In my last column I mentioned how frustrating it can be for riders and owners if scores are slow to be put up on the scoreboard. Well, at Dauntsey last week — where the Sturgis family have traditionally got riders to help out doing various stewarding roles — guess what? I was assigned to the scorers’ caravan…
I spent an enjoyable hour with the delightful scoring ladies, headed up by Ann Allen. Apparently I would have a future as a scorer after my riding days are over.
It’s always good to see the other side of our sport, and my comments were in no way meant as a slight to a group of people who do an excellent job. But my point wasn’t that scoring itself isn’t done quickly enough — it was that the scores aren’t making it from the scorers to the board outside sufficiently speedily.
It really can have an influence on how fast you go cross-country, for example, or for owners to see whether their horse is in a prize-winning place or not. I do think that with modern communication tools, the situation could be improved.
Dauntsey is a wonderful event, and it was good to see that some of the things we riders suggested after our stint helping out last year have been put into practice — such as the positioning of stewards for the showjumping warm-up area. From what I could see, that phase ran very efficiently all day.
It might seem that the two events that were the main focus of our sport last weekend are poles apart. Aachen, the great German show, is intensely glamorous and superbly run. Riders and horses are given five-star treatment, and the winner takes home €33,000. Andrew Nicholson got the same amount of money for finishing sixth as he did for winning Barbury! Aachen has excellent sponsors and organisers, and is constantly looking to improve and innovate.
How can Aston-le-Walls therefore compare? It does, though. Nigel and Ann Taylor have done an incredible job there — I can remember when it first started and it was just a little event on a couple of flat fields. Now, they have a huge all-weather arena that can accommodate four full-size dressage arenas, plus a good-size warm-up, also on a surface. There are flags, white railings, a watered showjumping arena — and, given the terrain, Nigel has made the cross-country course as interesting and varied as he can.
The whole team do a thorough and professional job. They have the same mindset as Aachen of looking after competitors and making the best event they possibly can, which makes the whole experience more enjoyable.
Barbury as well has fantastic organisation and is one of the best venues for an event anywhere in the world, in my opinion. I love the Outside Chance bar facility, and it attracts an amazing mix of people. There are always lots of racing folk there, and the JCB Challenge (pictured top) for jockeys, eventers and a hunting team went down really well. The racing boys loved being part of the event and are keen to have a go themselves — could we rekindle the eventers v jockeys challenge we ran in 1988, where they jumped round Gatcombe and we jumped round Aintree? I still have the video. It was the most amazing fun, and that was before the modifications to the Aintree course.
My only criticism of Barbury was that the cross-country concluded very late. Couldn’t they start and finish earlier?
In between Barbury and Aston-le-Walls, I had a weekend off and played in a charity polo match in aid of Inspire, the spinal injuries charity. It’s a cause close to my heart and I am patron of the Catwalk Spinal Cord Injury Trust, founded by Catriona Williams, in New Zealand.
The polo was great fun, even if it wasn’t the most thrilling match for spectators. We were like a swarm of bees moving slowly round the field, hacking away at the ball. But at least, unlike at Barbury, the eventers beat the jockeys. And Lucinda Fredericks won the race between a jockey, a polo player and an event rider from one end of the pitch to the other on polo ponies. The jockey came last!
This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (24 July, 2014)