26 February 1999

Tireless spirit plots course of endurance team

Endurance riding has been one of the fastest growing equestrian

sports in recent years and is enjoyed by a wide range of ages.

Jeanne Hutton met the chef dequipe of Britains young team

team

WITHIN an hour of returning from a 1500 mile round trip to Donaues-hingen in Germany, where shed taken a team to compete in a 75 mile international ride, Susan Oakes was moving cattle and feeding calves on the family farm in Rednal, Birmingham. Most of us would have collapsed in a heap but Susan Oakes, who is chef dequipe to Britains young endurance riders, donned overalls and wellies and took up where shed left off 11 days earlier.

Susan, who has a son and a daughter, has been a farmers wife for more than 30 years and has been involved with chef dequipe duties since 1992. The duties are as diverse as they are numerous – from crawling calmly around a distraught teenagers tent, in search of a mislaid, and urgently required team shirt to making all the arrangements, at a moments notice, for the arrival of an Arabian sheikh, plus his family, entourage and bodyguards, who wanted to attend one of our major race rides, to learn "all there is to learn" about endurance.

Journeys overseas entail Susan planning routes, booking ferries and accommodation; cooking up camp menus and stocking the kitchen – usually set up in a trailer or horsebox. And thats before the competition starts. On arrival at the venue the race route map has to be acquired and distributed among crew members. The route must be recceed and riders and horses settled and prepared.

&#42 Feet up time?

So when does this chef dequipe get to put her feet up? After the race? Not a bit of it! Following each competition Susan sets about compiling a detailed, often pictorial, account of the trip, which she sends to sponsors. "We are so grateful for any support. The least I can do is let sponsors see exactly how weve utilised their backing," she says.

Born to a non-farming family Susan has always loved animals and children. "I was introduced to horses at the age of 11," she says. "I used to give my spends (6d pocket money) to a friend who kept ponies, in return for riding lessons."

On leaving school Susan became one of the first women to gain the National Certificate of Agriculture for Women, at Reaseheath College, Nantwich. During this time Susan met fellow student Trevor Oaks, and the couple married when Susan was 18. Today she and Trevor, with their son Michael, farm over 81ha (200 acres) and have built up a fine dairy herd of 125 pedigree Holstein Friesian cows, with 100 young stock.

"I didnt get my first horse until I was 29. I broke her myself – by consulting a series of articles Id been collecting on DIY breaking," she recalls.

Susans introduction to endurance riding came through her vets wife Sue Bostelmann. "Sue and I went along to a 20 mile ride at Cannock. We got lost after three miles – never did find our way, but we decided we liked the idea, and continued to dabble."

In 1983 Trevor bought Susan a place on an endurance riding course at Abergavenny. From there her endurance career went from strength to strength. In 1990, riding Snuffy – a horse shed saved from the knackers yard – Susan enjoyed successes all around the country, followed by medal winning performances overseas. "This culminated in Snuffy being voted fourth most successful horse in Europe that year," she says.

&#42 Assistants job

In 1992 Susan was asked to be assistant chef dequipe at the European Championships, where Britain won the gold medal. In 1994 she took an intermediate team to Belgium, but there were no official events for junior riders on the continent at that time. With the aim of promoting international competition for youngsters, Susan took a group to an open ride in Switzerland. On the strength of the success of that trip in 1994 the British Horse Society made an application to the Federation Internationale (FEI) asking them to consider setting up a Young Riders Championships and offering to host it.

Beacon Farm became a venue for training weekends covering everything from map reading to dressage with as many as 22 youngsters and their mounts attending at one time. Susan appreciates the vital role played by parents and supporters, so ample training is provided on good "crewing" techniques.

Throughout the year Susan is always available and willing to help with all sorts of problems. And during the pressure of top level competition, her vitality keeps spirits buoyant, while her unflappability has calmed the nerves of many an anxious rider and plenty of panicking parents.

"Susan is tireless. She has a very special way of nurturing team spirit," says team vet Bob Bostelmann, who works closely with team farrier Kelvin Lymer.

Following FEI approval Britain hosted the first ever Open European Young Riders Endurance Championships in 1997. The second of these competitions will take place in Germany this year and Britain will be well represented.

"Our young riders show extraordinary dedication," Susan says proudly.