Riding at Fullers Hill

Getting the Eventing Bug

2012 has been a busy year so far, with my daughter Tara embarking on her first season of Eventing.

Plaited up and ready to go-from Cambridge Holiday CottagesWe have owned our 15 year old Dutch Warmblood gelding Pinocchio for three years, who has obligingly taken part in a variety of equestrian activities from Pony Club rallies and camp to hunter trials, show jumping and dressage. He’s what’s commonly known in  ‘horsespeak’ as a good all-rounder, a rather over-used term, but in his case absolutely true. He’ll turn his hoof to anything and always participates with a smile on his face (yes horses can smile when you really get to know them!)

So 2012 seemed like the time to take things up a gear and do something a bit more challenging.

Cathy at the last fence at Little DownhamFor those unfamiliar with the concept of Eventing, the competition consists of three phases. The first is Dressage, which is a test to demonstrate the obedience, suppleness, movement and paces of the horse and the accuracy and effectiveness of the rider. A percentage mark is then converted into penalty points, so the lower the resulting score the better. The second phase is Show Jumping, over a course of coloured jumps. Penalty points are accrued for knock-downs, refusals, or exceeding the time limit. The final phase is the Cross Country, which involves riding at speed over a course of fixed, solid jumps over a distance of roughly 1 ½ to 2 miles. This is arguably the most exciting and potentially dangerous phase, but the solid nature of the jumps tends to encourage horses to jump well.

Tara over the last at Little DownhamTara’s first event of the season, in April was organised by the Fitzwilliam Pony Club, in the beautiful setting of Milton Park on the outskirts of Peterborough. It was a good starter event as the jumps were quite small and it was a very relaxed affair. Everything went well and Tara finished in third place.

Due to unfeasible amounts of rain over the next few weeks, our plans for a gradual increase in difficulty of competition were scuppered, with one event after another being cancelled due to waterlogged venues. So Tara’s second event on the last weekend in May, the Riding Club Area Horse Trials, was a baptism of fire. It was held at Ely Eventing Centre (www.elyeventing.co.uk) the venue for several British Eventing affiliated competitions including Little Downham International Horse Trials. Tara was competing as part of a junior team for Cambridge and District Riding Club (www.canddrc.org.uk), which only served to increase her nerves as she worried about letting her team mates down if it all went horribly wrong.

Tara and PinocchioAfter an anxious warm-up, she jumped a lovely clear round in the show jumping, with one time penalty. The cross country fences were solid and up to height (90cms/3 feet) but looked inviting to jump.  It was certainly the biggest course Tara and Pinocchio had ever had to tackle. So we were thrilled when she completed it with only one refusal, at a large  bench jump coming out of the water. They finished in 6th place with the team coming second overall, so it was smiles all round. And what’s more, the sun shone after weeks of rain, I even got sunburnt that day!

The next outing was at The College Equestrian Centre in Bedfordshire (www.keysoe.com) at the beginning of June. Another clear show jumping round here, but also another 20 penalties on the cross country, so sadly not in the ribbons that day, but each outing is great for gaining experience and confidence for both horse and rider.

Kesoe cross country phaseA few weeks later we found ourselves at Carlton in Bedfordshire (www.carltoncrosscountry.co.uk) for Tara’s first affiliated event. This was a BE80T training class where competitors have the advantage of help from British Eventing Accredited Coaches during their warm-up before each phase. Victoria Thirlby was extremely helpful to Tara before the dressage and consequently she rode a much better test than usual. She then went on to jump clear rounds in the show jumping and cross country, finishing in 6th place. Being a Riding Club member, this  has qualified them for a place in the Riding Club BE80 Championships at Brooksby Melton College, Leics. on 23rd September. (www.britisheventing.com).

Having been postponed from mid-July due to wet weather, the Pony Club Area Eventing went ahead at Keysoe in August. Tara competed as an individual for Ivel Valley Pony Club, and after completing her best dressage test to date, scoring 34.5, she jumped another clear show jumping round. By the time she came to do her cross country the weather had turned again, and she set off in a downpour. Pinocchio gamely sloshed and slithered his way around the substantial course and jumped clear, but Tara’s decision to jump the easier option at one fence because of the soggy going cost her 15 penalties, putting them well out of the prizes again.

Riding at GransdenThe opportunity to ride over the same course again came up a couple of weeks later. This time it was my turn, as I didn’t want Tara to have all the fun! I surprised myself with a dressage score of 28.5, and after going clear in the show jumping, we started the cross country phase in 2nd place. I was determined that I was going to jump the narrow corner fence that Tara had taken the alternative at 2 weeks before. Sadly Pinocchio wasn’t so sure as we approached for the first time, but jumped it on the second attempt, giving us 20 penalties and dropping us down the leader board to beyond nowhere! But from a training point of view the day was a success as now we know he can jump a big solid corner.

The next date on our Eventing calendar is 9th September at Keysoe again, this time for an affiliated BE90 class. With summer returning again, at least for the weekend, it should be another enjoyable day out!