Want to know what it’s like to compete at an international show? Then tag along when your sister is picked for the Pony Club show jumping at the British Open — that’s what I did.

Arriving at the Birmingham NEC

Having remembered the hay as we were pulling out of the drive, I felt justified in sneaking off to explore, rather than help. The Pony Club stabling was clean, if damp due to constant drizzle, but was overshadowed by the covered international stables next door — who did these people think they were, famous show jumpers? Oh hang on, that’s right….

Anyway, the four teams representing England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales soon made the yard feel like home — that is, if the Welsh usually festoon their stables with flags and daffodils, and the Irish habitually keep a pile of potatoes outside theirs.

Exercising with the big boys

On Friday morning, the Pony Clubbers introduced their ponies to the main arena during the exercise slot, where they looked incredibly small alongside the top show jumpers, in an arena empty of fences. However, according to Anna East of the England team, the arena is deceptive. “Once you’re in here it feels tiny,” she said.

The first rounds

As Jean François Pignon’s horses galloped past loose (no headcollars backstage either) the teams had their tack checked — rally or not, they were expected to look and behave like members of the Pony Club.

The tannoy announced that team trainers should be suitably dressed for the course walk and I saw my only chance to enter the NEC arena (unless I volunteer to pick up muck). Under the coloured lights and booming music, I measured strides and imagined jumping it — at the height for the 12.2hh’s, I might just manage it.

Each team consisted of a 12.2hh, a 13.2hh, a 14.2hh and an over 14.2hh jumping various heights up to 1.10m. After two rounds each, Wales had the lead and seemed confident that they could keep it up the next day. “There’s always the worry that we’ll get over-confident though,” said Rebecca Peters, of the Welsh team.

Able to discard one score, Wales finished the day on four faults, Scotland on 20 and England and Northern Ireland on 28.

Read Victoria’s day two blog to find out how the teams got on.