Sunday, July 24, 2011

Out and About - Aston le Walls

This morning’s 4:00 kick-off did nothing to cure the effects of the jet-lag. Never mind that however, we were going eventing and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I hadn’t actually managed to lay eyes on Burto yet so it was an early morning reunion in his new barn at Sam and Lucy Griffith’s place. It wasn’t quite as emotional or involved as my reunion with Tiger the day before but it was still good to see him. Just so he didn’t feel left out I gave Tiger a pat before we jumped into the truck (somebody shoot me if I start to say ‘lorry’) and we hit the road to Aston-le-Walls.

In a perfect piece of planning, I’d managed to miss the dressage phase of the event the day before, so it was only the jumping left to do for the advanced horses. This also meant I’d missed the three hour wait on the side of the road that Burto, his groom Amanda and the three horses onboard had endured the evening before after the truck blew a tyre on the motorway. Half my luck.

William Fox-Pitt's truck

Burto's borrowed truck

No such incidents this morning and after a three hour trip we were eventing in England. No need to unload when you arrive, you just pull up, turn off the engine and leave the horses standing on the truck. Even in fine weather they leave them all onboard. Maybe I just haven’t been here long enough (I admit, two days doesn’t really qualify me as an expert) but I don’t see the sense in it. Perhaps the puzzle of ensuring the right horse is always the most accessible is the English equivalent of Sudoku.  

Even though it had been relatively dry in our part of the world it had rained overnight at the event, and with more puddles than Werribee it soon became clear why gumboots are the footwear of choice for the English event-goer. Out on the course the going was heavy, but this didn’t seem to bother anyone and I got the feeling that for the locals this was better than it being firm. Burto and I went for a quick walk around the advanced course which was big and tough enough without being too unkind – perhaps a description we would also lend to ourselves.

It seems that wherever you are in the world, the bacon and egg roll is a fixture of an eventing diet and before we could even consider doing anything further one had to be eaten. Like McDonalds, Coke and Starbucks coffee the bacon and egg roll is universal and you can pretty much guarantee they’ll taste the same wherever you are, even if their love affair with bacon here means the egg is a bit of a sideline act.

With tomato sauce on my face it was time to do some work. I’d dubbed myself the assistant groom for the day, and part of my responsibilities involved doing rails for Burto in the show jumping practice arena. Anyone who knows Burto would be aware that he can dominate a practice arena like no one else and it’s good to see that he hasn’t taken a backward step on arrival in his adopted country. Back home, I’d always kept a safe distance as his grooms hustled to make the jumps to his satisfaction, but now I was the one doing the hustling while trying to wrestle control of the jumps from people who had been in the country for longer than two minutes. With four horses to jump there was a lot of hustling to be done, but fortunately the lovely Lucy Griffiths soon popped up to control proceedings, allowing me to act more as the hired muscle than the brains of the operation.

It wasn’t a bad warm-up to hang around in. It mightn’t have been the world’s fanciest event but everyone who’s anyone in world eventing was there. It takes a while to get your head around the fact that you’re surrounded by almost all the people who compete at all of the major four stars and championships. I think at one point almost the entire British team was in the warm-up together, so if a meteor had crashed to earth at that time Australia would have had much better chance of a medal at the Olympics next year. You’re very much in their territory and it can’t be anything but positive to be surrounded by them all.

Burto in flight at fence 2

Perhaps because I was helping him, or perhaps because he’s a pretty awesome rider, Burto had an excellent day, bringing home a second and a third in his respective advanced classes. Phenomenally, this was a day devoted to advanced classes, and from 9:00 in the morning until we left around 5pm people were jumping non-stop in both the cross-country and the show jumping. No doubt that some of the best horses in the world went around today, and with no low level horses around to cause trouble the day had a remarkably calm and professional feel about it.

Because of my assistant groom duties Tiger scored a day off today, but I have to admit that after seeing it all happen I am pretty keen to get stuck into British eventing.

Bring it on.

Eventing, not cricket

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