Ride Reports

Red Dragon 2012

When telling people that this was to be my first time riding at the Red Dragon, the overwhelming response was ‘you’ve never ridden at the Red Dragon???’ This isn’t strictly true - many years ago I rode out from Llanwrtyd, original home to the ride, but despite many years of crewing, I really hadn’t ridden out from the Royal Welsh Showground.
After a fairly underwhelming season what with the number of rides that been cancelled, I entered for two days with some trepidation. Spanish Minx aka Cisco is getting on now and a lightweight pony with a heavyweight rider isn’t the best mix, but I decided that our best option was to have a rest day in between rides, and so I entered the 42km CR on Friday, then the 36km CR on Sunday. Choosing to move house in the same week as the ride wasn’t the best idea, but I was quite excited - I was finally going to ride at the Red Dragon!
Friday dawned dull but dry, and after a 7am start we arrived at the showground in Builth Wells in good time for vetting. I had previously decided that I was riding to complete, and had only worked out speeds for 10kph, the minimum speed permitted for a CR - because of this I left after mum so that Cisco wouldn’t be tempted to overdo herself by racing her buddy! I may not have ridden here before, but Cisco has, so luckily she was happy to walk up the first hill to conserve energy. Out on top the views opened out - what a fantastic sight to see the Welsh hills stretching out into the distance - I’m not sure if it was a Wordsworth moment or a Red Dragon moment, but I felt like I was that wandering cloud! Despite the climb, Cisco was ready to go and we cantered over the hillside. As we approached the route split and I saw the horses I had been riding along with head off to the left, I didn’t realise that this would be the last time that I would see anyone else on this ride, although this was probably just as well!
Having crewed here so many times in the past, I recognised CP1 ahead and thought to myself that ‘it’s just a bit of a climb to CP2 from here’. How wrong I was! We walked up what felt like a neverending hillside with no sign of any horses either ahead or behind us. Cisco felt tired and I was worrying about her, and despite stopping and offering her water at every pool we came to, she wouldn’t drink, although she did have a big wee in one! She still felt tired as we skirted past the forestry where they were felling some trees and the smell of pine was a sweet and welcome distraction; very soon after this the route turned right and she perked up - maybe she recognised where we were or maybe it was just because we weren’t climbing anymore, but she had a second wind that carried us past CP2 and onto Glascwm hill. Despite rutted tracks, we were both enjoying ourselves again, riding alongside a hovering red kite at one stage, and all too soon we were descending into the valley. I got off and jogged down the hills to try and spare Cisco as much as possible, and we were soon climbing again from CP3 up and over the hill, and there saw that wonderful sight of the venue down below. After a limping jog down the hill (my toes were pretty sore by now), we hit the valley and trotted all the way back in. Mum had finished and vetted by this point and she met me with a very welcome slosh, then helped to crew me at the end. As I’d ridden to complete, I decided not to hang around to vet and presented 10 minutes later. Cisco was tired but had a pulse of 49 and a good sound trot-up, so I was happy.
Cisco may have had a rest day on Saturday but I didn’t, and I was out crewing mum on her second day’s riding. The weather was lovely despite the overnight downpour, but we all felt a bit flat when Ptolly was vetted out lame at the end of 48km. It also focused my mind on the next day - were we up to all of those hills again? That evening we went to see Harry Adshead giving a talk on his and Lisa’s long journey from Wales to the Red Sea (if you haven’t already heard or read about it, look it up on the internet) - by the end there was barely a dry eye in the house!
Sunday dawned all too quickly, although when I say ‘dawned’, I mean struggled to become light through the heavy mist! I was still stiff from riding on Friday but once I was back in the saddle and warming Cisco up everything felt better, including her. She towed me down the trot-up and I felt as though I was on a different horse as we set off. We left the venue with a lovely lady called Camilla and we rode together as far as the route split - Camilla was riding her 25-year old horse, but I whispered to Cisco that I would probably let her retire at the end of next season when she’s 22! Both horses had powered up the hill, where we rose out of the cloud to a stunning sight of hilltops forming a giant bowl of creamy cloud below. Once again I limp-jogged down the hill to spare Cisco, although she moves much faster than I can on tarmac so once on the road I remounted. At CP3 we had then added bonus of crew which I really think helped to perk Cisco up, then up Rhulen hill where we spotted riders ahead - what a pleasant sight after the loneliness of Friday! Cisco cantered all the way to Llandeilo hill while I waxed lyrical about the beauty of this ride and the sheer joy that I was experiencing in riding it. CP4 came soon enough and more sloshed and drinks, and we were climbing Aberedw hill for our final push. Cisco set off at a fast walk, which gradually became slower. We were overtaken near the top by a large group of other riders who I let go on, but as the terrain levelled out Cisco asked to go on and I listened to her, and as she marched me back down the hill, we caught up with a few friends. For the first time this weekend, Cisco was pulling, so we stayed with Hilary and Karin all the way back to the venue, and it was with beaming smiles that I crossed the finishing line. Knowing that we’d gone faster, I took the full time before presenting to the vet, where Cisco had a 42 pulse and she took me for another fast trot-up! Big Smiles all around and a hug for my little pony who then marched me back to the plot as though we’d only been for a short hack!
What a contrast two days of riding can have - everything that everyone has ever told me about the Red Dragon (it’s hard, it’s hilly, it’s stunning) was absolutely true - it’s a difficult and testing ride, but it’s also beautiful and a real achievement, whatever the distance you’re riding.
Thank you to everyone involved in this ride, from organisers to landowners, from stewards to crews - it was well worth the effort.

