My season started in a rather different place this year — Wellington, Florida. It was quite an experience; the 12-week World Equestrian Festival is equestrian sport on a different level.
I took part in the “eventing showcase” at the beginning of February. Wellington is mostly geared towards showjumping, dressage and polo, but they are beginning to include eventing. William Fox-Pitt, Dan Jocelyn and I visited and rode borrowed horses in the $100,000 (£80,600) contest, which started with a dressage test at national three-star level.
We then jumped round a decent showjumping track — 1m 30 at least — in a fairly confined arena. That phase was rather my undoing on my borrowed horses!
The cross-country, designed by Mark Phillips, was only four minutes round two polo fields, but it contained some real three-star questions. It finished by going through the middle of the hospitality tent, which some riders were a bit concerned about, but I had seen it done before at New Zealand’s Horse Of The Year Show.
American rider Boyd Martin won it — I think for the third year running. The whole thing was a real eye-opener, particularly in terms of the level of hospitality. The Americans are very keen to get more money into eventing, and have some good backers. The country could easily lead the way in terms of prize-money soon, and we could end up chasing it over there.
And we’re off!
Back in Britain, Tweseldown was my first event of the season. It’s the first time I’ve been there since it was extensively revamped, and I was impressed. The weather was good, the going perfect, and the new layout and fences worked well.
My only blip was in heading down to the dressage wearing my hunting cap, only to be sent back and told to put my crash hat on. It was a reminder that rules are updated every year and that we have to be aware of what has changed.
I took just one horse to Aldon last weekend. It’s another event that has been part of the circuit for a long time but which has been freshened up and upgraded in recent years, and the weather and going were again good.
Often you don’t see many of your fellow competitors over the winter, so it’s always good to have a catch-up at the first few events. In my earlier years in the sport, people turned their horses out for much longer once the season was over; now they tend to give them a shorter break and do much more work on the showjumping and dressage in the closed season, so they come out better educated and better prepared.
Badminton is only six weeks away. I’m not going to Kentucky this year — although it was tempting, given that the first prize there is now the biggest in the sport. My two Badminton horses, Leonidas II and NZB Campino, are well experienced and don’t require extensive preparation. It’s all systems go for yet another season.
Ref Horse & Hound; 23 March 2017