Camilla Bingham (pictured competing at Valkenswaard) is a young 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
It’s safe to say I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of the European show circuit lately (the good and the bad), and Valkenswaard in the Netherlands is hands-down one of my favourite venues to attend
Let’s start from the beginning — how to get there. If you’re coming from the UK, the organisation of ferries etc. is always a lot to do, but man, are some of these European shows worth the effort. You can go through companies (we use Shelley Ashman) that can do all the organising for you. On the bright side, when you do get to the other side, Valkenswaard is relatively easy to get to. Being only three-and-a-half hours (ish — don’t quote me — it depends how many snack stops you need!), from the boat, it’s very close and nice and easy to navigate to. The showground is about 15/20 minutes off the motorway and honestly I feel like I’ve approached it from a different route every year — all the roads are a bit smaller round there but nothing too scary, unless you count the first year where we ended up going through a bike festival — bunting, the works. In my defence, I was following someone else…!
On arrival at the show you get ushered to one side to park up while you jump out the lorry and head to the stable manager’s office. The office is right at the entrance for ease and convenience, so you literally drive in and get your stuff straight away. The main office is in the showground by the rings. They give you stable names and numbers and your hook up card then radio to other members of staff to say you are coming around to unload.
Tops have definitely designed and built the stabling and lorry area for convenience, which is often overlooked at other showgrounds. After a long drive, unloading all your hay, shavings and tack can be a bit of a mission while trying to settle the horses in too. However, here you navigate your way around a clearly explained one-way system and park up right at the end of your stable block (no need to put your running trainers on and hike bales and tack from one end of the showground to another). If this wasn’t enough, you are then greeted by a friendly team who come around offering to help you unload. I’m sure this is because unloading by yourself can take a hideous amount of time, by the end of which you will have clogged up the carefully planned traffic system put in place — but whatever the reasoning, hats off to the team who had us unloaded and moving on in a matter of minutes. So far, so good.
At every international show you have to trot up all your horses in front of the vet, where they also check microchips against the passport and that your vaccinations are up-to-date. Every show has different times, so you plan your trip accordingly to get there in time to do your trot-up.
Trot-ups are generally pretty nuts — a large group of fresh sports horses that have been travelling for a long period all lining up together, with usually two or three different vets to trot in front of. With so many horses in one small space; if one goes, they all bloody go!
The stables themselves are lovely, and not one to miss out on a finishing touch, Valkenswaard have named them all after famous horses: Darco, Hickstead, Shutterfly, and other such equine royalty.
At the end every aisle are two wash bays with hot and cold water. I love the wash bays because I don’t have one at home, so find it a bit of a luxury.
You can choose whether you need half doors or whole doors; so, if you’ve got a horse prone to be a bit naughty, or have a stallion, you can shut the top door.
The wide alleys down the middle of the stables allow people to pass without worrying about stabled horses being able to reach them and without equipment getting in the way. To top it off, it’s all undercover, so when it’s raining, you don’t get wet!
The best bit of the stables though? At the end of every aisle is a shower and toilet block with very clean facilities, something so many other venues wholeheartedly let themselves down on. They are insanely meticulous about clearing up here, with loads of people tidying up, and keeping the place looking smart. At the start of the show, all the stables have been cleared out and bedding has been put down. All swept and looking immaculate — you can’t fault it.
There are two rings — one main ring, for the two-star classes, and a smaller ring for the one-star classes. I say smaller, with emphasis on the ‘er’. It’s small for this venue, but by no means tight on space, and is the equivalent to a lot of other venues’ main rings. Each ring has a big screen with a bridge running across the middle so there are plenty of viewing points, and ample opportunities to get a good video of your round from any angle. If I were to be hyper-critical, the warm-up for the one-star classes is a little tight, so you must be very alert and aware of what is going on around you. The warm-up for the main ring, however, is massive… and I mean HUGE.
On top of the two show rings, there is a separate arena solely for working the horses in, with a canter track running around the edge, which can provide some entertainment!
The entry system for the show isn’t the easiest. First you have to go directly to the event organisers and, if you get in, pay a deposit to secure your spot. The deposit is slightly more than other shows, but it is after all a very nice event and extremely popular. Once you have your entry accepted by Valkenswaard, you have to go through your own national federation. As soon as you are cleared here, it will show up on the FEI app saying you’ve been accepted, or not, if you’ve been unlucky.
In-between the shows, it is quite expensive to stay (€40 per day, per horse). It’s nice to stay and to get used to the show and the arenas so it is a bit of a shame that it costs so much. A lot of competitors do go and stay with friends at local yards then come back in. If you can stay though it is worth it, especially if you’re lucky with the weather like we were. Everything just looks beautiful, and there is a very chilled, relaxed atmosphere. It’s not a huge number of people that stay, but it is a good group of people, and there is a lot of fun to be had. It’s an incredible location to be lucky enough to stay in.
What you can do when you’re not riding
With ‘work hard, play hard’ at the tip of many a showjumpers’ tongue there are plenty of places to go if you need to relax after a busy day. The pub up the road is literally a two second walk away and serves great food, if a little cheap and cheerful. It gets pretty busy with grooms and riders from the show in the evening for dinner, plus there is a snooker table, but they are usually hogging the bar.
There is a bar on-site, which is relatively popular in the evenings, but classes do tend to run quite late every day so it’s not always that busy, especially as classes start at 8am. On Tuesday night they put on a BBQ and music for everyone, which is fun.
If you feel like treating yourself to a bit of luxury, you can pay for a table in the VIP area (or individual wrist bands). VIP is a huge glass building in the middle of the two rings so you can keep an eye on all the action both rings. They start serving breakfast when the classes begin and then it is just a steady stream of crazy yummy food all day. Breakfast, lunch, pudding, dinner and more puddings. It does feel very special to be in VIP, plus if the weather isn’t so peachy you have a warm place to hide.
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Where to stay
The majority of riders tend to stay in a hotel nearby. There’s quite a few to choose from in Eindhoven or Valkenswaard, but, if you’re like me and actually quite enjoy staying in your lorry, this is an area that you can save the pennies on!
Overall, if you’re on the fence about whether to take the plunge and visit Valkenswaard I would say do it! It is a fabulous show. It may be a touch on the pricey side but worth every penny.
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