Bethan Jones

Prince Llewellyn Ride (Part of the Great Dragon Ride)

Twenty-nine riders from Wales & England set off from Dr Sarah Myhill‘s home in Llangwnllo, near Knighton, Powys. (Dr Myhill is Joint Master of the Teme Valley Hunt). Two support vehicles would be transporting all of our gear from farm to farm and would be available to pick up any lame horses (or riders).
This was the first day of the ride and took in the Radnorshire hills. After 5 hours in the saddle we arrived at our first stopover, a small holding called Green Cottage in Llanbister. All of the mares were turned out in one field, all of the geldings in another. That evening we had a lovely barbecue where we got to know one another before bedding down on camp beds in the barn.
After a 6.30am start we packed up our gear and loaded it in the lorry. Breakfast was in the barn - an all-you-can-eat affair. Then the horses were brought in to the same barn, tied up and fed (all of which was provided). After tacking up we were away by 9.00am. It was awful weather but we just got on with it and put up with the soggy weather. The scenery was fantastic and there was hardly any roadwork, lots of lovely tracks, but also some really challenging terrain - some serious bogs, but the horses coped brilliantly and all of them coped really well. Lunch was held in a forestry where we were met by our food vehicle for a buffet meal with plenty of food. The horses were all tethered in lines while we refilled our tanks, then we set off again for our afternoon session. Eight hours after starting we arrived at Geraint Hughes’ farm, north of Llangurig. The horses were turned out in the same arrangement as the previous night and once our camp beds were set up in the barn we headed off to the pub for a good meal, plenty of banter, then back to the farm to bed.
Another 6.30am today, this time with a fry-up. In came the horses for their breakfast, then tack on and off by 8.30am. The weather was much improved and once again there was lovely riding up to Plynlimon. We had a swim in a huge lake, and following a similar lunch to Wednesday we had some serious riding, including a huge ravine to come down - we all had to dismount and lead the horses down, then back up the other side! Some more lovely tracks to our overnight stop at Esgair Fochnant, a lovely farm with super grazing, and the ultimate luxury - showers! After 9 hours in the saddle we spent a lovely evening in the farmhouse, where we all had a delicious meal cooked by Heather and her husband who own the farm. There was lots of drinking and cracking of jokes before we finally made it to bed at around 12.30am.
Yet another 6.30am start on a lovely day. Breakfast was in the farmhouse while the horses were fed - they didn’t want much as they were too full of grass! We set off at 8.30am for our last day of riding. No lunch-break today and some quite wet going. We rode through Hafren Forest and crossed farmland to eventually reach Borth by 3.00pm. We all rode through the sea all the way to Ynys Las. After 7 hours in the saddle with no lunch break there was a huge barbecue waiting for us, and Ken met me with the trailer.
Saffie and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and will definitely be up for it again next year.
Organised by Dr Sarah Myhill, this ride is an annual event and has been run now for around 15 years. It is roughly 85 miles of riding - if you’d like to see some pictures then go to Youtube and type in ’Across Wales Ride 2012’. If you fancy a challenge then consider this one.

Val Mapp

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