Having described the early December weather as “unseasonably dry”, resulting in some of my intended rides staying in their boxes, we have since experienced a meteorological rebalance. The ground now favours those with partially webbed feet!
Anyone who watched Cheltenham on New Year’s Day would have seen notable successes for names — both human and equine — intrinsically linked to British point-to-pointing. I am sure I was not alone in willing them up the hill for what was a great advert for the amateur ranks.
Those who watched can also have been excused for, at times, thinking they were watching Flat racing, with several obstacles being omitted.
Low sun, false ground, waterlogging and frozen ground are all common reasons for dolling-off fences at this time of year. Frustrating as this can be for spectators and punters, horse and jockey welfare has to take precedence.
There is no getting away from the fact we now live in a world driven by red tape, where advert breaks are dominated by “no win no fee” legal firms.
Galloping an inexperienced maiden at a 4ft 7in birch fence, with a 3ft black shadow extending out from the take-off board and horse and rider vision obscured by a setting sun, is asking for trouble.
Likewise, travelling at speed on rain drenched ground toward an open ditch on a half-tonne thoroughbred, not knowing whether they are going to pierce the ground to their fetlock or their knee with their final approach stride, is not recommended.
While we want to entice more spectators to experience the thrills and spills of point-to-pointing, it is important we do not send them away with visions of strewn or injured horses or riders. It is paramount therefore that stewards, officials and jockeys use their combined experience and discretion to ensure we provide an exciting but safe spectacle.
This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine, 9 January 2014