Saturday at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials and for me it’s all about walking the course. Pity my poor colleagues reporting on the day’s action as they are — generally — glued to a TV screen in the press tent.
When I first began at Horse & Hound, and as a long-time horse trials supporter, this came as a shock to me. What? They missed all that fantastic action on the course. But common sense soon kicked in. It would, of course, be impossible to give a comprehensive report on the day’s events without being able to see all the action rather than the selective offering walking the course gives.
However, apart from the fantastic equestrian sport — and today’s, celebrating Burghley’s 50th anniversary, was particularly good — there is so much more to being on the course during the day.
Let’s start with strategy. Those that spend the day course walking divide into the movers and the stakers. The movers start at the first fence — or the last — watch a rider or two at each and then move on to the next. The stakers choose their spot, set up the picnic (from straw baskets and tartan rugs to soggy sandwiches and a packet of crisps) and remain there for best part of the day.
Then there’s style. Fashion style that is, and it’s a great leveler. Today’s audience was split between those who listened to yesterday’s forecast and were consequently inadequately clothed for the best part of the day, to those who came prepared for anything the elements could throw at them and felt suitably smug until late afternoon, when the sun finally came out. Oh, and the hen party in yellow feathers (best not to ask why).
And it’s not just people that are there to be watched — there are the dogs. Every breed is represented and usually in couples, groomed for the occasion and enjoying every moment of the attention. From the terrier “that arrived in a horsebox” (again, best not to ask why) and was exhausted by fence 3, the Vegetable Stall, where we waited with bated breath to hear whether Oliver Townend and Neo Du Breuil were okay after their fall, to the best turned out pair of Sussex spaniels that distracted my companion and caused her to almost miss Zara Phillips at the Lake Crossing (very tidy).
Vocal support for the riders verges on acapella: “Oowoowall” as eventual overnight winner William Fox-Pitt gave Parklane Hawk an extra kick to persuade him that down was the only way over the drop at the Leaf Pit Classic, to a veritable uplifting chorus willing Simone Deitermann back into the saddle at Capability’s Cutting.
There’s also a lot be learned for eavesdropping on the conversations of your fellow promenaders. Gossip is the most popular currency as friends from the four corners of the UK use this as an opportunity to catch up, but you’re just as likely to pick up a few nuggets of insider-information from the occasional ex-course steward or “friend of the owner”. Listener beware!
Cross-country day at Burghley can be so many different things to those that share the experience, but for everyone it’s just the best day out.
Don’t forget to buy Horse & Hound next week (8 September) for our 10-page special Burghley report including comments from course-designer Mark Phillips, analysis of every phase and the full leader board.
Follow Burghley as it happens with H&H Live. Visit www.horseandhound.co.uk/burghley2011live to re-live the dressage action and join in tomorrow.