Camilla Bingham’s ultimate showjumping show guide: London GCT

Camilla Bingham (pictured throughout competing at the GCT in London) is a showjumper based in Buckinghamshire. She manages her stables from her family-run yard, Puttenham Place, where she produces, competes and cares for her team of horses. Camilla travels all around Europe and the UK competing at some of the top shows that the industry has to offer. As an amateur showjumper attending some of the sport’s most prestigious events, Camilla explains what you can expect from these first-class shows, and gives us her top tips of how to make the most out of your experience

What an amazing weekend I had at the London leg of the Global Champions Tour (GCT) (2—4 August). As I sit down to write this blog, I am still reeling from the phenomenal show that was London GCT. I am going to give you a blow-by-blow account of this special event as no detail should be left out!

The show is held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home for some 300 veterans of the British Army, many of whom attended the show and were a wonderful sight in their scarlet coats. The main ring has the backdrop of the building, part of which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and is truly breath-taking.

Getting there

To start, for me as a rider/driver/do it all ‘myselfer’, to type the postcode into my satnav and it churns out that the journey will take under AN HOUR, fills my heart with joy, and that’s before I have even turned out of our driveway. I mean this stellar showcase competition is more local than any of my regular local jumping haunts. So, we are already onto a winner pre-departure.

Having said that, although a short journey, I definitely had to have my wits about me. The busy hubbub that is our capital is a pretty full on driving experience at the best of times — add an HGV lorry and no show signs, it can prove a little testing! There are zero pointers, even when you get into London, so it took all my concentration to successfully navigate our truck down the Earls Court Road and along the Embankment at 6am.

Settling in

There is quite a process to go through on arrival — bear with me, this will take some explaining.

The space is tight as you can imagine and the lorries work round a one-way system. Parking is alongside the stables and they allow you long enough to to unpack as quickly as possible (efficiency is tested to the max) and get the horses into their stables and settled. For most shows this would be arrival over, but not here. You then have to take a deep breath and drive off again into the depths of London… I do exaggerate slightly for this journey is but a hop, skip and a jump back across a bridge into Battersea Park where the lorries are based, but another journey nonetheless! At this point I would highlight that a bike is most handy for lorry to stable/showground trips, or if you want your step-count to reach astronomically dizzy heights, this is just the place for you.

The competition

Horse-related activities on arrival include arena familiarisation and a trot-up. Both are supremely well organised with time slots, so the long waits that are usually associated with these happenings are not an issue at this show, which is a lovely bonus. Before the jumping even starts there is such a special feel at the London GCT, with lots of people around and a great vibe.

The format for jumping here are two- and five-star competitions. I was entered in the former, where classes are run at 1.15m, 1.25m and 1.40m. The lower two heights are arguably built on the soft side, but then the 1.40m is testing and produced a great competition each day. They have a good warm up system with only 10 to 15 riders in the warm up arena at any one time, and for those with spooky horses, there is the opportunity to work in the main arena early in the morning before the competitions start.

What you can do when you’re not riding

Now to touch on this glorious showground and everything it has on offer.

It has a really lovely shopping village with a nice, chilled atmosphere and a big bar in the middle — bonus that it’s undercover! There is also a spacious children’s play area which was well used. The charity Brooke, Action for Working Horses and Donkeys, were there with Alfie and Lala the miniature donkey and Shetland meeting the public and raising money.

Everyone comments on what a fantastic feel this show has. The public seating area has been well thought out, there is a main undercover stand at one end and down the long side there is a smaller stand, not undercover but both with fantastic views of the arena.

However, with this show, if you really want to get into it, a VIP table gives you that opportunity. There is no hiding away from the fact that they are super expensive, but it is a totally special one-off experience and the organisers make sure that nothing is a bother.

VIP

For starters the view is beautiful, overlooking the arena and with the stunning back drop of Chelsea Hospital. The food is always delicious with such a big choice at breakfast and lunch, and the puddings are unreal. I can’t help but get a bit overwhelmed and eat far too much and make some sort of lame excuse about it being a total one-off so it’s ok…!

The atmosphere in London watching the big classes, especially the team final and the grand prix on the Saturday, is always electric. The crowd always get so enthusiastic, especially if a home rider is in the jump-off — this year Ben Maher and Explosion W absolutely flew round for a spectacular win.

Another plus of being in Chelsea means London shopping and restaurants, so there really is something for everyone.

How I got on

My performance over the week was a little up and down. Felix jumped in the 1.15m classes as we felt this would benefit his confidence. Mission accomplished — he finished with a fantastic double clear in the small tour grand prix which had an incredibly speedy jump off meaning we were relegated to 10th place. Fleurie was a bit up and down tipping her fences, but as the show went on she gave a lovely feel and I felt I had much more to work with, especially as the course was bigger on the final day.

In all honesty, it was a tough one for me psychologically, as I spent a long time prepping for London and it is hard when it doesn’t go to plan. But that all too often is the reality of horses and I take away real positives that both of mine ended the week on a high.

Getting out

I now just have to touch on my departure from this event — it was probably the only real down point to this fantastic show.

Lorries can’t leave until 7.30pm, it’s then run on a first come, first served basis, which could include waiting from 6.30pm. You’re then given a piece of paper with your name on it, mad dash to your lorry to line up to get out the car park, then wait to get over the bridge, then wait to get parked — a casual two hours later I flung my kit and horses on board and set off home.

Another quick thing on transport — for anyone aiming for a London highlight, beware of the extra lorry city charges. If you have a certain type and weight of lorry, you will get the low emissions charge, which is £200 per day. A bit of stinger and something to build into the budget. However, the organisers of the GCT send out brilliant information packs, so you are fully briefed on things well in advanced.

Continued below…

Summary

Overall, this show is a really amazing one of a kind experience, both as a competitor and a spectator and one that will always be firmly in our calendar. I would highly recommend it to riders and visitors alike — get that 2020 date in the diary and come and see it for yourself (31 July — 2 August)! For me it was such an experience working alongside some of the top riders in the world, where I could watch and learn. Now I just have to put it into practice!

A huge, huge thanks to everyone who makes this wonderful show happen — it is awesome!

Camilla

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