Despite lockdown easing, it’s not easy to plan for events, says H&H’s eventing columnist
If all goes well, we might actually be going eventing in two weeks’ time – and I can’t wait to see everyone again – but it’s still hard to make plans. Although it looks as though the French autumn season might survive, the devastating cancellation of so many lovely events – Hartpury, Millstreet, Blair, Burghley, Blenheim and Boekelo – makes it difficult to know what to aim for.
You always start a season with a goal for each horse, even if it doesn’t come off. I had high hopes of the six-year-old championship at Le Lion for Kings Tilly, but I don’t think she’ll be ready in time.
When lockdown started, I turned away the competing horses; they’re back in work, but working off grass, and hard ground has slowed preparation. It’s ironic to think of the amount of withdrawals there would have been in recent weeks.
Just as racing is adjusting to the idea of a not very glamorous Ascot this week, with lower prize money and owners not allowed to go, we will all have to get used to old-fashioned, no-frills events. This won’t come as too much of a shock to riders of my age – there wasn’t even a mid-summer season when I started out.
We should be hugely grateful to those organisers who are doing their best to run, as they’re taking a financial risk: the unpredictability of entry levels may make it even more difficult for some to balance the books as riders waver about whether to commit to making entries.
Most riders are financially reliant on their owners, some of whose businesses will have suffered, and there will be several who will have told riders to turn their horses away for the year. Preparation has been even more complicated for riders in Scotland and Wales, like my daughter Emily, as they have been subject to stricter lockdown rules which make travelling to lessons or cross-country schooling virtually impossible.
Like many self-employed riders, I have claimed a government grant; I felt slightly guilty, but I bet we’ll soon be paying higher taxes as a result of the economic downturn.
Her line lives on
On the breeding front, there have been sad and happy moments. Kings Temptress (Tess), on whom I won Kentucky in 2011, had a lovely colt foal, but, tragically, had to be put down due to peritonitis.
I immediately phoned Johanna Varden at the National Foaling Bank, who gave me a lot of advice. I’m not a great one for Facebook, but I put a post up with an urgent request for a foster mother. Within half an hour, 600,000 people had read it and 1,500 responded, which was overwhelming but heartwarming.
The second phone call I made was to the Franklins in Warwickshire, who had a mare with a dead foal, so I rushed up there with my little foal, reasoning that it was an “essential journey”.
Unbelievably, the mare died of colic in the night a week later. Rather than disturbing me, the Franklins put up a Facebook post which, luckily, was picked up by the Turners in Uttoxeter with a suitable mare.
My well-travelled foal is by Van Gogh, who has been producing good horses in all disciplines – Emily rode him and loved his athleticism when she was at Marco Kutscher’s yard in Germany – so, naturally, he has been christened King Vincent (Vinnie for short).
Tess is a big loss. She was also third at Burghley and was my reserve horse for the London Olympics; she wasn’t amazingly talented, but she had a big heart and trusted me. Happily, two of her daughters, one by Cevin Z, one by Chilli Morning, are having embryo transfers, so her line will live on.
Ref Horse & Hound; 18 June 2020