Despite the inclement weather and poor ground conditions over the early months of this year being responsible for delays in training programmes and competitive rides, Brechin based rider John Thomson and his pure bred Arabian endurance horse Prince Omar headed south for their first competitive ride of the season.
John and Omar joined 130 other combinations at the Endurance Great Britain National ride at Durham Valleys in early April with Team Omar taking on the 82 kilometres class.
The route, broken into a series of loops, followed sections of bridleways and disused railway lines making the going ideal for Omar’s flat speed conditioning.
Despite a temperature of minus two degrees Celsius in the early morning start, by the time Team Omar came into Vet Gate one the sun was up and the temperature had reached what seemed like a “tropical” 14 degrees Celsius.
By this stage Team Omar had covered the first 40 kilometres loop in under two and a half hours.
With the crew working flat out Omar was quickly vetted and the second loop covered in a time of two hours and 17 minutes to gain a National 2 award and gold standard.
“With the weather playing havoc with training plans and our first planned National ride in Cumbria cancelled there was always a slight worry about being fully prepared for a big distance early in the season,” explained John.
“Our EGB team and coaches were of fantastic support and any doubts were quickly negated and the flat fast loops played straight into our training programme.”
A couple of weeks later it was time for something completely different as Team Omar headed north to join dozens of horses riders and runners taking part in Scotland’s second ever Man versus Horse race.
Starting at Whitebridge north of Fort Augustus the linear route of 26.5 kilometres took the competitors to Foyers, then Inverfarigaig, then up over a steep section of road known as the Corkscrew and on towards the summit of the Fair Haired Lad’s Pass giving a total ascent of some 3000 feet.
The runners were started en masse 10 minutes before the horse and rider combinations who were staggered out at two-minute intervals.
Team Omar covered the first 20kms of the course up to the vet check just below the highest point in just over an hour and fifteen minutes
“By the time we cleared the Corkscrew the runners were being left way behind but with each horse being briefly held at a vet check,” said John.
“Metabolics and trot outs were assessed which gave some of the runners an advantage in catching up before the final climb and the twisting tortuous descent down to the shores of Loch Ness and on to the finish line at Dores.
“It was a slow steady descent down a track that didn’t leave much room for error and the runners came into their own for a while at least.
“It was then a game of cat and mouse as the terrain flattened out and the horses gained the advantage over weary human legs especially on the final part of climbing that led to the finish line.
“I had every sympathy with the runners as tired legs toiled up a final slope that must have seemed never ending.”
Competition was close but of course the horses won.
Team Omar came in at fifth place.
John attended Inglis Memorial Hall at the end of March where he gave a presentation which focused on his book ‘Drinking the Wind - At The Limits of Endurance’.
Drinking the Wind- At the Limits of Endurance is an inspirational true story of John’s miraculous journey from paralysis to recovery thanks to the powerful spiritual bond between man and horse.
He reveals his awe-inspiring struggle to recover from a debilitating stroke, revealing the radical benefits that horse-riding brought him as a potent form of rehabilitation.
He explains with terrific passion the uniquely powerful bond that can exist between horse and rider, and in doing so, illustrates the great beauty and strength of both the human spirit and the equine spirit guide.
Since his stroke, John Tytler Thomson has become a man who lives every day as if it were his last and the story of his incredible, saddle-bound triumph over adversity is both rousing and humbling.
As a result of donations given in the night around £2000 was raised for the Teenage Cancer Trust and the South Loch Ness Group funds.
“Many thanks to everyone who gave me the kind donations for sponsorship,” thanked John.