Team chasing is a true adrenalin sport, but for many riders part of the attraction is its inclusive atmosphere and the sheer pleasure that it offers horses and riders of all standards.
“Any horse and rider who enjoys hunting will get a real thrill out of team chasing,” says Belinda Walkinshaw, secretary of the Masters of Foxhounds Association team chasing committee and patron of the Relentless team.
“You just need to be confident jumping in company and horse and rider must be reasonably fit. Courses start at around 2ft 9in, and are designed to be inviting and safe.
“There is no grading system, although horses competing in intermediate and open events must be five years old or over and riders in speed classes 16 years old or over.
“You can put together your own team or join one at whichever level is appropriate to your experience and ambitions.”
Teams have three or four riders, of which three must finish to record a score.
In intermediate speed and open classes, the fastest time — recorded as the third horse crosses the finish line — wins, while bogey time classes are judged against a pre-set optimum time.
“Open teams aim to qualify for the National Championship, held at the Heythrop in April,” says Belinda.
“Open courses look awesome, but are approved by experienced inspectors before each event and reward bold, accurate jumping.
“Any horse can be successful at team chasing, although the turn of foot offered by thoroughbred blood is useful at the top level.”
A feature of many of the courses is the switchback jumping track which goes back and forth over the same hedge line, so good steering is as important as scope.
Joining an established squad at your chosen level is a good way of getting started. Social media is widely used to make up teams. New members usually arrange to meet their teammates on the day of the event to have a group course-walk and discuss tactics.
“I have two open team chase horses who are ridden by a variety of jockeys, depending on their other commitments, so we are always fielding different line-ups and communication is key,” says Belinda.
“It is a sport that suits a wide range of horses and riders, and you always cross the finish line with a smile on your face.”
Horse & Hound’s Gemma Redrup took part in her first team chase last weekend (12 October 2014), finishing third in the novice class at the Pytchley.
Here are her 5 top tips for a newcomer:
1. Go online and search the British Team Chasing website for a course and date that you think will suit your horse. Your horse needs to be able to canter for around six minutes at a “good hunting pace”. Ask around about which courses are best for first-timers, and if in doubt, try to go and spectate at one before you take the plunge.
2. Find a team. A good place to start looking is on the British Team Chasing Facebook page. This is how I found my team, The Cunning Stunts. Team members and managers will post “adverts” looking for people to ride in their teams, and it is as simple as sending a reply and registering your interest. Entry fees are comparatively cheap — my novice round cost me £20.
3. Once you are in a team, communicate with fellow members to ascertain a good time to walk the course with them on the day of the event. By walking the course with your teammates you will be able to work out which lines you are taking and where might be best for your horse to sit amongst the other three horses as you go around.
4. Ask questions. From what kit you should wear (a lot of teams will provide you with their own colours to wear), to warm-up strategies and tactics on course, you can never ask too many questions. I found it was much better to ask what you might think to be stupid questions than to stay quiet, hope for the best and risk messing up on course.
5. Enjoy! My team chasing experience was like no other horsey discipline I have had a go at. Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and the atmosphere at the event was brilliant. Forget about seeing strides, you really have to go for it and just embrace the wonderful feeling of riding in a team. My non-horsey dad came along to watch and whilst stood at the bar, watching the open teams fly round the course later in the day, he commented what a wonderful time he was having (a rarity!). To top it off, our team came third. Needless to say I’ve already signed up to the Cotswold team chase in a couple of weeks.
Find out more at www.teamchasing.co.uk
Don’t miss ‘The moment’ in the 16 October 2014 issue of Horse & Hound magazine, with a picture from the first ever team chase in 1974
This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (9 January 2014)