Daisy Berkeley on Blair Castle Horse Trials: ‘These cross-country courses bucked the trend’


  • Daisy Berkeley, who won team bronze at the 2008 Olympics on Spring Along, as well as world team silver and European team gold, reflects on the cross-country tracks at Land Rover Blair Castle Horse Trials last week

    BLAIR Castle Horse Trials is my favourite event – I love it. It’s a long drive for many, but when you wake the first morning, surrounded by rugged hills with the mist rising, it’s breathtaking.

    This year, we had incredible weather, with the mist giving way to beautiful burning sunshine, which made a change as Blair can be notoriously wet. The ground was faster than I’ve ever known it, but still good. The whole team from top to bottom are welcoming, charming and friendly. It makes you love Scotland.

    Horses haven’t seen crowds like that for a couple of years, so they will have grown up from the experience. It really felt like we were at a big event again.
    I followed Ian Stark in the CCI2*-L and we had great chats about “back in the day”. You’d have thought he’d won, such was the applause when he jumped clear on Sunday.

    Blair Castle Horse Trials cross-country courses

    Alec Lochore has done a great job with the cross-country courses, which rode well. The two- and three-star were on the strong side, but it was all fair – there was nothing nasty, nothing trappy and no bad distances.

    Horses couldn’t read the seal in the first water in the two-star if people cut the corner in too tight; they were spooking at the water, not looking at the jump. As the day went on, riders learnt to give the horses longer to see the fence.

    I like the layout of the long-format courses, so you have three minutes on the flat to get into a really good galloping rhythm. Then it’s uphill for a couple of minutes, then downhill home. The CCI4*-S course doesn’t give you much over a minute on the flat at the start, so you never get in such a strong rhythm. But it’s a good test.

    At the moment, designers overuse open distances – a massive oxer, then a flat-out gallop to an angled skinny. Alec bucked this trend. One combination in the CCI4*-S had a big oxer, then a holding six strides to a corner and four to another corner – you had to curve the four, or it was three and a half. It made riders sit up and balance and it was a joy to see Ros Canter ride it, making it look like an exercise in the school.

    Diane Beaumont’s showjumping tracks were also extremely good. There were a lot of roll-backs and the distances tested riders, as some were moving and others short. You had to keep going forward on tight lines to make the time.

    I dropped 15 places through having a fence in the two-star, which was gutting, but when I was on the FEI eventing committee, I was in favour of having the dressage marks closer together – which is what has happened with the removal of the coefficient in 2018 – so the showjumping would be more influential.

    Rosie Fry, who won the CCI4*-L, has been a consistent rider for a long time. With Alice Casburn and Lauren Innes behind her, it was good to see riders without the senior Union flag on their coat going well. We are, of course, terribly proud of our British senior team riders, though – the quality and strength in depth is extraordinary at the moment.

    A sad cloud over the lorry park

    When I heard about the death of four horses on Nick Gauntlett’s lorry, hit while broken down on the side of the road to Blair, it was like I’d been punched in the guts – our worst nightmare. There was a cloud over the lorry park on night one.

    But we all thought, “We’re here because we love horses and doing what we do, we’re lucky and we must enjoy it as much as possible – and be safe.” The undercurrent was there all week and made us all appreciate the beautiful weather and lovely place even more.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 2 September

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