With Blenheim Palace as a backdrop, Captain Richard Waygood presented a dashing spectacle as he performed his dressage test in military uniform this afternoon. What a fitting way to begin his campaign for the 2006 Blenheim title. The beautiful palace was designed as a monument to military success and since 1990 has become the figurehead for one of the UK’s most prestigious sporting occasions.

In the members’ enclosure, other types of campaign were being devised. As the crowd watched the youngest competitor Simon Lucey performing a
spectacular test one woman broke the silence saying to her husband, “We need to plan carefully.” Her husband looked up from his programme, “Do we do shopping, then lunch, then walk the cross-country or do we walk the cross-country, have lunch then shop?” After pondering for a few moments the husband said, “I think we should get a bottle of wine, watch some more dressage, have lunch, wander round the course, then shop.” And so the conversation continued…

This is the beauty of dressage days at three day events. Time. There is time for walking, shopping and watching. There is even time to discuss how to use your time.

Unless you’re me. As I paced round the first half of the cross-country
course I reprimanded myself for making extremely bad use of time by
partaking in a battle for broadband with Radio Oxford. However as I reached fence six, I was reassured to see Pippa Funnell and William Fox-Pitt were in no rush, enjoying a leisurely chat as they warmed up for the dressage. How they can laugh and joke before performing 40.4 pen and 47.3 pen dressage scores respectively I do not know, but then that is why they are the professionals.

At the Pony Club Championships at Sansaw Park last week I noticed a
distinctly different atmosphere. “I can’t believe I have to wait until 4pm to do my dressage,” one young Pony Clubber commented, “I can’t stand the nerves. I just want to get it over and done with.” I used to be the same – starting before the bell in the show jumping at Lulworth Horse Trials was not one of my finer eventing moments.

Having said that, Saturday’s cross-country day at Blenheim will involve an entirely different kind of time management – there will be no hanging around. The course (or what I’ve seen of it so far) will certainly take some riding. I wouldn’t want to come into fence number 4, the Puffa Puzzle, too slowly. Two big, wide tables on a turn early on in the course are a sure sign that course designer Mike Etherington-Smith has built a course for attackers, not defenders. The track continues through the middle of the trade stands – the Good Year Road Safety is an unforgiving looking sunken road combination and the Ariat Dewpond isn’t deep but there is certainly enough water to soak your jodhpurs and drench your pride.

It seems to me that eventing is all about timing. Taking your time, waiting for the right time and trying to make the optimum time. And as I set off to walk the rest of the course I spare a thought for one competitor at Burghley next weekend who will have to get his timing right. Andrew Hoy will be negotiating the sport’s most time dependent title, the $250000 Rolex Grand Prix and I am convinced that rather like the Pony Clubber last week, he can’t wait to get it over and done with.