Every captain of a BUCS (British Universtities and Colleges Sport) equestrian team has a hurdle to climb each year; organising and running their home competitions. As with everything to do with horses, it’s fun in the end but there’s often a few obstacles along the way!

New BUCS regulations state that all competition dates have to be submitted in mid-October so it’s fair to say Paula Allen (our team trainer) was fairly surprised when I started asking her about dates months in advance when we hadn’t even organised the next week’s lessons!

However, as anyone who’s ever even contemplated organising something like this before, they’ll have soon realised rule number one is beginning early!

This doesn’t just apply to things one must consider with months to spare, on event day itself we had to haul ourselves out of bed for a 6.30am start. Meeting fellow team-member Sophie en-route we headed to a nearby car park to be picked up by Rosalie. Seeing her car, we threw our things into the boot and climbed into the passenger seat only to discover we’d located the wrong vehicle! After some rushed apologies we corrected our error and headed off the stables.

A great team: essential

Without my vice-captain Alex Wood I would certainly have been completely lost —

Tack cleaning at 8am! l-r: Maddie Rushforth, Lucy Stokoe, Jade Watt

Tack cleaning at 8am! l-r: Maddie Rushforth, Lucy Stokoe, Jade Watt

she found and booked the judge, ordered the rosettes as well as countless other tasks I don’t have time to list here.

Two people can’t do everything alone however and the entire squad got stuck in, cleaning both horses and tack, plaiting and making lunch.

Plaiting, never being the most popular of jobs, was thus delegated to the squad’s resident dressage riders and a couple of the more experienced eventers, who are well versed in the world of plaiting bands. But even seasoned plaiters Millie and Harriet struggled with the bushy mane of the Irish-bred Niall and had to settle on the 17 beautifully neat but undoubtedly golf ball-sized plaits. With everyone helping, everything fell into place almost flawlessly.

Once the competition begins a whole new set of tasks arise but with Maddie Rushforth’s legal brain on timing and rule-keeping; Rosalie Speeckaert hidden away on the scoring and Jade Watt in the judge’s car (to mention just a few) the dressage phase ran like clockwork and allowed the home competing team of Alana Sparrow, Alex Wood, Becky Graves and Harriet Vickers to focus on themselves and their riding.

The competition

On competition day: l-r Paula Allen, Maddie Rushforth, Rollo Uloth, Alana Sparrow, Becky Graves, Lucy Stokoe, Isabelle O'Bryen, Rosalie Speekaert

On competition day: l-r Paula Allen, Maddie Rushforth, Rollo Uloth, Alana Sparrow, Becky Graves, Lucy Stokoe, Isabelle O’Bryen, Rosalie Speekaert

With the rest of the squad there to watch, pressure was certainly on the B team but this didn’t stop them pulling out all the stops to take a commanding lead in the dressage with both Alana and Alex riding fantastic tests to claim zero penalties between them.

While the teams grabbed lunch, featuring flapjacks baked by Millie Seger-Bernard and carrot cake from Rosalie, the rest of the team rushed around to get the showjumping horses ready and help Peter Allen build the course.

Top young showjumper Pippa Allen was on hand to provide the team with expert advice during the course walk and it definitely paid off.

Alana and Alex both carried the success from their dressage into the showjumping securing the holy grail of zero overall penalties for the day. However, the rest of the jumping was not quite so smooth as eagle-eyed stickler for the rules, Maddie, noticed one competitor jumping the practice fence the wrong way, resulting in immediate elimination. Furthermore the nature of the random draw often means that (like the C team’s competition last week) there’s some interesting horse/rider combinations.

5’10” Harriet Vickers found herself presented with the 13.2hh superstar Charlie. Once she’d stepped on and put the stirrups down at least five holes, she only had the allocated five minutes of warm-up to find those crucial balancing points. With varying levels of amusement and sympathy from the DUET squad, most strongly from Alex who’d experienced similar #tallgirlproblems on her dressage pony in the morning, Harriet went on to do a solid round but not before we’d had a debate about whose legs were longer: Harriet’s or the horse’s!

As the organiser, the day always ends with handing out results, so once I’d triple checked my adding up on the score sheet and put the rosettes out in neat rows it was time to announce the scores.

The B team all took home individual placings, Alana and Alex stealing first and second, with Becky fifth and Harriet seventh. This incredible performance left no doubt as to who the victors were, however disaster struck at the 11th hour when only three out of four rosettes could be found! After frantic searching the mystery remained unsolved until vice-captain and second placed Alex Wood opened her bag to discover she had inadvertently (and slightly presumptuously!) already smuggled it away…

The Bs continue their BUCS campaign down in Leeds next weekend — we wish them good luck and hope the success for DUET continues!

Clips from the dressage and showjumping rounds plus photos from the day can be found on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/duequestrian

Rollo

With thanks to Harriet Vickers for helping to write this blog update