Alice Oppenheimer: Covid-compliant but fun, too *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s guest dressage columnist reflects on riding at a championship like no other

    The NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships went far beyond my expectations – a massive hats off to British Dressage, Show Direct and Hartpury, because it was outstanding. Everyone I spoke to said the same thing – that they really enjoyed it, and hugely appreciated the effort that went into making it happen.

    I can’t imagine the logistical nightmare that was involved in finding a schedule that worked to enable us to have a championship experience, while also being Covid-compliant, ensuring everyone was safe and still able to enjoy it.

    Normally the winter championship tests are held inside, and it is an arena we all love riding in, but of course this year has been a bit different and all the competition was outside. I wasn’t sure we would get a championship feel as a result, but we did. The arenas were dressed so it still looked and felt like a championship, but equally the organisers didn’t make it too spooky because there were no arena walks this year.

    My advanced medium freestyle winner Headmore Bella Ruby doesn’t like the grass bank next to the outdoor arena, and because we often don’t get the opportunity to go in that arena until it’s a Premier League or international, it was great for her to have that chance.

    Brilliantly organised

    The whole event ran very smoothly. I like to know where everything is when I’m away at a show, and while I know what the winters is like usually, this year things were different. But the organisation of the stable managers, stewards and everyone in between made it all so enjoyable.

    We were given extra space in the warm-up arenas, and for horses who are a bit nervous, this will have given them a lot of confidence. It’s the same for riders, so they will have come away from the show feeling positive.

    The stables were brilliantly organised. We were asked not to leave anything outside them, which was not a problem. The horses were also spread out, so no stable block was too full, which made it a lot easier to avoid getting too close to each other. We were asked to empty our stables out when we left, too, which meant we knew they were completely clean both for us coming in and for the next person.

    We were given time slots to train in the indoor school when not competing, and this worked very efficiently. I was worried there might be a bit of a regimented feel and a sense that people couldn’t have fun “because of Covid”, but actually it didn’t feel like that at all.

    A big thank you must also go to all the competitors, who listened to the guidance and accepted the rules, meaning the championships could go ahead while making sure everyone stayed safe.

    For the love of horses

    Those of us who have horses are lucky for many reasons, one being that we have a routine. For my team and me, apart from the fact we didn’t go to shows, not a lot really changed during lockdown as the horses still needed to be cared for and ridden.

    I didn’t really miss competing when there were no shows to go to, although I was quite sulky during the week the winter championships should have taken place – I think we all were! But I knew that as soon as it started up again, I would want to be out there and I’m so pleased to be back competing.

    But I really enjoyed the chance to train with no pressure of shows during lockdown. I could teach horses things without worrying about a time limit. Bella has her one-time changes sorted now and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do that this summer if we’d been out competing.

    Although it was a forced competition break, it did put things in perspective. It was really nice to enjoy training the horses, to slow down a bit, to really appreciate what we have as riders and remember why we do it, which is because we love the horses.

    Competing is nice and we like to get out, but I do it because I love the horses, love training them and love working with them.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 27 August 2020