Opinion

When the Event Rider Masters (ERM) series first started in 2016, it was definitely seen as a UK thing. Now, with half of this year’s events in continental Europe, riders over there have really embraced it.

ERM went to Arville in Belgium for the first time last weekend. It is a stunning venue, with a chateau that has been in eventer Lara de Liedekerke-Meier’s family for many generations as the backdrop, and beautiful parkland.

When we first walked the cross-country course, we thought, “Oh God, the ground is really hard.” But the organisers kept reassuring us that it would be OK — and sure enough, by the time we rode on it on cross-country day, it was absolutely fine.

The course itself didn’t seem overly big — it appeared quite technical, but when we walked it, we didn’t quite see how difficult it would be for the horses to read some of the combinations.

Fence 9abc was very influential. It consisted of a big brush oxer, followed by a tight four or five-stride curving line to a brush corner, after which came two straight, long strides to a very skinny triple brush. It came up quickly and horses weren’t able to read it clearly — either it was a very clever fence that caught people out, or it wasn’t a great question.

Chris Burton showed his class by winning on Polystar I, whose owner, Trisha Rickards, must have set some sort of record — she also owns or co-owns Jonelle Price’s Badminton and Luhmühlen CCI4* winners.

Imagine that trio of wins in just seven weeks. It is brilliant for her; she has been involved in eventing for a long time. “Burto” said at the beginning of the week that Trisha’s luck was so in that all he had to do was turn up, and he was right!

Blyth Tait’s father always used to say that today’s headlines are tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappings, and it must have felt a bit like that for Jonelle. After her back-to-back CCI4* victories, she fell in the CIC2* at Arville and didn’t get round in the ERM. This sport never lets you rest on your laurels for long.

Feeling rusty

I didn’t have a particularly good weekend. Leonidas II pulled a muscle, so I moved NZB Campino, who hadn’t run since Pau last autumn, from the CIC2* into the ERM CIC3* class. He was very underprepared, and was a bit naughty in the dressage, fresh in the showjumping and a trifle rusty across country. I set off wanting a nice schooling round to get him back into the game, but it wasn’t the sort of course that allowed that.

I was also probably a bit rusty — having cut my string right back, and with the spring CCIs out of the way, I had spent the three previous weekends at home and I feel like a part-time rider. But Saumur, which seems a long time ago now, was great. My little chap McClaren was just amazing, finishing second in the CCI3*.

For the stage he is at, he went as well as I could possibly have hoped for, and our four time-faults across country were my fault. I thought I was well up on the clock and had my minute-markers a bit out. But McClaren, who did his first intermediate at Withington last April, was incredible — watch this space with him.

From now on, it all kicks off again — Barbury, Jardy, Aachen and right through to the World Equestrian Games.

Ref Horse & Hound; 28 June 2018