place just before 7am. There wasn't much room in my car once we'd got all the horsey stuff in, so Jo took her car with John & James, they set off first in order to get breakfast en route and meet us a couple of miles from the venue. We met up with Carolyn and Joanne, the other two newbies just before the motorway and they followed us in convoy to Formby.
We were some of the first to arrive, so set up a little display about Jo and Squiggle and their fund-raising at the secretary's trailer, got the number bibs, checked for any route changes and then unloaded the horses. I had put their Easyboot Gloves on in the morning to travel in, making sure to wrap each hoof in athletic tape. This ensures no twisting of the boots. Squiggle "dishes" slightly in front, but the athletic tape does the trick and they stay put. So all they had to do was tack up and go.
Carolyn and Joanne were going to ride with Bond and Jo until they got to the beach and then they would take the shorter route since we weren't sure how fit their horses were, so best err on the side of caution and not over-tire them on their first ride.
James, John and I watched them go, then jumped in the car and headed off to Checkpoint 1 which was in the pine woods just before they went through the dunes and onto the beach. At this point, I have to tell you a little bit about John. Born and bred in Liverpool, he could talk the hind leg off a donkey! He seems to have this knack of knowing something about everything and is very entertaining. As we drove up through the pinewoods, we came across the two ladies manning the check point, sat in deck chairs having their breakfast. Very civilised! I drove past and turned round to park up just below them. As we drove by John said "Oh my God, that's Sheila Brown!" OK, so Formby isn't far from Liverpool but who would've thought that John would've bumped into someone he hadn't since the 1960's - to cut a very long story short, John used to get the train from Liverpool to some stables in Formby as a kid to ride the ponies. Sheila was a local kid who did the same but they hadn't seen each other for years. We couldn't get them away from each other! Our four riders came through, James and I crewed them by giving them water to pour over their horses and offering humans and horses a drink.
Meanwhile, John and Sheila kept talking and talking and talking. We watched as the horses and riders disappeared into the woods.
Eventually we managed to tear them apart, I was sure that by the time we'd get to the next Checkpoint, which was on the beach, that we'd miss them. Off I hurtled, and we got to the beach. Next hurdle: can we get on without paying a parking fee of £5 for what literally could be a couple of minutes? We left John, who has a way with words, to try and charm his way on. The story he came up with was pretty amazing, involving top endurance horses being trained for 100 mile races (jeez don't tell Bond's mare that!). I'm sure there was some name dropping of famous race horse owners from Dubai, but to be honest the parking attendant was the wrong sex and there was no way he was letting us onto the beach in the car for free.
We retrieved John, who was very disappointed: I've never seen him fail yet. We dragged him over the dunes onto the beach on foot carrying containers full of water to slosh the horses. Unfortunately, where we ended up was quite a distance from the Checkpoint. We could see it in the distance and could see riders approaching it and turning round to go back down the beach - this was not good since our guys were almost the first out and I knew they wouldn't be walking all the way along the beach. We had missed them by about 20 minutes and the boys were slightly traumatised.
I knew that at this point Jo & Bond would probably reach the venue before us, so we legged it back over the dunes into the car and tried not to break the speed limit back to the farm. Just as well I'd left some water containers at the trailer since they had already untacked and started to wash the horses off by the time we got back. The crew got an earful, so it was all hands on deck to help them get the horses washed off and settled after their ride. Even James was seen holding onto Hamra, who took serious advantage of him being non-horsey by dragging him round, swishing her tail in his face and rubbing up against him - poor lad.
Jo had a fantastic ride on Squiggle. Her little fat hairy legs kept up stride for stride with the leggy Hamra on the beach and Bond said her stride length was amazing. Here's what Jo had to say about riding a pony in Easyboots: "The boots were surprisingly easy to fit, even though they are such a snug fit around the hoof. As a first timer, I could put them on and take them off without difficulty. My first experience of riding any distance in them was at Formby beach, and it was awesome. Instead of being constantly worried about greasy surfaces, downhill corners, beaches full of sharp shells etc., I could relax and enjoy riding more instead of worrying about falling, injuries and the general slipping about that goes on with metal shoes. We rode over a variety of surfaces - tarmac, mud, gravel, deep sand and wet sand. I am pretty confident that having boots on protected the sensitive areas of the hoof and the rest of the hoof in general, to the maximum. It's just like a person going barefoot, certain surfaces can cause shoots of pain and are uncomfortable, whereas if you've got trainers on, you are a lot more comfortable. For anyone wondering "should I?" then yes! I would definitely have Easyboots if I had a pony of my own. As a rider you feel more solid, especially on slippery roads and more importantly, your pony's feet have the maximum protection possible, which has to be the priority!"
Wow, what a testimonial for Easyboot. Jo also managed to raise over £200 for HAPPA, which they were extremely grateful for since, during the recession, they have really struggled to raise funds to keep the charity afloat.
And what happened Carolyn and Joanne? They arrived back with the most enormous grins on their faces. Joanne confessed to having something in her eye (might have been a tear of joy) as she cantered along the beach on her five year-old old warmblood. They were glad they didn't do the longer route but a week later rang me and asked me to take them out on a longer ride round home to help them judge the speed they should be aiming for. They have also entered the last two rides of the year and are going to become members of our regional group in 2013.
I got as much enjoyment out of helping these guys as I did riding, although I have to confess I was very jealous of Jo cantering my pony all the way along that beautiful beach. The grins in the picture above pretty much sums up the whole day.