Sunday, September 28, 2008

Never too old for a challenge

Original Article

A LEADING businessman came out of sporting retirement at the age of 84 to become the oldest man in the UK to compete in a gruelling endurance horse race.

Derek Francis, who owns the Francis’ chain of furniture shops in Worcester Road, Malvern Link, rode Imperial Prince 40 miles over two days to take home a prestigious grade one rating.

Mr Francis, who was national champion at the sport in his younger days, was swayed by an urge to find out whether he was still up to the considerable task.

He said: “I have been playing with the idea for age because it’s a wrench to give up a major sport. Endurance racing is a hard game. You are pushing yourself and your horse to the parameters of what is possible.”

The venue for Mr Francis’ comeback was the Sherwood Ride in Nottinghamshire, where he found himself pitted against dozens of younger riders at the weekend.

Endurance riding involves maintaining an average speed while ensuring the horse’s heartbeat is kept below 64 beats per minute.

Frankie Turley, Imperial Prince’s trainer and part of Mr Francis’ three-person support crew, said: “Mentally and physically it’s very demanding. Most teenagers wouldn’t be able to walk after getting off their horses.”

The list of injuries suffered by Mr Francis over the years is testament to this fact. He has had concussion 12 to 15 times but said he was lucky not to have broken any bones.

Being back in the saddle, however, has not managed to quell Mr Francis’ thirst for adventure.

He now intends to enter the lowest level of major competition in March, consisting of 10 rides of 25 miles each.

No comments: