“My, my, isn’t he smooth?”
My completely non-horsey dad’s appraisal of Andrew Nicholson’s clean riding through the water at Gatcombe might not put Mike Tucker out of a job, but at least he’s getting into the spirit of the day.
And he’s right. The brilliant Kiwi is quietly nursing Armada round Gatcombe’s famous undulations so stylishly that he might as well have been out on a Sunday afternoon hack.
Tiptoeing over picnic blankets and dogs — many of whom look incredibly stylish in their BETA neckerchiefs! — to bag the perfect vantage point near the water, I am reminded again of the incredibly broad appeal of our sport.
Despite conditions — the weather today can best be described as brisk rather than balmy — the crowds are out in force with everyone, from eventing doyennes to non-horsey dads, appreciating the courage and skill of both horse and rider.
And Gatcombe is a venue that demands courage in abundance. You can only really appreciate the challenges of the terrain when you’re trackside, but the descent down from The Folly to the water is challenging enough on two legs, let along when cantering down on four.
Several riders descend this part of the track far too quickly and it’s their quick-thinking and clever horses who get them out of trouble at the bottom.
But Lucy Wiegersma and Zara Phillips give a textbook display here, much to the crowd’s delight, while eventual runner-up Opposition Buzz tackles the water with aplomb. His cross-country round is electrifying and he’s definitely my horse of the day.
Having indulged in a rather large ice cream — I’m British, it’s raining, of course I want to queue for an ice cream! — I’m grateful for Gatcombe’s unique topography. Surely those hills were designed to burn calories? Walking the course, where every fence looks, to be quite honest, terrifying, I realise how much respect I have for anyone who has the guts to do this for a living.
While pondering this thought, I bump into Martin Herbert, who is doing research work with the Goodyear Safety Rails at fence five. Martin tells me that he’s got loads of good data from the three days of the Festival, so I’m looking forward to hearing more about that in the near future.
On the issue of eventing safety, we’ve got a world exclusive on this topic in an upcoming issue of H&H, so be sure to keep an eye on what’s happening in the mag.
Don’t miss Horse & Hound’s full report from the Festival, on sale Thursday 7 August