Most of the stories I’ve written throughout this English Adventure have come from an interesting place. Because of this, I’m glad I never travelled alone. Having you along for the ride is what’s made it fun.
We first got to know each other from the airport in Hong Kong, but we really hit it off when I finally made it to England. As I found my feet, found Tiger and found my way through the hedges and villages of Dorset, I was happy that you found funny what I found funny.
|Bols on the doorstep of our little cottage in Dorset|
We spent many hours bonding on the couch in the living room in my little cottage in Dorset, and while I slowly tapped away at my computer you waited patiently for the finished product. When we went out you came with me, and whether it was to our favourite pub in Buckhorn-Weston or shopping for trucks with Burto, you were a happy addition to our team. When Tiger and I went eventing you were right there with us, and while rails fell in those early events like leaves in autumn, you never judged or criticised.
Our trip to France was a highlight, and whether it was crossing the English Channel by ferry or making the most of French eventing, you were there with a smile on your face, always willing to hear about the last baguette or croissant that I ate. You supported me all the way into Burghley, and then patted Tiger and I on the back when his tendon finally decided that it had had enough of the international eventing scene. I’m glad that you were there with me through all of this, and I hope I’ve made it an interesting ride for you.
Many people wondered before I went away what I would do with myself for seven weeks with only one horse to ride. I wasn’t entirely sure at the time, but I knew that I would think of something. Who could have predicted that living in England would be so interesting? Every day presented a new source of amusement for me. On my first full day in England, as I drove down lanes and past farms that looked unmistakably British, I could barely contain myself when the discussion on BBC radio turned to improving your class and social standing. Surely, I thought, in 2011 they can’t be seriously having a conversation about social climbing on national radio? How wrong I was. After a lengthy discussion with a guest who had managed to change her accent, make better friends and leave her working class upbringing behind her, the recommendation was made that to successfully move up in the world it would be necessary to cut off your old friends and limit contact with your family. Ouch. I went home, dug out a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and started studying modern British social conventions.
Of course, there is much more to England than an antiquated class system. The food is not nearly as bad as people make out, and there are now many advanced methods of cooking that don’t involve a deep fryer. English strawberries really are the best. It’s true that they like their drinks served at room temperature, and the chances are that I’ll win Badminton on a Shetland pony before you’re likely to pull a drink from a refrigerator in England that’s actually cold. The serving of warm beer is still rife in Britain, and despite all of the jokes made by Australians this is actually how they like it. Everyone really does drink tea, and it still surprises me how modern medicine has managed to take hold in a country which seriously believes that all problems can be solved with a cup of tea. There’s a school of thought that says the recent riots would have been quelled much faster if everyone had just sat down and enjoyed a thermos of Tetley.
Tweed is actually a popular choice of clothing in Britain, although visitors should remember the golden rule that any tweed bought in England can only be worn in England – this should temper any desire they may have to splash out on a tweed outfit soon before returning to their native land.
|Tweed and Wellington boots - a very|
Most people really do own a pair of Wellington boots, and for this reason a majority of the English population is more comfortable walking in mud than on firm ground. On this basis it’s surprising that road building has been such a popular pastime over the centuries. Just as they point out in Top Gear, there really are a lot of speed cameras in Britain, which makes it all the more surprising that most people seem to drive as fast as they like on motorways. The standard of driving is high however, which is fortunate given that most of the eventing population spends half of their lives nonchalantly riding their horses out along the middle of the roads. For people who have such an aversion to riding on hard ground this is somewhat puzzling.
England really is full of phenomenal tourist destinations, and I almost got complacent about driving past Stonehenge every time we would head down the A303. Even I was surprised when I started showing more interest in the free-range piggery on the other side of the road. The houses, manors, castles and palaces that dot the countryside are all spectacular, although with most events being held with one of these amazing structures in the background you do tend to get a little immune to their charms. With a fair percentage of the world’s best riders competing at these events it’s clear that the English eventing scene really is the gold standard, and I would encourage all eventers to put it on their bucket list.
|Extreme weather at Stonehenge - sadly no picture of the pig|
farm across the road
With my time in the UK just about over, it’s almost time to draw the curtains on ‘The English Adventure’. To all the people who wrote messages on Facebook or in the comments section of the blog, I’d like to say thanks. I know that I never replied but I always read and appreciated them. Checking my emails was a constant source of excitement and I always felt a little warm and fuzzy after reading the messages of support from around the world.
I use this word a lot, but it really has been an amazing trip. It’s an Oscar speech, but it’s my blog so I’m going to do it anyway. A massive thanks to everyone who supported and helped me along the way, including my Mum and Dad Alannah and Paul, who fortunately have always had the same dreams as me; my sister Kirsty who surrendered the ride on Tiger to me all those years ago and still takes her precious holidays to fly around the world to watch me ride; and especially my partner Annabel (Bols) Armstrong, who once again had the impossible task of being girlfriend, coach, groom and sports psychologist.
|Bols preparing Tiger for Burghley at the end of Haras du Pin|
Thanks to my good mate Chris Burton who welcomed Tiger into England, got him back into work and then gave me loads of help as we prepared for Burghley. Thanks to Sam and Lucy Griffiths for letting me hang out at their house, ride their lovely horses, raid their liquor cabinet and become a temporary member of the Griffith’s eventing team. Thanks to my groom Kristy Wosik, who took such great care of all of the horses back home; and finally, thanks to that wonderful family in the USA who bought a horse off me last year and made my global eventing adventure possible.
See you on the next adventure.