4 minutes reading time (895 words)

A look back on the Europeans 2019

69285165_10220211348542569_738788603169079296_n foto Imke Lamsma

This is an old piece (4 years ago to be precise) I wrote after being part of the Dutch team for the 2019 European Championships.
It still resonates very much with me, especially now I have taken a little break from endurance until the youngsters are old enough to start. Watt and me will be doing other fun stuff in the mean time. 

Have a read, share if you feel like it and I hope it resonates with all of you doing endurance, or any other sport. You are not alone!

I'm writing this a week after I did the European Championships with Watt du Colombier. It was a week with a lot of emotions, in the UK mainly, but also abroad, a week with plenty of contemplating for me, and a lot of talk on social media. The concept of "agree to disagree" seems lost to social media it seems. In the years I have been doing endurance, much has changed. I have seen the speeds change, I have seen the riders change, I have seen the mentality change. But I have also seen a lot of very dedicated people that are still out there, doing the old style endurance. I hope I am one of them, though it is hard sometimes.

A lot comes down to money (and let's face it: when you have money it is a lot easier to compete in any equestrian sports, and people with money have always dominated in equestrian disciplines). What I always loved about endurance is that it was possible to compete at the highest level even when you had little money. I am a "glass half-full" person so I like focusing on the positive. There is already so much negativity out there!

5 years ago (2014) I decided that I would keep trying to achieve the best possible, with my home trained, sometimes home bred horses. With different qualities, all with their own little puzzles to solve to get the best out of them in the challenges I set us. I knew I would always struggle to be at the top in endurance, I have (very) limited funds, no sponsors, no rich husband, parents or horse owners so no vets to treat and check my horses (bar emergencies of course). But I have knowledge, determination (or perhaps sheer stubbornness ), a flexible timetable, reasonably good horses I can feed good food, grass and water and I keep my horses out 24/7 with rest and friends. I figured if I could do it, others could as well and I hoped I would inspire just a few people to try to aim for the best they could.

I am proud that I got selected for the Dutch team this year, even though me and Watt were living abroad in the UK. I am even more proud that we had a team of 100% home trained horses, of which 80% was ridden by the owner (100% by the trainer). A team with the same dedication and love for the sport as I have, and we helped each other and the riders around us where we could. That is endurance for me and that has not changed. We did not have luck on our side, but I believe that we could have done well as all horses are fine a week later.

And we were not the only ones like this in Euston Park, I think about one-third of the entries at the Europeans were riders like us, passionate people, that do everything to reach their dream, the goal they set with that 1 horse, with their (limited ) means. Team GB doing so well is the proof that this is possible and I am very proud to live and compete in the UK.

Am I not disheartened by the deaths, the speeds, the "robot horses" and quite possibly the doping? Yes I am, and I struggle day to day with how to keep my head up when more and more people have an opinion about "my sport" and about riders doing FEI rides . I struggle to motivate myself every day to go out there on my own again to make sure what I ask of my horse is fair. I struggle to get my ageing body fit, to get down to a weight in spring that is acceptable, I struggle with bad muscle pain after long rides or heavy training, and winters feel tougher every year. But giving up would mean giving up on "my sport" and I am not ready to do that.

I am too stubborn to give in and give the sport to those who compromise lives. As long as I have a horse that likes the big rides I will ride (not RACE) them. And with a horse that prefers a different type of ride I will do those. There is endurance out there for all of us, as long as we are willing, willing to learn, willing to reflect, willing to adapt to what is needed and most importantly, willing to show the other side of the coin: healthy sport with healthy horses.

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