Riding High And Feeling Great

Philippa Verry shares her lifelong passion for horses and taking part in competitive Endurance riding

Philippa Verry is a farmer.

She manages fifty sheep and twenty head of cattle with her son, Lachlan, on her farm in Exmoor, where they live, with Philippa’s husband John, and seven dogs.

At the time of writing, she is in the middle of lambing – watching her ewes in case anything goes wrong – and enjoying seeing Winter turn to Spring as she looks out across Exmoor, and Dartmoor in the distance.

Philippa has lived with the effects of thalidomide, since birth but she does not see herself as a disabled person; “I’ve always hated people thinking I’m disabled” she explains, “To quote my mother, there’s no such thing as ‘can’t’.”

This certainly applies to Philippa’s years of horse riding. She, and her horse Stilton came third, nationally, at Open Level, in the 2021 Endurance Riding season, but her passion for riding started many years before that.

Philippa's passion for horse riding began when she was at primary school

In her book, Exmoor Bridleway Rides [i], Philippa remembers her first taste of what has become a huge part of her life: -

“It was a Tuesday morning, just like any other school day. But on this particular morning I clearly remember telling my classmates that my mother had organized for me to have my first riding lesson that afternoon. I was seven years old, and thus it happened, the beginning of my lifelong passion and love for horses.”

Every week for four years she continued to have lessons with the Honourable Mrs. Anne Gascoigne, who encouraged her free spirit and let her have a go at anything.

“I got my first pony, Melody, at age eleven”, Philippa explains “It’s so hard to describe the feeling of being up there on a horse. They’re big animals but I’m used to them, we always had large dogs when I was growing up, I’ve always had a love for and confidence with animals.”

Riding became a way of life, and she threw herself into exploring the countryside and forest near her home in Berkshire taking it all in from the saddle.

“I didn’t do any serious, competitive riding until I got a dressage scholarship, learning from John Lasseter at Goodwood.” Says Philippa “I spent six years competing in dressage competitions and loved it – but had to stop when I became pregnant with Lachlan.

Her love of Endurance riding began in Devon

Philippa’s passion for riding continued when the family moved to Devon in 2008.

With access to stunning Exmoor and the beautiful beaches nearby Philippa began to get into Competitive long-distance riding, or Endurance riding, as it is known.

The Endurance season runs from Spring to Autumn and there are various levels that riders can aspire to. Horses must be five or six years old to compete at advanced level.[ii]

  • Novice level: 30 km – 50 km
  • Open Level: 30 km – 80 km
  • Advanced level: 30 km – 160 km

“I bought my horse Stilton before I started endurance riding and would not have thought he would be suited to the sport due to his size and type.

I had had a horse many years ago, that I really bonded with, and I knew it would take time to get to know Stilton. It was three years before I began to think ‘this horse is really special’ and after our five years together, I thought ‘this is the horse of a lifetime’. We know each other so well – when to push each other and when to hold back, it’s amazing.”

She began to take part in rides organised by Endurance Great Britain, and after an amazing competition in Brecon where Stilton won his class, Philippa was smitten.

“Endurance riding is a tough sport,” she says. “There are minimum and maximum speeds allowed for the horses’ welfare and averagely Stilton and I would complete most rides at between 11.5 and 12.5 kilometers per hour.

Philippa and Stilton make a winning combination

The pair have gone from strength to strength with Stilton not only winning his prestigious national award, but also winning many unexpected prizes at the Wessex Endurance Group awards dinner.

“I‘m so very proud of him,” Philippa says “He’s not only talented but is also incredibly beautiful with a lovely nature.”

“He’s quite a character and is definitely not a push over if he doesn’t want to do something – he can be very cheeky!”

Despite his successes, there is still plenty for Stilton to achievePastel drawing of Philippa Verry's horse

Philippa has just completed her first 65km (40 mile) ride, riding with a friend for the first 45km loop and alone for the second 25km loop. “It was fantastic to be out by ourselves in the enormous expanse of stunning Dorset countryside, high up overlooking Weymouth and Portland Island. Completing this ride and passing all his vet checks, means that Stilton has now qualified to do the two-day 80km at the Golden Horseshoe ride on Exmoor this May

“The hilly terrain where we live means we don’t have to train too hard” Philippa explains, “The hills become a natural workout as I’m so lucky to have Exmoor 25 minutes away and Dartmoor 45 minutes, there’s plenty of variety – and we do love a beach gallop.

“I spent my 60th birthday on the beach with a great riding friend and our horses,” Philippa tells me, “It was magical.”

[i] Source; Exmoor Bridleway Rides 2021; Philippa Verry

[ii] Source; Endurance GB