Toby Coles’ diary: Golden Button won!

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  • After receiving my ticking-off from the starter (see part-one of this week’s diary) I departed from Wolverhampton to go to Cheltenham to stay with a friend who was providing me with a horse to ride in the Hayes Golden Button Challenge, the Ledbury hunt race, on Saturday morning.

    I left for Tirley and arrived to walk the course with a couple of friends in the dark. On arriving at the third, an open ditch into a hedge, it didn’t look too bad. The fifth fence was slightly bigger again, or seemed it in the dark, as it was hardly a ditch but more like the River Severn flowing in front of it! The rest of the course consisted of a variation of upright wooden post-and-rails with telegraph poles on the top, open ditches, hedges with ditches behind, and downright hairy ones!

    Weighing out

    My horse arrived in plenty of time and I was able to weigh out at just gone 9am. On weighing out I was told to make sure that I drank something and ate a healthy breakfast as I was just under the minimum weight of 11st 7lbs with my saddle. Jo Holder, whose horse I was riding, seemed to be terrified! After some encouragement from her friends and legging me up there was no more for them to do other than watch.

    A sprinting start

    As we set off for this three-and-a-half mile race, the leaders set off faster than any of my five furlong sprinters would dream of going! The Big Horse and I were happy to take a back seat and try to pick our way through the field.

    Approaching the third, I had now realised why those at the front had gone off like a bat out of hell. Firstly, they would not have to thread their way through the mayhem which ensued and secondly, as both the third and fifth fences needed a huge amount of speed to clear both the river in front and the hedge behind. The third took the stuffing from my horse as we had smashed our way through the hedge and had only just managed to keep intact.

    On approaching the fifth we attacked it with slightly more gusto and jumped it with a little more precision and by the time we approached the eighth, an upright post and rails which had claimed an ever-increasing number of victims, we were in full flow and jumped it in great style.

    Loose horses everywhere

    By the time we reached the 18th I had gone past both huge numbers of loose horses and bodies strewn from fence to fence. By the time I reached six from home I counted nine loose horses galloping across the large hedge and ditch in front of me. My mount and I managed to time it so we reached the hedge just as the last loose horse had gone by.

    After crossing the large ditch, which I had nearly forgotten existed, we turned into the last upright of the race which seemed rather like the battlefield of Balaclava, as chaos had ensued on the other side.

    I, myself, very nearly came to grief but somehow managed to lift my mount’s head and we ploughed on towards the next two hedges, both of which had horses lying the landing side exactly where I wished to jump. A quick change of plan into the first and a change of angle into the second saw us clear them both, much to the relief of some poor girl (Ali Galliers Pratt, pictured above, whose horse was not injured in the fall) as I missed her horse’s head by a matter of inches.

    By the time I approached the last two fences my mount was nearly empty of fuel, but we managed to complete and we finished ninth.

    Thanks to Jo Holder

    I must thank Jo Holder, whose horse I rode, for allowing me to take it to the limit. The Big Horse did tremendously well as most who had started the race barely got halfway round and it is credit to him that we finished at all.

    Now for the running race

    Half an hour after finishing the Button, I was again on the course, this time under my own steam. I was taking on last year’s winner of the running race, reportedly a former special forces member (I had my suspicions as he had the customary black square covering his eyes!). Every time I got within reaching distance of him, he just motored on. He was a machine amongst men and I came home second a couple of hundred yards behind him. He, however, had not ridden in the race and, I therefore, held a moral victory over him!

    What a day — I returned to Newmarket to hay my “ponies” in the evening accompanied by a Golden Button, awarded for the first combined rider and runner!
    Sunday and back to reality, freshened up even though exhausted.

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