England’s first Man V Horse race in the Quantock Hills ended in a horse and rider/human tie earlier this month (7 October).
The race has previously been run in Wales, with 41 events since 1980, and just four human winners in that time. On every other occasion a horse and rider has crossed the finish line first.
Twenty eight horses and their riders, and 46 runners took on the 23-mile course. It started and finished in the parish of Over Stowey, and included forest tracks, open moorland and steep hills, taking competitors to the highest point on the Quantocks.
Across the whole course, competitors climbed and descended a total of 1,000m. Dowsborough Hill, which came late in the course, was described as “brutal” and “emotional” and proved the toughest feature for many.
Some competitors were taking part in an event of this kind for the first time, while others were veterans of the Welsh race. The youngest rider and runner were both 24 years old, the oldest equestrian, 64, and the oldest runner, 67. Various breeds of horse took part including Arabs, cobs, Irish sports horses, thoroughbreds, warmbloods and local Quantock Hill ponies.
The joint winners completed the course in 3 hours and 11 minutes with the last runner/rider crossing 2 hours and 44 minutes later, just inside the cut off time of 6 hours.
The winning horse and rider were Glenda Smith, 54, and her 17-year-old Arab gelding, Boysey, from Cornwall and 29-year-old runner Robin Fieldhouse from Bristol. Glenda said afterwards that it was a “challenging race with a great atmosphere”.
Race organisers said animal welfare was paramount and the horses were assessed by a vet at the beginning of the race and again at the midpoint. Two horses were retired on course as they weren’t considered fit enough to continue, one pulled up early in the event, one pulled off a shoe and also had to retire and one went off course and had to be recovered by the event team. The other 25 horses and all runners made it across the finish line.
The race was founded by 88-year-old Gordon Green, who started the original Welsh Man V Horse some 40 years ago. His son, Andy, reached out to the organisers who were “thrilled” to have him at the inaugural Man V Horse in England.
The event was organised to raise awareness of men’s mental health and suicide prevention in young people. Over £1,000 was raised for mental health charity STEVE, and the winner’s trophy was named in honour of local Over Stowey resident, Gabby Treharne who passed away aged 17 in March, 2021.
Gabby’s father Jago Treharne, and grandmother Judy Treharne presented the trophy to the winners and spoke about how had Gabby still been alive, she would have been the first to sign up for the event, as riding over the Quantocks was what she loved.
Organisers plan to hold the event annually, with competitors already keen to take on the 2024 challenge.
“We wanted the course to show off the best of the Quantocks and to really challenge the riders and runners,” said Jon Dolphin, one of the organisers. “We talked to the Welsh event in the early stages of our planning to learn from their experience and even though we tested the course rigorously on horseback and on foot, I couldn’t have predicted that we would get a draw on the inaugural event. By luck or judgement, it looks like we got the balance just about right.”
Philip King, fellow organiser, celebrated the outcome of the inaugural race.
“From the outset we wanted an event that had the principles of friendly competition, compassion and community running through it,” he said. “We are a small community with a huge, welcoming heart. We were delighted that not just our competitors but our friends, neighbours, our amazing volunteers, landowners and supporters embraced the spirit of the event.
“Everybody who took part has been full of praise for everything from the weather, which we can’t take credit for, to the organisation, the friendly welcome and the sheer joy of competing that makes you happy to be alive. We are concerned to help people improve their mental health and we think this idea fits perfectly with this intention.”