Back in February 2019, someone in the Horse & Hound office very nearly lost their job. In a catastrophic error, I was accidentally confused with somebody important. A terrible blunder was made and, in what I can only guess was a case of mistaken identity, I wangled myself an invite to the 2019 Horse & Hound Awards.
Presumably, it would have been far too embarrassing to revoke the invite and admit the mistake. So, it came to pass, that I recently attended the very glitzy, fourth annual awards at a glamorous gala ceremony at Cheltenham racecourse.
Many, many moons ago (possibly a lifetime), I used to go to a very posh school in Knightsbridge, London. My friends lived in Chelsea and the smart bits of Battersea. I, myself, resided in Acton — an area of London suburban enough that my inner city friends would come over to my house and ask if it was okay to drink the tap water in the ‘countryside’, by which I presume they meant overground Picadilly line rather than underground? Riding on my friends’ coattails, however, I enjoyed rather glamorous teenage years and my early 20s were filled with glitzy nightclub events, opulent parties and gate-crashing extravagant weddings.
Times have changed. These days, my life is much more about mucking out stables, paying invoices, wiping my children’s snotty noses and making sure the bins and recycling have gone out on the correct day.
It comes as no surprise, then, that my attempt to find an outfit for the awards would portray a similar downward trajectory of class and style. I’ve never really been one for big label shopping and designer names, but even I wondered if I’d pushed it too far when I hurriedly shoved a party frock into the trolley as I was rushing round Tescos with my three children in tow.
To add insult to injury, I was stopped by the Tesco security guard, who thought I had stolen the dress, upon leaving the store. If, in a brief delusion of grandeur, I believed that a supermarket frock would not suffice for an occasion as prominent as the H&H Awards, any dreams I had of fitting in at such an event were quashed when Fred, the security guard, made it very clear that I didn’t look classy enough to be shopping in Tescos. I will stick to Lidl next time.
I actually really loved the dress. It was very gold and very sparkly. The unfortunate scenario was that I could take it in a size UK 8 or a size UK 18, of which I am neither. I chose the size UK 18. I was duly told off by my friends and husband. This is not the first time I have been accused of having body dysmorphia. I did my best efforts with pinning and sewing, but I am sadly not the seamstress that my fashion designer mother was.
Outfits acquired and prosecco packed, we merrily set off for Cheltenham. I took my friend and livery, Emily, as my guest and her toddler son came along with us for the road trip. Disaster struck en-route when our babysitter in Cheltenham messaged, announcing that he had come down with a vomiting bug and could not look after Emily’s son after all. With just hours until the start of the awards, we frantically googled ‘Cheltenham babysitters’ and and eventually found our very own Mary Poppins — a lovely nursery school teacher, who came to our rescue with only minutes to spare.
I was run down with a rather bad case of Laryngitis in the week preceding the awards. There were times where I could not make any sound at all, just a pathetic wheezy noise of air rushing through my trachea. I missed out on a week’s worth of coaching, and riding wasn’t particularly fun for my sore throat in the very low temperatures we experienced. But, of course, none of this mattered much to me. Missing out on the best part of a week’s wages was of little concern, when my ability to schmooze and network with the equestrian great and the good at the H&H Awards was at stake.
By some miracle (which could quite possibly be attributed to the three packets of Strepsils I devoured on the journey and the ‘robust’ pre-drinks session we had in the hotel room), by the time our taxi arrived to take us to the awards, I could just about manage to communicate in the fashion of cartoon character, Marge Simpson. Just as well, really. The only alternative was an evening of mime and interpretive dance.
Having acquired ourselves a record deal with Joe, our taxi driver, on our way to Cheltenham Racecourse (I have no idea — don’t ask!), Emily and I arrived at the venue. Somewhat predictably, we made a bee line for the two very handsome police horses of Gloucestershire Constabulary, who were standing patiently outside to greet the guests.
We checked ourselves in at the ground floor reception and gawped at the impressive table plan for the evening. Like moths to a flame, Emily and I gravitated towards the champagne reception, where we happily remained, celebrity spotting, mingling with friends (we did actually know a fair few people there — perhaps we weren’t totally out of our social league?) and taking shameless selfies.
I suppose the beauty of being invited purely as a guest, as opposed to a presenter or being shortlisted for an award, is that you have no obligation to remain sober. There is no chance of having to get up on the stage, so you are free to thoroughly enjoy yourself. And enjoy ourselves we did! The people on our table were absolutely lovely. A blend of shortlisted award winners, H&H staff and fellow bloggers.
I got lucky and found a golden winning ticket for the novelty, giant advent calendar in my H&H goody bag, which meant I received some fun NAF gifts.
The food was gorgeous and was followed by a thrilling charity auction, with prizes including a wine rack made from the shoes of some very famous horses. My husband made a wise move, confiscating the business card before I left home.
Next came the big event itself. Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes presented the awards ceremony. You can read all about the awards and the winners in the 12 December issue of Horse & Hound, but I can tell you that there were tears, laughter and absolute awe among the crowd for the winners — both human and horse. It really was quite inspirational and a lovely, morale-boosting celebration of the equestrian year that really got me into the festive spirit.
Somewhere over the past year or so, my style of dancing has evolved. For reasons unknown to me, I no longer shimmy or shuffle elegantly, but I pogo up and down rather energetically. It’s not particularly pretty but, Christ, do I have a good time! H&H surprised all the awards guests with a fabulous live band and we all hit the dance floor with fervour. There was elegant shimmy-ing, shuffling, swinging, pogo-ing and Macarena-ing late into the night. My body suffers for it these days, however, and it would have been a challenge for a passer-by to discern which of us was the para rider when Emily and I gingerly got out of the car at the service station, half way home, the next day.
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By some divine miracle, I didn’t suffer any terrible hangover. In fact, I returned back to the hotel after the awards with enough foresight to take my make-up off, have a shower and neck some paracetamol. I lay down in my hotel bed feeling very smug and pleased with myself. There was obviously still some lingering effects of all the champagne and gin, however. I reached out for a sip of water and, forgetting to sit up into a more upright position, proceeded, in a clumsy display of in coordination, to pour the entire contents of the water bottle over my whole face, up my nostrils and all over the pillows.
My lasting thought, as I went to sleep on the evening of the H&H Awards, was, ‘This must be what waterboarding feels like. How horrid.’
My huge thanks and gratitude go out to Horse & Hound and NAF for such a fabulous evening and the generous invitation. Please do have me back next year, H&H!
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