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And photographs, if you have any. Special Interview
Mrs Golden Horseshoe - Barbara Wigley

Barbara WigleyThey call her, Mrs Golden Horseshoe.

They also say you need lots of endurance to keep up with her.

For Barbara Wigley, a busy, fast-talking, no-nonsense, endurance rider is the driving force behind what over the years has become one of the great, legendary endurance rides in the world.

Not that there haven't been set-backs along the way. In fact, at one time it looked as though the days of the Golden Horseshoe, which today covers 100 miles of the toughest terrain in the country, were very nearly over.

Barbara was born in Stretford, Manchester. Her family were distinctly non-horsey. Her father was a painter and decorator. Eventually, he opened a painting and decorating shop in nearby Urmston.

Barbara Wigley >>

"As a kid, I can remember begging and pleading with them to let me have a pony," she says. "When I was 11-years-old I managed to persuade my mother to let me have riding lessons. She agreed. But it was on condition I didn't tell my father.

Barbara Wigley"Then I can remember when I was 13 we went on holiday to a farm at Prestatyn, North Wales. The farmer had a grand-daughter, who had this little Shetland pony, which she couldn't ride. I said, I can ride. I'll look after him. Me? I had only had two lessons three years earlier.

<< Shushumi on the way to a gold award at the Golden Horseshoe 1985.

"When we got back home I went with a friend to another riding school, this time in Urmston, again without my father knowing. I used to go there before and after school. I loved every minute of it. I learnt to jump. In those days we just used to jump over oil drums. The only jumping lesson I had was being told, ‘Lean forward’. I used to muck out, even give lessons and I'd never had a proper lesson in my life.

"Eventually, my father found out. There were lots of arguments. He thought horses were dangerous. He thought going on the roads was dangerous.

Barbara Wigley"Then the riding school closed. I must have been 16 or 17. So I never got my pony."

Five-years later, when she was 22 she got married. With husband, Ian, she moved to Nuneaton just outside Coventry. There was a riding school nearby in Wolvey. They both promptly enrolled. Ian to learn to ride. Barbara to brush up on her riding skills.

Nic on Zara with a friend during a training ride in horizontal sleet/snow last year. >>

"My favourite horse was Sonny," says Barbara. " 15.2, part TB. I rode him for three years. Then I broke my ankle playing tig on horsesback, of all things."

Not only did that mean another break from riding but then came two children.

"My daughter, Nic, was sitting on horses when she was 10-months old. Twice she has been the national junior champion for endurance riding. She's ridden and won for the UK in Belgium. She's also ridden in Qatar. She did the first desert marathon.

"My son David has never been keen on riding, preferring city life to the countryside.”

Barbara herself discovered Endurance riding when she bought her first horse, Shushumi, an Arab x Connemara.

"A friend was going to sell her because she was pregnant. I said I'll have her. To pay for her I took on two extra jobs in addition to my day job. Eventually I raised the money. I was 30 years-old. I had my first horse.

Barbara Wigley"I thought she was going to be a jumper/eventer. I took her to her first event. She didn't like it at all, and couldn’t see why she had to go over the jumps. So that was it. No more eventing. So I just hacked her out. But I kept thinking, I must do something the horse likes. This went on for two or three years.

"Then somebody mentioned the Golden Horseshoe. I rang up the BHS and said I want to do this ride. What do I do? They said, The first thing you have to do is join the BHS. I joined. Then they said, You've got to get her fit and qualify at a 40 mile ride.

<< Barbara on Zara in fog at the
Golden Horseshoe in 2006.

"By 1983, she was fit and raring to go. Then she went and injured herself. I missed the first season.

"The following year, we were ready. When we arrived on Exmoor, WOW. She'd never seen countryside like it. Her eyes came out on stalks. We flew round the course. I was practically out-of-control. Shushumi was so excited she got the thumps and we were eliminated.

"From then on, it was a steep learning curve. I had to learn about things like diet. I didn't know anything about diets for endurance horses. Training. I had to learn about more specific training. But Shushumi was now in her element. She knew she was an endurance horse. Not a jumper. Not an eventer. But an endurance horse. This was what she was born for. And I thought to myself, If this is what she was born for, why try anything else?"

In fact, Shushumi was such a natural at endurance that prizes and awards came thick and fast.

"The following year," says Barbara, "we actually got a Gold Award. We turned up at Exford for the Golden Horseshoe. We went round the course at 8.8 mph. It was amazing. After that we went everywhere. We bred two foals from her. Even when she was 23- years- old she was still going strong. Wherever I took her, she would say to herself, I can do that - and she did. She was just amazing. She died when she was 28."

Barbara WigleyAfter Sushumi came Zara, a part-bred Arab. Barbara was given her in 1999 when she was nine-years-old. Unbroken. She was also a great award winner. She won a Gold for 75 miles at the Golden Horseshoe and a Silver for 100-miles also at the Horseshoe, also winning the Top Mare Award and the Top Veteran Horse Award in 2006. She is still going strong. Barbara takes her out three or four times a week for the odd 10 mile or 15 mile hack in and around Exmoor. She is currently in training to take one of the celebrities round the course at this year’s Golden Horseshoe Ride.

In between, of course, Barbara is Chairman of the Organising Committee for the Golden Horseshoe. She is responsible for everything. Organising the whole event. Raising sponsorship money. Even mapping out the route.

Officially recognised as the premier endurance ride in the country if not in Europe, it was founded in 1965 when it covered 50 miles over Exmoor. Since then, it is estimated, that over 4500 riders have taken part covering a total of over 400,000 miles between them.

Zara at the GHR in 2006, about 3 miles
from home in the 100 mile class.>>

In the late 1990's the ride hit problems. Rider numbers declined. But it was rescued by Liz Hinings, well known organiser of the Wiltshire Droves and Three Rivers rides. And it is on her success that Barbara has been building since she took over as Chairman in 2007.

Such has been her success that whereas in the early 2000s, the Golden Horseshoe was attracting around 60 riders in three classes and hardly any interest from the general public, today it is attracting over 200 riders from not only this country but also from France and even the United States. It also attracts international press and television coverage. They even get crowds of people on the route.

Barbara WigleyIn 10-years time, such is Barbara's enthusiasm, that she can see it being an internationally recognised event, attracting riders from around the globe.”

Part of the reason, she says, is because of the increasing popularity of endurance riding.

"Anybody can do it," she says. "It appeals to all ages. It appeals to all levels. If you've got a horse anybody can have a try. And it doesn't matter whether you've got an Exmoor pony, a Connemara or even a flashy Lusitano. This is a sport for everyone.

"But," she warns, "You've got to be dedicated. If you're going to go for it, you've got to really go for it. There's no point in messing about and giving up half-way."

In other words, you've got to be like Mrs Golden Horseshoe herself.

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