Eventing is a challenging equestrian sport - a horsey triathlon - combining dressage, show jumping and cross country jumping (www.britisheventing.com).
It is one associated with a reliable team of people making sure everything runs like clockwork. Once the competition begins it is just horse & rider, but the amount of preparation both in advance of a competition and on the day itself means that a helping hand is invaluable.
All good if you are a professional and employ grooms or if you have horsey friends/family with time on their hands - but what if you don't?
My name is Rachel Buckle and I am a civil servant from Bristol. I own one horse - Earl.
Earl is my best friend and we have learned so much together in the 7.5 years we have been a partnership. I believe I epitomize a true grassroots competitor - I have a very busy job and Earl is my second full time occupation!
I am competitive and always strive for better - always aiming for Earl & I to fulfill our potential as a team, but this is my hobby and should be ‘fun’!
I want to tell you about our first eventing competition of the season and what I term ‘fun’ as I go to eventing competitions solo.
Things actually start the day before. I ride Earl for one final time, making sure he feels on form and relaxed in his work. Then the 'clean up operation' begins. Earl gets a full bath - which actually includes Rachel having a full bath as well - I have not found a way to stay dry as yet, but it's all quite fun and part of the routine!
Once Earl is sparkling and in his stable with clear instructions not to roll in anything messy, I turn my attention to the equipment - cleaning 3 bridles, 2 saddles and doing a 'stock-check' of essential horse & rider kit.
When it comes to kit I am very lucky to have the choice of several invaluable Regatta items in the form of windproof zip up waistcoats/gilet and lined and unlined waterproof jackets. I cannot begin to explain how important it is to feel prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at us!
The big day starts at 4.30am (ouch) and I am ready for anything in my black Regatta waterproof & lightweight jacket.
I arrive at the yard - Earl has kept up his end of the bargain and has remained clean, so is rewarded with breakfast while I pack the horsebox with all equipment.
I then plait his mane and get him ready for the journey.
Team Earl then hits the road and makes our way to Broadway in Gloucestershire. This beautiful Cotswold setting makes me realise how lucky I am that my hobby allows me to enjoy some of the most beautiful countryside the UK has to offer.
As we arrive there is daylight and some sunshine, so I swap my jacket for my stylish Regatta waistcoat.
I register and collect my number, I walk the show jumping course, then the cross country course. It is vital you know where you are going and make a plan for how you will ride the different fences - Earl has no idea where he is going or what comes next and he puts a lot of trust in me. There are around 10 fences in the show jumping arena and up to 20 fences on the cross country.
The Competitive Bit:
Back to the lorry park and I get a whinny from Earl who is ready to come out and get ready for the dressage.
Saddle, bridle and boots for Earl, as well as studs that are screwed into his shoes for grip on the wet grass.
I get into my kit - breeches, stock, jacket, hat, gloves and number.
We register with the dressage steward and warm up.
The horse is not allowed boots on in the test itself, but I always warm up with them on for protection. I have to smile sweetly at the steward to remove them from Earl's legs to avoid me having to get off!
The dressage 'test' itself consists of a 5 minute execution of specific movements where the rhythm, balance, suppleness and accuracy of horse and rider are assessed.
Lots of pats for Earl and we walk back to the lorry park and remove all of the dressage kit. A quick brush for Earl and then I put on a new set of tack - a different bridle, saddle and boots!
We walk across the showground to the show jumping warm up and find out how many are to jump before it’s our turn. With this in mind I warm Earl up with the aim to have him feeling athletic but obedient by the time we are called into the ring.
Earl has been very difficult in this phase over the years and I now use a calming supplement from Equifeast (www.equifeast.com) which helps him concentrate better and feel more confident when we go into the ring. Well this worked a treat as we jumped clear and kept a consistent rhythm throughout the round, meaning I could manoeuvre Earl easily around the turns and he found jumping the fences the easy bit!
We head back to the lorry for another pit stop. The preparation for cross country is the biggest kit change. Earl has a different bridle and more boots. I remove my tweed jacket and don my body protector, air jacket, and medical card! I check Earl’s studs then we head for the warm up area.
The cross country test sees you gallop over a 4 - 6 minute (timed) course, jumping fixed fences. The aim is to jump clear and be within the optimum time, but the skill is to be able to ride at a particular pace, not just to be able to go fast.
Earl gets very excited as soon as we approach the starter. We enter the starting box and he counts us down. Earl is dancing and then we are off. Even though there are people along the course they are all blocked out and it’s just you and your horse working as a team as you negotiate the obstacles and questions set out by the course designer.
Earl had his ears pricked and loved every minute. We jumped clear and you could hear my incessant patting and shrieks of "Good boy Earl" in the next county!
I always jump off at the end of the cross country, loosen the girth & nose-band and walk him in hand back to the lorry. I make sure his breathing has returned to normal before we stop and then I remove all his tack and studs, give him a wash down, then sort myself out!
After all the excitement has died down and I have finally stopped patting him he gets to munch grass and I get my picnic out. I then wait for the scores to be announced whilst enjoying the countryside and fresh air. Team Earl did rather well, and jumping what is termed a 'double clear' in our first event is like a dream come true. Out of 41 competitors we finished 5th and came home with some prize money and a HUGE orange rosette!
After the excitement of a prize giving there is then some more work to be done. All the kit needs to be packed up and we make our way home.
The worst part of the day is upon arrival back at the yard - Earl has his dinner and is tucked up for bed, then I need to unpack the lorry, clean out the horse area and create a washing pile to come home with me - this is when you feel most tired and the day suddenly starts to catch up with you!
I leave the yard at 7pm to drive home.
The pro's of eventing solo - there is no one to make you feel under pressure to do well, meaning you can focus solely on you & your horse, being out & about alone with your horse strengthens your bond & I love having competitions and goals to aim for
The con's of eventing solo - there is no one to share the achievement and smiles with (or commiserations), it is a blooming' hard days work and if I fall off my emergency contacts are a long way away.
It may be a 15 hour day of hard work and concentration, but nothing beats the joy and feeling of true partnership between horse and rider that eventing creates. When you are in the winners circle, it’s just the cherry on top of a wonderful day out - spurring you on to enter the next competition and start the process all over again...