The moment that the horseboxes are spotted in the distance with the satnav stating the destination is being reached approaching a team chase, my tummy goes into a little flutter of excitement.
It was a fence judge’s glinting 4×4 that I spotted first as I rounded the final corner to the Belvoir team chase last weekend, and the view was spectacular.
Those little red and white flags poking up out of seemingly endless hedges. ‘YAY…HEDGES!’ I thought to myself!
After driving through the picturesque village of Buckminster the reception on the gate was just as welcoming. Spotting teammate Kerrie waving at me from the end of one of the many rows of horseboxes; the chap on the gate with a big smile and a cheeky comment about my driving sent me in her direction after posting a fancy programme through the window.
Handily, Kelly, another team member, was next to park up and after deciding our fourth must be delayed we set off on our coursewalk just as the main class of the day, the intermediate, was starting.
Set upon rolling ridge and furrow fields enclosed by Garthorpe racecourse, the Belvoir team chase has fantastic viewing. Placed within a shallow valley, the course starts along the front of the horsebox parking and sweeps away up the hill left-handed in a circular shape, disappearing out of sight only for a short while before finishing right alongside the start.
The Belvoir schedule is a bit different to those later in the season. After a morning of hunter trial classes
they run a fun class as their novice equivalent, followed by an intermediate, which being very competitive and up to height is more like a soft open. The novice class, which is considered a very kind intermediate, then concludes the day. So looking to step up out of the novice classes we plucked for their novice as a nice in-between and gosh, what fun we had!
At fence 13 on the coursewalk we were joined by our fourth team member, Becky, who had the furthest of all of us to travel. Nothing on the course was of concern, some meatier hedges (YAY HEDGES!) and a pen that would require some steering and a decision as to whether we sweep around to the left or right on landing from the second part. After watching a team turn left and nearly take out a fence judge by overshooting, we decided we would go right and then swing wide for the fairly decent hedge at the top of the field.
The rest of the course included plenty of hedges, some timber that would require some respect after the forgiving hedges, a big bullfinch on a sharp right angle, a downhill run to a solid upright hurdle and a nice but short rail to ditch combination before the water.
At the last fence we had a choice of two hedges, one being the fun class hedge, the other being the intermediate — we agreed to see how we were going and play our own game for that.
We quickly tacked up, chucked some studs in, squeeeeezed into our base layers and headed down to the start. After a couple of pops over the warm-up fences we were ready to go and were under the orders of the starter.
Finding ourselves with two ex-racehorses that both normally lead we put Kelly on Bluey in front, I sat in second, Becky in third and in the knowledge that Kerrie on Harty would have plenty left in the tank and acceleration at the end bringing up the rear.
After the insignificant first fence we were straight on to the hedges I was so looking forward to. A short field up to the third and as we landed I found myself thinking the hedge rode bigger than it walked. Instinctively the defensive seat kicked in and I became friendly with the buckle of my reins as we flew the fourth. Come the fifth I was aware that Kerrie was now behind me and later found out the Becky had to represent a hedge behind. At the eighth, a small hedge, I took a cheeky angle and Kitkat flew it without a second glance. Wow! The rest flew by until the tenth, a fair hedge on an angle to a rail, where Kelly had an unfortunate glance off because of a genuine misunderstanding from Bluey. Expertly, Kelly kept out of the way and I had enough room to jump without mishap. Kerrie took the lead and without hesitation we made it to the pen with Kelly now in third. Our line worked well and we hurled ourselves over the hedge at the top of the course, then a sequence of timber fences, which the horses all jumped well.
I was nearly jumped out of the saddle going over the bullfinch and at the next nearly swiped out by Harty as he slammed on the brakes in front of me at the upright. After impulsive abuse to Kerrie, team relationships were quickly rekindled and Kelly was back in the lead for the ditch and the water. Then the decision at the last, Kelly had taken an obvious line to the bigger hedge. Kerrie was hollering at me to see which I was doing so she could get her line. I screamed the small one, and then realising I would never forgive myself, aimed Kitkat for the other and held my breath as I hoped and prayed that we would land in one piece. We did and with Kerrie at my girth we glanced over to each over, crouched down and raced pasted the finish. What a feeling!