#1 here. When I said I would post a few photos of my little adventure, I didn't realise how much of a challenge that would be. So, please bear with me if there are lots and lots of photos...
I was in the Ardennes region of Belgium, near the borders with France and Luxembourg. It is a heavily wooded area, famous for its own heavy-built breed of draft horse. The "Route du Luxembourg Belge", in which I was taking part with Team GB, is a combination of a non-stop 24-hour relay road race, done with ten pairs of heavy horses, and ten special competitions that include everything from heavy pull, to voice-control only obstacle driving, two and four in hand sports (marathon) obstacle driving, logging and dressage. Our team was made up of twelve Percherons, four Shires, two Suffolks and two Comtois. We came in seventh overall in the road race, sixth in the specials, and eight overall (figure that one out!), out of twelve teams competing.
First of all, here is what the local big boys look like:
The Ardennais horse is pretty wild and woolly!
One of the first things that happened was the measuring, weighing-in and vetting of all the horses. Here you see Robert Sampson, one of the best breeders/trainers of draft horses in England, with his stallion Axl and Axl's "wife" Crystal. These two live together in the same paddock, and Crystal will be having a foal by Axl next spring.
Those rope harnesses, by the way, are a completely different kind of harness made by a German company. They are much lighter than the standard leather or fake leather harnesses. Ours were in our team colours, red and blue. Guess what colour I am planning to order for Violette?
One of Ken Young's magnificent Shires waiting to start in the voice-command obstacle driving:
Dan Brown's lovely Suffolk, Marigold, at the logging competition:
The road race started at 7pm and went until 7pm the next day. It was mostly run in pouring rain. Dan Young's Marigold and Obie started us off in Stage 1:
Claire McDermott's Tzena and Quetsche going through a town:
A brave Harry Sampson going through the forest with Galley and Isabelle:
In case you were wondering, every vehicle carries a driver and a groom. The groom stands at the back and stabilises the vehicle as it goes around bends and over bumps. The nickname for grooms is "monkey"!
The Shires, Storm and Fern, being driven in to to a relay by 18-year old Peter Young:
As each pair came into a relay, our team vet checked the horses' heart rates before the official race vet. The heart rates are of course an indication of how fit the horses are:
Robert Sampson's Axl and Crystal on a country lane:
One of the relay points was this rather nice privately owned chateau:
The last of the specials, on Sunday (the one day it did not rain!), was a four-in-hand obstacle driving competition. Eighteen-year old Peter Young drove his family's four Shires (Storm, Fern, Ebony and Willow) brilliantly to end up third, well ahead of drivers with years, if not decades, more driving experience than iim!
Peter then came to collect his prize riding Storm in full harness!
The very last event was a parade of all teams through the town of Libramont. We did a tribute to the big horses of the First World War with a six-horse hitch pulling a (fake) gun:
We also put together a "Lord mayor's Coach" from a standard marathon racing vehicle, pulled by the four Shires, and it turned out rather well!
And another vehicle was transformed into a hay wagon by the Brown family, pulled by its pair of Suffolks:
And last but not least, here are a few of us at the Award Ceremony:
My knee did remarkably well throughout, despite a pretty gruelling pace!