I’d been out of my car at Tweseldown a whole eight minutes today before one of my favourite riders took the mickey out of my compulsory blue tabard.
Another 10 minutes in and I’d had to explain my outfit to two more.
I couldn’t have cared less. The tabard was a perfectly reasonable request from the organisers in order to identify me as press, in a world where spectators are not permitted. Frankly I was so happy to be allowed to attend, I’d have worn a clown outfit had it been required.
Today was the first day of a British Eventing (BE) fixture since the Covid-19 lockdown started and it was both oddly normal and just a touch strange, as Georgie Spence and I agreed.
Tweseldown was the last event I attended pre-lockdown, on the day their first fixture of 2020 fell victim to the weather, and I felt as if maybe I’d gone to sleep on that day in early March, spent four months in a deep, deep slumber and just woken up.
I couldn’t stop grinning. To be out in the open air, sun shining and the wind whipping, watching a horse trials, seemed too good to be true. It was my first day’s work anywhere other than my desk at home since 16 March.
And it seemed everyone else was equally delighted to be there. I’ve never seen so many riders so happy to say hello, in a suitably social distanced fashion, of course. Horses seemed pretty ecstatic too… “F*** I couldn’t stop!” exclaimed one rider at the cross-country finish.
The main feeling of the event was calm. With only four sections running simultaneously, the dressage warm-up never looked like coming anywhere near the maximum permitted 34 combinations. Showjumping, with a separate flatwork area and riders then let into a collecting ring with five jumps, was also never overrun. Warming up looked positively dreamy, to be honest, compared to the bun fight that can sometimes ensue.
The calm, of course, is a great tribute to the organisers and BE – no doubt many hours of thinking and work have gone into developing and implementing guidelines which allow eventing to return and to run so smoothly on its first day.
The weirdest thing was the quiet. You don’t realise until it’s lacking how commentary is the thing which turns a schooling session into an event. It gets us riders’ hearts racing, tempts horses to buck their jockeys off in the dressage warm-up, makes us all feel like this a competition.
Walking the course in the eerie silence, I felt oddly out of touch, unsure how the track was riding or where the problems might be.
Halfway round I met our photographer, Peter Nixon, also in a blue tabard.
“You’ve got pockets!” he cried, jealous and slightly indignant.
Yes, I chose a tabard with pockets. Thanks Amazon Prime. I proudly showed off my pockets, at a 2m distance.
We chewed the fat about cancelled and rescheduled events. We compared refund statuses on our flights for Tokyo and wondered when to rebook for next year.
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I finished walking the course and went home – I didn’t want to outstay my welcome when the philosophy is to only be on site if you need to be. And clearly all interviewing of winners was going to be done by phone, with “gatherings” forbidden and no prize givings, and the usual trick of tracking riders down in the lorry park definitely outside the spirit of the guidelines.
It’s not quite eventing as we know it, but it’s not far off and it was fantastic to be back.
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