Just Chaps thanks Iain Paterson for sharing his epic adventure Ride the Wide Coast:
Day three was a very early start. We were due to start at 5am but due to it still being dark our start time was held by 1 hour allowing everyone to start in the dawn sun. Due to my horse’s slow recovery time the night before (he was a big horse and took a while for his heart rate to drop below the required 64 beats per minute) I was last out but another rider had a tack problem so we started together and set out to catch the others. This stage was short with not very much beach, but we caught them quickly and the easy trails meant we made it to the vet check very quickly. Again, my horse took a while to pulse down, but we passed and I tucked into breakfast! The chasing group of riders of which I was part were not far behind the leaders and we had closed the gap by riding the previous section in the morning light rather than the dusk like the others had so we all felt hopeful we could catch them today and keep ourselves in the race!
The first riders set off while our horses were still in the hold and before long we were saddling up to begin the chase. The day was starting to really heat up, definitely warmer than the previous two days and not ideal conditions for the heavier Boerperd horses. We were almost glad when we came over the top of a hill and spied the second swim of the day, only a near vertical descent to the cool water! Once we reached the bottom there was a dilemma, straight into the river here, close to the sea and risk being swept into the waves or clamber over the rocks a bit further for a smoother swim. I went with the second option which I was glad of when I saw the other riders having to swim through the breaking waves after being dragged a bit further out by the current, my swim, despite having a sudden drop of a rock into the deep water was much shorter and less taxing by comparison.
After this everyone set off at a gallop along the beach, quite a stunning scene and definitely one I won’t forget! However, no one was paying attention to their GPS and at the end of the beach we realised we only had a 200-metre climb to the vet gate! This meant that we arrived on the top of the hill, exposed to the sun with hot sweaty horses with high heart rates. 15 minutes of frantic cooling with whatever receptacles we could find ensued, I ended up throwing cold water on my horse with a mug! However he did eventually come down and passed the vetting, only 18km to go for my tough second horse!
Having been slow to pulse down again I set off chasing the second group but caught them quickly, by this point I could work my GPS very well and could also read the country better, navigation was definitely becoming less challenging. This final stretch with our second horses proved to be tough, not only were there some steep climbs (and some equally steep descents) this was a section that featured a lot of the paths where you could touch the hill without leaning over on one side and dropped to the rocks/sea on the other. All you had to ride on was a narrow goat track, once on one of these tracks you couldn’t turn around, you just had to follow it to the end and hope your horse didn’t trip!
By this point my horse was getting tired and not being as careful as he could with his feet, not a nice feeling half way up a cliff, so I got off and walked a lot. The chasing group had also split up with a few of us leading the charge and trying hard to catch up and others opting to stay steadier and aim for a definite completion. The final steep descent to the final vetting for horse two and the horse change came around quickly and I kept the pace up ahead of the others to try and give myself the pick if the fresh horses. The heat meant my horse pulsed down slowly again and I wasn’t the first of my group to vet, but I was through and ran to pick my horse. This was one of the trickiest parts of the race, judging a horse purely on what is standing in front of you, no ideas about temperament, history or ability, all you have to go on is conformation, the look of their fitness and the expression on their face. However, my eye was drawn to a tall grey Arab and I picked him, from the reactions of the crew I knew I had got a decent one and saddled up confidently. Oh the feeling of a fresh horse again!
I set off gently to warm him up and upped the pace after a couple of minutes to catch the couple of riders of my group who were out ahead of me. We swam the first river about 4km from the vet check and made it across easily, I only found out afterwards that he had never swum a river before, only paddled across! I caught the other riders soon afterwards and we all set of in pursuit, I had been told once I had picked him that my horse, Rich, had great recovery rates and had done 80km two weeks previously so I knew he was fit and as such, kept the pace up. We covered the ground quickly but there was some serious climbs (although where wasn’t there serious climbs on this race??) so we never quite caught up with the leaders. Soon enough we were coming along the beach towards the first vet check with our new horses, I decided to risk a fast approach and hope that Rich’s recoveries were as good as I was told, they were and we passed quickly and opened up a gap on the other chasers. After having had Rich’s front shoes put back on (he lost both!) and a back one tightened I saddled up for the final stage of the day. Now I was only 12 minutes behind the leading riders and riding on my own, time to get a shift on!
I left the vet gate on a mission, I wanted to catch up as much as possible and at the same time, not be caught by the other chasers. This meant a lot of fast riding, thankfully this stage had good tracks and a lovely section through the Cwebe forest where I could make up time, this was where I learn that Rich had a cracking trot and we flew along. Within the last few KM we came to a series of long wooden bridges through the forest, I opted to get off and walk as I didn’t know how he would react, I needn’t have worried as he followed me over beautifully but it gave us both a break and meant I could appreciate walking through the treetops and admire the foliage and bird life.
I decided that since we had gone quite fast and the vet check and compulsory overnight hold wasn’t far that I would lead Rich the rest of the way. This was tough on my sore leg and we slowed up a bit but we made it to the vet check in good time! Having vetted through quickly I had made up a few minutes on the leaders and had expanded the gap between me and the chasers. I had Rich’s back shoe redone as I was worried about it and got a shower then headed to bed knowing that the chase was very much on in the morning and one way or another, I would be finishing this race tomorrow! 243km completed, 107km to go.