Having visited the Essex and Suffolk team chase for a few years on the trot I thought I had got to know the intermediate course fairly well as a spectator.
So on the days leading up to it I was getting myself in a wee bit of a fret about the third fence. In previous years it has been the hedge I had always admired the intermediate and open teams jumping.
Standing at what must be 5ft, it is a considerable question so early on in the course. In 2014 they made it optional to the intermediate teams; allowing them to elect to jump it or the significantly smaller novice hedge. All I could do was hope that the same option applied this year.
Upon our arrival, the course walk revealed lots of things; that the third fence was indeed optional (phew) and that walking a course as a spectator is totally different to walking it as a rider.
I didn’t say anything as we were walking around but the hedges at fences four, five and six were — to me — MASSIVE. Admittedly they weren’t quite as impressive as the optional fence three, but big, solid, sticky, pointy beasts of hedges. I was confident that they would jump well, but my mouth started to go a bit dry.
Hedge seven was equally sizeable and peering over it you are confronted with a road crossing to another hedge. Essentially a double of hedges, and it looked seriously tight. Eeek!
Team mates Kelly and Kerrie — who are both used to the hunting field gave it a shrug and said: “Just ride it as it comes.” Nicola (our fourth team member) and I however, headed down to the gateway so we could walk the distance between the two hedges.
Nicola is ace; she is a member of the mounted police display team — one of those people who can jump a grid of fences, under a spotlight, in front of hundreds of people all while taking her stirrups off! She ran in our team last season in the novice at the Fernie team chase and had a fab time, so I was thrilled she was able to take our fourth spot. Her horse, ‘M’ is ginormous! A real genuine sort, only a six-year-old and possibly the kindest 17.3hh giant of a Trakehner you could meet.
Nicola paced out the distance between the two hedges at the road crossing. Hmmm, not really a full stride, not really a bounce; we agreed with Kelly and Kerrie to just ride it as it comes and quickly moved on!
A few fences later we came to the next road crossing. I wish we had taken a photo of the drop on the landing side of the first part. There was plenty of room from it to the second part which was a rail and a quick turn back to another rail and then on to a field of hedges before heading back down to the rest of the course. This was going to be the most challenging course I had ridden.
After a quick tack up and a short warm-up we were called forward to run and we were off.
Fence one gave us an option of either the novice rail on the left or the small hedge to the right, separated by some post and rail. Together Kerrie and Kelly jumped out of the start in front, Kelly to the rail on the left and Kerrie to the right.
The drama for us started here; the pace was steady and a few strides before the hedge I was upsides Kerrie. Suddenly Kerrie’s horse Harty started running over to the left had side of the hedge. We had already taken off when he squeezed me out of the way and pushed me the wrong side of the flag, nearly taking my foot off in the process. I had therefore jumped the unflagged post and rail and had to pull up, jump the novice rail the wrong way to re-present at the hedge again. By this point the team were well on their way to the third and I was playing catch up.
Kerrie was leading to the fifth hedge and had an unfortunate stop, however Kelly and Bluey were ready to take up the lead and flew on to the next. By the road crossing at seven I was just catching up with the team, which rang alarm bells as Kat and I are never the fastest.
As I approached the crossing I could see poor Nicola had taken a tumble (pictured top), Kelly had obviously gone clear as was out of sight and Kerrie was by the first part waiting for the path to be cleared. Nicola was up and out of the way so I took a turn and Kat flew through the double without giving it a thought. I looked behind me and Kerrie could do everything but persuade Harty to jump it so it was just Kelly and I left.
I could see Kelly’s speckle of our team blue a field ahead so decided to try and catch up, thinking we could at least hack around the rest together. Kat was obviously still sensing the urgency of playing catch up and so soared the hedge, rails and on to the ginormous drop, which he cleared with no bother at all. As I jumped out of the second part and over the rail at 13 I saw Kelly standing with the fence judges…minus Bluey. The poor chap had lost his landing gear over the drop and fell. Oh dear. By fence 14 I was the last one left and we retired.
Bluey caused chaos by taking himself off for a hack around the Suffolk countryside. A massive thank you to all those that went out to find him, and to the lad that caught him and hacked him back.
The team was reunited back at the lorry park, with massive cheers when Kelly returned after she had been presented with a bashful looking Bluey. All horses were fine. Nic was beaming her usual infectious smile and was a little bit sore. Kelly was thrilled with how well Bluey had been going and Kerrie will be hunting Harty the day before the Bicester Hunt with Whaddon Chase team chase this weekend to get him back in the mood. I was in awe of my amazing horse. He jumped incredibly and I’m sad the season ends on Sunday.
A huge thanks to Sandra Aschettino, Paul Carley of PC Images UK and Craig Chaplin of C S Chaplin Photography for letting me use their photos.