Sallie Walrond recalls her drive at the Lowther Horse Driving Trials in 1975
I had always wanted to complete a combined driving event with a tandem and,in 1975, I got my chance at Lowther. It was truly a drive of my life and gave me a great sense of achievement and pride in my ponies.
In preparation, they were ridden and driven for miles. We built a hazard at home and worked them through on long-reins. We boxed them to water crossings and went through first under saddle, then on long-reins and eventually in tandem.
At the event two hazards really worried me. One was a river crossing, far wider and faster than anything we had been able to try at home, and the other was a steep bank, on which were dug solid, thick posts, which would definitely not give way if you hit them.
Driving a tandem was such a rarity that we were the only competitors, so all we had to do was complete to achieve my ambition.
The vehicle was a 19th Century Ralli car, the ponies wore their best show harness and I wore private driving-type clothes. There were no hard hats, racing colours or metal wheels and shafts in those days.
After presentation and dressage, we made a good start to the cross-country. The ponies were wonderful and it was so exciting. They did not hesitate at the water and I was almost in tears with relief and pride. We managed not to hit the posts on thesteep bank and I thought all would be well – but pride went before a fall.
The next hazard was a slalom between trees, during which I failed to hold Raz off a protruding root, which caught the right wheel. We began to tip over and, although my navigator, Tony Barnard, did his best to keep us upright, over we went. Raz went down with the shaft under her left side, someone grabbed Libby and another person sat on Raz’s head.
Tony and I were unhurt. I told our helpers to push the cartforward to loosen and unhook the traces and, to my relief, Raz got up unscathed except for a tiny graze on her hock.
The St John Ambulance team bound up the shaft and Bernard Mills made the vehicle serviceable with 30m of thin rope from my spares kit. We were about to drive out of the hazard when Bernard reminded me that if I did not complete it, we would be eliminated.
I didn’t know which way to go, so dear Bernard walked the route and the ponies tucked in behind him. Nowadays, it would be called outside assistance, but no one seemed to mind!
The ponies went beautifully to complete the course and we drove through the finish to cheers, hugs and kisses. It all became very emotional. Raz and Libby pulled out totally sound next day, Tony had done a superb job on the Ralli car and the ponies went beautifully to go clear in the obstacle driving.
I felt so proud of them as we lined up in the prize-giving. We received a Lowther pewter tankard that burglars took some years later – if anyone comes across it, I would so love to have it returned.
Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (20 February) where Geoff Billington talks about his ‘ride of a lifetime’ at the 1999 European Championships at Hickstead.
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