The owner of a horse-riding school in Llangattock has qualified for the Equestrian Endurance World Championships in Verona, Italy with her horse, Balishla.
62-year-old Fiona Griffiths from Bwlch has run Golden Castle Riding School for 30 years but has always enjoyed competing in endurance as well.
She has spent the last 18 years training a horse to be fit enough to represent Great Britian.
Fiona and Balishla needed to gain many qualifications and win competitions to qualify including completing two gruelling 160km rides in one day.
Fiona said: “There’s a grading system you have to go through to progress to the next level.”
“This year I won at Kings Forest and at Rushford and I also won the Kings Cup this year.That made my horse qualify to go forward to the British team.”
Fiona is one of only six people in the country to go to the Endurance World Championships in Verona, Italy.
Explaining the time and effort she put in, Fiona said: “It’s a long-term project, it’s not something that happens in a day, a week or a month because not only do you have to be fit and strong enough to do it, the horse also needs to be.
“I train my horse four times a week for an hour and a half each time. Three times a week we will do fitness training and once a week he will be on obedience training.
“It’s a big commitment, not just for me but for my crew, the people that help me, the people who have to stay at home and work while I’m off doing this.
“There’s a lot of people involved that work very hard for me to be able to do this.”
Unfortunately, Fiona heard recently that the competition has been postponed until Spring 2023 due to the drought in Italy this summer.
Fiona said: “I am beyond words, I still haven’t taken it in. It’s so close to the competition and they’ve decided to do this.
“It’s taken me ages to get a horse to that level and then they cancel it last minute. I have just spent the entire year getting my horse ready, booking time off, accommodation, booking people to work and flights and it’s just been an absolute nightmare.
Fiona explained the competition requires a lot of water to keep the horses cool during their ride and it would be unfair to travel to a country and use lots of water where water is limited.
“We can’t just go into another country and use gallons of water when they are having their drinking water rationed.
“I understand why they did it but they’ve known all summer. Now we have to keep the momentum up and get excited to go in the Spring.
“People from America and South America have flown their horses to Italy already. I can only imagine how they feel.”
Although she’s disappointed, Fiona is excited for the spring and is hoping Balishla will keep up the good work leading up to the competition.
Fiona explained how the horses’ level the playing field in the sport and allow people of all ages to get involved.
“I can compete against people who are 20, 25, 35 whereas somebody at my age couldn’t compete against a 25-year-old if I played rugby or tennis.
“What I might lack in youthfulness, I have in experience.
“I have a lifetime of experience and I know my horse inside out, and I can tell when he’s right and when he’s wrong.
“You just know them so well that it becomes such a partnership.”
Fiona has a family full of horse enthusiasts as her daughter Sam and her granddaughter Alex also get involved in the action.
She said: “My daughter teaches at the riding school and she also crews for me. She knows the horses very well and helps me look after them. Shes like the pit crew at the grand prix.
“She can see what’s right and what’s wrong whereas I can’t always see these things because I’m the rider.”
Sam helps to teach people of all ages how to ride horses at the riding school that Fiona started in 1989.
She said: “My daughters an excellent teacher and we have people coming from all over to have lessons with us.”
Alex, also rides and has just started her competitive career.
Fiona said: “She’s also doing very well with her endurance and she’s at the top of the pony club league.”
Fiona and Alex have just been to the home internationals competition in Scotland where they both represented Wales helping the county gain first place.