This summer I’ve hardly evented at all and have missed my XC fix. So when I got a phone call a few weeks ago asking if I’d fill a slot on a team-chase team I said yes without hesitation. It is something I’ve wanted to do for ages. I thought I’d share my experiences of the sport and give you a general guide to how it works and whether it’s a suitable extra-curricular activity for an eventer.
There are three levels, Novice, Intermediate and Open. Novice is usually run to a ‘bogey’ time – a secret optimum time which is set at an average hunting pace: the closest to this time wins. There are often special prizes for ‘best hunt team’, ‘best geriatric team’ and the like. Courses vary hugely in size and length but expect 2’6 to 3′ for Novice. Intermediate is usually run as two separate classes over the same course: one for bogey time again and one as a speed class. There is usually an upper limit of about 3’6 for timber on an intermediate course and no limit for hedges. Some of these can be considerably meaty, and those which look reasonable on approach often conceal a significant drop. One hedge last weekend was considerably taller than me on the landing side, and I’m 6ft! My course-walking tactic in these situations usually involves not getting within about 10yds of the fence! In Open classes the sky’s the limit. There is no height limit and pretty much anything goes.
Don’t expect fences dressed with flowers, carved wooden animals or tablecloths. You are not eventing! There is rarely anything skinny, though there are often tight turns where you might jump a hedge in one direction then U-turn back over it. Planning these turns can shave valuable seconds from your time. An ability to angle a fence will also come in handy. There are also rarely combination fences, with one notable exception – the pen. This is usually two fences close together (say two or three strides) and the aim is to have 12 hooves (ie. three horses) on the ground at once between the two fences. If you don’t manage this you get a time penalty. Obviously team-work comes strongly into play here. As you are jumping a lot of natural features you don’t get the carefully measured distances found in eventing. Last weekend there was a road-crossing which was 10yds across. Most took a pull and put two short ones in, some kicked on and did it in one stride. You need to be adaptable!
Refreshingly few! Teams can be three or four riders – obviously four allows for someone to get lost en route as only three are required to finish. The time is taken from the first horse crossing the start to the third horse crossing the finish. A ‘flying start’ is generally employed so that you’re already galloping when you cross the start line. You’re allowed to fall off and remount once but not twice, must wear an approved hat and body protector and… erm, that’s about it!
Is it Fun?
Yes, definitely! I went straight in at Intermediate Speed level and the thrill of galloping flat out and turning tightly back to big hedges in company with three other people hands down beats anything I’ve ever done eventing and probably ever done hunting. Compared with eventing the camaraderie is much better and the sport in general is much more laid-back. The speed required to win an intermediate, let alone an open (those guys are nutters!) is enormous, especially compared to eventing, but I am gradually adapting to it and most of the fence profiles are sufficiently kind to make them safe to take on a flyer. My eye is definitely beginning to see the longer strides from much further out! In two outings I have gone from ‘slightly overawed by the size and speed’ to ‘come on guys, kick on’ to ‘maybe, next season, with a following wind and a full hip-flask, I’d quite like to try an open’. It’s right up my street! There are also very enthusiastic spectators cheering you round the course, that amazing feeling when you gallop across the finish as a team and of course a well-stocked beer tent. If Carlsberg made horse sports…
Should I Take my Eventer?
Ah, well, that’s a tricky one. I wouldn’t recommend it for every horse, especially if you want it to return to eventing! I strongly suspect it would be A Bad Idea for any horse who generally finds XC a bit exciting. In the speed classes you see quite a few horses who are, to put it politely, a little wired! There are some who cannot even be trusted with a practice fence and pretty much go straight from the box park to the start. At open level most of the horses are ex-racehorses or pointers, and it shows. My horse isn’t strong or silly XC (he will team-chase, even at the back, in a snaffle and stay easily controllable) which is a massive bonus as I don’t waste time fighting him. However he is definitely becoming more wound-up with each run – the anticipation can make it quite hard to stud and boot him up. I would suspect that any horse less sanguine than him might blow its brain completely. However my experience is only of the speed classes.
I suspect that if you picked your team order carefully then most eventers would benefit from a run round the bogey time classes, which are a lot less frenetic. It will probably help a green horse to become a little more bold and confident XC, especially as the questions asked are generally not too difficult. You’d still get the same thrill of jumping the fences, just with a little less speed!
The season is split into Autumn and Spring fixtures and is now finished until March.
This vid gives a taste of the speed and class shown by the top Open teams:
More info can be found here: www.teamchasing.co.uk and on the British Teamchasing Facebook page.
I might see you out in the spring!
Photos by kind permission of Collin McGuinness