Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Debut appearance - Wilton Horse Trials

It has been a long time between drinks on the blog and I have to admit I’ve been getting itchy fingers. There’s a lot to report on here in England and I’m pleased to say that we’ve been busy little badgers over the last few days.

Since we all missed out on a start at Zara and Mike’s wedding the weekend was all about eventing. Mind you, some people that did get invited to the wedding still managed to go eventing over the same weekend, showing that stupidity among horse riders is a universal trait. Anyhow, after a week and a bit here my royal connections still aren’t that strong so we had to focus on the event at Wilton, which is one of the closer events to Sam and Lucy’s place here in Dorset.

It was a genuine one day one day event which left me all of Saturday to worry about whether my riding gear would arrive to me before I went to the competition. 134 unanswered calls to the freight company later and I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be picking it up that day. Riding in borrowed gear has become my trademark this year and I’m beginning to wonder how much you could save if you sold the lot and just pilfered what you need from your friends.

Lucy goes above and beyond the call of duty plaiting Tiger's tail
I mightn’t have had a win with the gear but at least I found some willing takers to plait my horse. Thanks to all those people who sent me messages offering to plait Tiger for the cost of the airfare to get here, but I have to admit I have an eye for a good deal and I’m not sure if that is one. Far cheaper to play the useless male card on the army of delightful young ladies that work for Sam and Lucy. It’s a trick that never gets tired and I was stoked to wander into the barn on Saturday night to find a grooming league of nations attacking his mane. It’s great to know that whatever language you speak wherever you are in the world, the helpless man in need of assistance remains a powerful tool.

After lending their staff to plait our horses, Sam and Lucy may have wondered what sort of deal they’d struck for themselves when they found themselves driving both their trucks to the event at six in the morning despite Sam only having two horses competing. With Burto riding four and Tiger tagging along, we’d commandeered Sam’s truck for ourselves and forced him to drive it. They’re a couple of saints however and it didn’t seem to phase them one bit.

Wilton is not the flashest event in England but with a giant manor house (castle) in the background of the dressage photos it does stand out from the events back home. Mind you, there was about as much flat ground in the warm up for dressage as you’d find on a Himalayan mountain top, and the single patch that was available was prize real estate throughout the day. As a recent import from Australia I stuck to the hillsides, and it struck me for a second that I’d never read about this in the propaganda extolling the virtues of British eventing.
Tiger and I ride dressage in front of the manor house.
Photo courtesy of Samantha Clark

Here in England only the biggest of the big kids get a full size arena, so for the first time since I was eight I got to ride in a 40 x 20. This is an experience in itself but it sure is hard to get away with anything – you’re so close to the judge the whole time it feels like you’re doing dressage on the bonnet of their car. Dressage judge’s often don’t have the best eyesight so the 40 x 20 must have been developed with them in mind. The best thing is that with such a little box to play in you’re in, around and out in no time and off to do the fun stuff.

The big difference with eventing in the UK is that even at your average event there is a crowd and an atmosphere that we find hard to replicate in Australia. Trade stands, food vans and beer and Pimms tents all add to the vibe and have the ability to make a good show into a great one. With all these distractions you could almost fail to notice that you’re showjumping in the Alps too. Of course, the Earl of Pembroke has better things to do with his time than sit on some heavy machinery to flatten out the showjumping arena, and even if it was a little up and down it was still a beautiful spot surrounded by oak trees and a fair crowd.

Tiger and I over the second last.
Photo courtesy of Samantha Clark
Only 20 minutes after my showjumping and an hour and a half after my dressage I was out galloping around the Earl’s paddocks. While Burto and I thought the going on course was good, there was a fair bit of talk among the locals about how hard it was. In a solemn ceremony Burto and I took a moment to promise ourselves that we would never forget our roots and what genuinely hard ground feels like. It mightn’t have been the biggest cross-country course in England but it suited me perfectly, and with a fair hill and two water jumps it was a good run to have. At first glance the course had looked reasonably innocuous but if claimed its fair share of scalps and one or two well known Aussie riders failed to make the finish flags.

It had been a fun day of eventing in beautiful, even hot weather. I’d manage to keep Tiger off the truck for most of the day, which means that despite the fact that I wore a back number in dressage and a jockey silk on my head in the showjumping, I’m not a naturalized Englishman yet. The fact that we finished the day with a warm Fosters in the beer tent means something, but I’m not sure what.

It’s a scary thought.

No comments:

Post a Comment