I may as well have become a weatherman for all the forecast watching I was doing on the approach to the Fernie team chase last weekend. The forecast was showing winds of 27mph, with gusts varying from 40 to 50mph — a terrifying thought when planning to travel up in a friend’s trailer.
Sunday morning came, and with the rain coming at us sideways, we loaded up and headed on our way. The proper adventure started at the entrance gate with lorries, cars and trailers queuing, while a tremendous team of eager lads darted effectively about the field with their tractors and chains. The poor field had suffered greatly from the vast entries in the novice class — more than sixty teams entered.
The inspiring Leicestershire country and the beautifully presented course makes for one of my favourite tracks. Braving the wind and rain, we donned wellies and waterproofs for our course walk. A new first fence sets you up brilliantly for the rest of the inviting hedges and rails. We bottled necked with other course walkers at the relocated pen — some serious strategy discussions were overheard. And there was great debate between two highly competitive teams as to whether the absence of a gate would affect the placings!
Despite the deluge of rain that morning, the old turf was holding up exceptionally well. After a moment of considering if we were fair weather riders, we tacked up and got into soggy saddles. Very grateful that our team sponsor Forelockandload.com provided us with some waterproof layers.
Christie, Kerrie and myself (pictured below) were running as a trio after losing our team mate in the warm-up. Wandering down to the start, it was agreed that it would be better to all get around than lose someone for being too eager. Lesson learnt. We were way off the time and disappointed not to have ridden more competitively. But with our first intermediate only a week away, it was a good confident round and the horses went back to their trailers full of running.
So the butterflies for the Berks and Bucks team chase — our first intermediate — started when their social media page put up a picture of the ‘canal turn’. After plenty of research, I was positive it must be for the open teams — the four foot take-off and seven foot landing didn’t tick many of my boxes!
Unusually for me, this outing was a bit of a family affair. We were staying with my aunt locally the night before. My 18-year-old cousin Phoebe (pictured below in red) had her pony club event cancelled that day, so after a few phone calls, we quickly secured her a space with the Hair Raisers. What a lucky girl to get a spot with them!
It was a foreign feeling having an afternoon time — for novices we had always set the alarms at mad o’clock to get there. But our time of 4.33pm meant for a leisurely start and a gentle stroll around the course.
The course was lovely. Walking your first intermediate course makes for a lot of nervous giggling and pretending to be distracted by the open fences! It was up to height and longer than we are used to — 30 fences compared to our normal 20. There were plenty of doubles, but nothing we weren’t comfortable with and thankfully no ‘canal turn’ in our class. The ground was spot on and the terrain meant you had to really concentrate on your take off and landing. Running up one side of a valley, meant the key was to make sure you jump right — jumping left would’ve made the landings into significant drops.
Sadly we never got to test the theory. After a couple of holds on course and then the arrival of an air ambulance for a faller — the organisers made the understandable decision, due to lost time and the diminishing light, to abandon the rest of the event.
The announcement came over the tannoy as we were warming up. Our intermediate bubble has been slightly burst, but we are looking forward to a blast over the Heythrop novice track this weekend, plus watching the open teams fight it out for the championship title. With a big screen for the Grand National, food stalls and fun for the kids, the Heythrop team chase (11 April) will definitely be one to come and watch — especially if you’ve never been team chasing before.