The rain that hit much of the UK in the lead-up to Houghton missed Norfolk, so the sandy going was very firm when we arrived. But the organising team did a great job on it and by Saturday it was more than acceptable though still fast.
The going contributed to the number of clears inside the time across country in all classes, as well as the high percentage of fault-free showjumping rounds, attributable in part to the fact the horses were jumping off a good, consistent surface.
Houghton director Alec Lochore demonstrated to riders a couple of the bits of kit used. One is a verti-drainer, which works in a different way to the traditional agri-vator in that it penetrates deeper and lifts the ground, without breaking up the surface.
The other is a Clegg Hammer, which measures the going by firing a pad into the ground and giving a reading. This is very useful for showing which areas of the course need the most work. Although this shouldn’t replace the feel of the ground underfoot, it’s great to have a quantifiable, scientific measure. This technology has been used in other sports, including racing and cricket, but well done to Alec for bringing it to eventing.
The Germans continued to flex their muscles at Houghton, winning the Nations Cup without their top squad.
Pippa Funnell’s win in the CCI2* was a good confidence boost after her serious fall last month, particularly as she wasn’t feeling 100% and was unsurprisingly tentative.
Olympic selection is looming and, after disappointments at the Blair Europeans last year and Badminton, Nicola Wilson had a point to prove and she did so well, with first and third in the CIC3*. The final scrabble for Rio slots is now in full swing for all nations and while some riders have all but secured their places, there are others who will be relying on a last-ditch big result at Tattersalls, Bramham or Luhmühlen over the next three weeks.
Saluting our grooms
On a personal note I was very sad to hear Karen Hughes had lost her battle with cancer. She was with me for three years and was a real old-fashioned head groom of the best sort.
Karen carried on working for as long as she could, which epitomised the way she devoted her life to the horses she looked after. She was vastly knowledgeable, an inspiration and role model to the next generation of grooms and will be much missed.
I believe grooms work harder than anybody in any sport — I’d be surprised if any role can beat it for dedication, hours and physical toil, not to mention emotional involvement.
My current head girl, Jess Errington, adores the horses and does her job out of genuine compassion for them. She is always cheerful and I know no corners are ever cut because she loves the horses so much.
Riders develop a strong bond with their grooms — we rely heavily on each other and they’re usually the first to receive a bear hug, whether it’s for joy or disaster.
Jess was besotted with Wild Lone and one of my greatest concerns when we lost him at the 2014 World Equestrian Games was how she would cope — making that journey home with an empty lorry was just as hard for her as for me. While there’s a lot of support in the short term, there’s still an empty stable in the weeks and months that follow. The love and dedication that makes grooms so great at their job means it’s horribly painful when something goes wrong.
The top competition grooms deserve huge respect — riders get much of the credit for success, but the grooms are the real stars.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 2 June 2016