Bringing your horse to a foreign country is an odd thing. Normal overseas trips involve sightseeing expeditions, random adventures and plenty of down time by a pool with a cocktail in your hand. Understandably, horses change all of this. They give a purpose to it all, and because you have the horse it’s easy to get carried away with equine activities, forgetting that you’re in a new and exciting place with lots to see and do.
I refuse, however, to come to England and not visit all of the places on the Monopoly board. Dorset is lovely but it’s, well, Dorset. It would be like going to Australia and spending all of your time in Canberra. It doesn’t get your heart pumping.
With this in mind a trip to London was required. Fortunately I had an excuse as my riding gear had finally arrived at Heathrow and needed collecting from a dirty warehouse at the back of the airport – a location that, judging by the smell was either home to a significant homeless population or was the dumping ground for airline lavatories.
When you visit a warehouse like this you’re almost guaranteed to encounter a person working there with the social skills of a wild boar. They drive trucks or forklifts and will happily admit that their best relationship in life is with the machine they’re sitting in. Fortunately I wasn’t there for the conversation either and after only a few sour words I was on my way. It was tourist time.
It seemed sensible, given the Olympic equestrian events will be held there next year, to head across town to Greenwich. This little suburb is jutted up against the city and the River Thames and hardly seems a likely place to hold a horse show, let alone the Olympics. The streets around Greenwich Park – on which an entire temporary arena and stadium will be constructed – are a confusing rabbit warren of pubs, restaurants, pubs, tourist shops and pubs, meaning that the equestrian events at next year’s Games may turn out to be the least remembered of all time. Sadly I forgot to take my camera but if you just picture a horse and a pub you’re half way to being there already.
Despite the fact that this was a future equestrian venue, I wasn’t going to get sidetracked by walking an imaginary cross-country course or pacing around a dressage arena that doesn’t exist. This afternoon in London was horse-free and I was staying focused. A tour of the National Maritime Museum was a welcome distraction. After a few hours it dawned on me that either England has a really dull maritime history or this was a crap museum. The worst thing about travelling on your own is that you have no one to express this to, and this inability to vent was perhaps more disappointing than the museum itself.
|Evening traffic on The Strand|
Back in the car I told TomTom all about the rubbish museum but like many travelling companions all he wanted to do was give me directions. I was headed to the West End to catch up with some fellow eventers, and together we were off to the stage version of The Lion King. My drive across London took in a number of the city’s most famous landmarks, many of which I became quite familiar with as it took me an hour to find a park. With a few laps of the Monopoly board under my belt I finally found my theatre going friends, and it was great to catch up with rising stars of New Zealand eventing Clarke Johnstone and Lizzie Brown, as well as Australian young rider Bec MacPherson.
|Out on the town - me, Bec MacPherson, Clarke Johnstone and Lizzy Brown|
The West End is a bustling, bright and exciting place, which makes it the complete opposite of Dorset. On a balmy summer’s evening it was a great spot to be. Apart from riding my horse and winning some English ribbons, this is what I had come to England for. Now would be a good time to confess that I like The Lion King a lot, so this was a pretty exciting experience for me. It is a fantastic show and it’s amazing how, with only a little effort, people can do a fair impression of most animals, and for two and a half hours I was transfixed by the all singing, all dancing African safari that was going on in front of me.
While the show was exceptional, the same can’t be said of the climate inside the theatre. For some reason England hasn’t cottoned onto the magic of air conditioning, and after a 30 degree day the theatre was a almost hot enough to bake a cake. By the end of the show it was so warm that it genuinely felt like we were in the African desert with Elton John singing show tunes to us. But as we slushed our way outside, sweat filling our shoes, there was only one thing to say.
|Bec and Clarke sweat it out in the theatre|