Sunday, 16 May 2010

Chatsworth Horse Trials

This is one of my favourite events of the year, in fact it's probably the event on my calendar not to be missed. It was cancelled last year due to bad weather, so it was even more exciting to be going this year. Where else can you rub shoulders with Mary King and Zara Philips?
We took the decision not to take Tessa. I think she would be bored having to be on a lead for so long. It was a bit like open season, though, I've never seen so many dogs outside Crufts. The trouble is, my instinct is to stroke as many as possible. (Martin Clunes says he is the same, so I am in good company here). Mr O just waits patiently for me to catch up while I stroke ears and admire canine faces. There were two gorgeous Afghan hounds, spaniels all over the place, and four matching Jack Russells, each with its own red bandana. Oh, and there were these guys:

We headed straight for the show jumping ring, where the competition was well under way. We saw William Fox-Pitt, Jeanette Brakewell, Mark Todd and Paul Tapner (what a gorgeous guy, but I couldn't help noticing the wedding ring as he sailed past. Ah well). Alice Pearson was riding a horse called Beau Bear. When we looked in the programme, it turned out his dad was Alflora, who is also Zak's dad! Beau Bear is 12, so he is Zak's younger brother. He looked exactly like him, too.

I had arranged to meet up with a woman from the Your Horse forum who I get on really well with and who lives near Worksop. We'd emailed each other the day before and said we would get together and swapped mobile numbers. It's quite difficult to say you will meet someone when you don't know what they look like and only have clothing to go by, but we managed it. It was really nice to meet her (and her daughter) and swap stories for a while. An old friend of mine is on their yard, which I hadn't realised.

(Paul Tapner, this year's Badminton winner).

There are quite a few good trade stands, and it is absolutely essential that I make it to the Joules tent. How can I describe Joules clothing? It is more Laura Ashley than Laura Ashley. There. Do you remember Laura Ashley in the 80's when the clothing was romantic and you felt like Jane Eyre wearing it? Joules is very much like that, beautiful quality, and very 'english country garden'. Think 'tea dress' and you'll have it. I love every single thing they make. But it's expensive, so you have to tread carefully. I am thrilled with what I bought and will show you in a separate post. In the meantime you can go to Joules Clothing to see what I mean.

In fact clothing in general is a big part of the occasion. You definitely go to 'see and be seen'. There was a lot of tweed in evidence as it was quite cold. I actually had mine in the car, but opted to wear my blue jacket instead. It is a massive fashion parade, even if it's trying desperately not to be. No woman is fooled. You do not wear sandals and a skirt, no matter how warm it gets. That screams 'townie'. And you do not wear riding boots and jodhpurs, unless you are twelve and begged your mother. You wear your Dubarry boots (two hundred pounds) or if you're a skinflint like me you wear very similar Dublin River Boots (roughly half the price). Only the very discerning can tell the difference. You wear your favourite skinny leg jeans, so it's only the top half that is different. You can wear either:
Kit A:- to spell out to anyone who cares to listen, 'I am a professional horsewoman and would be competing here today if my horse wasn't lame/stupid/too small. I opt for this look. You wear an equestrian jacket of some sort, you have your hair in a pony tail and wear a baseball cap with either Horseware/Joules/Toggi on it. Sunglasses are optional, Jack Russell is not.
Kit B:- 'I went to public school and own nearly as many acres as you see before you today.' This is the tweed set, preferably with matching hat. Hair could be down. You sport a border terrier or labrador.

(Mary King)

You also take a picnic. This is essential. First timers lug a huge hamper around with them all day (putting it in the buggy and making the toddler walk is perfectly acceptable). The wise walk back to the car and get the folding chairs and rug out. This is very civilised but you do miss a lot of the action. You can buy food on the go (the poachers pasties are gorgeous) but it isn't very ladylike.

Despite all this, the real heroes of the day are the horses. All of them seem absolutely enormous, even though I work with them every day of the week. The only event I've been to before my journeys to Chatsworth, is Badminton. Badminton is a 3 Day Event. This means you go on the Saturday and the only thing going on is the cross country phase, so you wander round all day watching it. Chatsworth is a 1 Day Event, so when you get there, the dressage is already in full swing in one area, the showjumping has started, and the cross country is about to start in the next few minutes. I can remember panicking as I didn't know which thing to watch first, but as you get used to it, you realise you can watch each phase for several hours, but you have to be prepared to make sacrifices. Watching Lucinda Fredericks' dressage test may mean missing Clayton Fredericks doing the showjumping, but you get used to it.

(Zara Phillips)

The cross country fences are huge, rather than technical. I think if you aren't horsey, you are just in awe that a horse can jump something so big, but if you can ride, especially if you hunt, you can feel physically sick watching it because you know you could do it yourself if pushed (and if you had the right horse). You know exactly when the horse should take off, and I actually find myself rocking in rhythm with the horse's stride. (Sad but true!)

I had been thrilled that Pippa Funnell was riding today. She is my all-time heroine. We stood at one of the cross country fences and could hear over the tannoy that she was on her way. The camera was poised. Then we'd heard that she'd fallen at an earlier fence, but it sounded as though she was okay. Later on, though, we saw her jumping in the World Class series. A ripple of applause went round the arena, she jumped the first fence and had a pole down! Oh dear. Maybe next time, love.

(Our Pip).

But I went home very contented with my day, thrilled with everything (and everyone) we'd seen, clutching my purchases (hiding the silk scarf I'd bought at the bottom of the bag so Mr O is none the wiser. I won't be showing him until after I've taken the price tag off!) and aching all over from the amount of walking we've done. Wait until I next get on Barnaby, he won't know what's hit him.

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