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My first time… B.E.

… was at Brigstock, my local event, back when Novice was the lowest level. I’d been persuaded away from show-jumping by my livery-yard owner. My first horse, the lovely generous Irish x TB Queenie, and I had done quite a few Open hunter trials with success, plenty of hunting, and SJ was starting to bore me after yet another return home at 10pm after waiting around all day, so I fancied a crack at eventing.

I had no idea at all about dressage other than that you had to remember where to do circles and things, and at what pace. I regarded anyone who could ride their horse ‘on the bit’ with awe. So, we did a few riding club competitions as a warm-up, including a small ODE which we’d have won if I hadn’t let her have a pathetic stop at a tiny drop fence because I sat there trustingly like a useless muppet.

While warming up for the dressage at Brigstock about 15 minutes before my test, I happened to mention to a friend (also warming up) that it was lucky it was the same test as at the RC dressage the week before. Her puzzled but definite reply “No, it isn’t, it’s a different test” caused, as you might imagine, total panic.

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A SJer through and through, obviously no clue of a defensive seat! My lovely mare Queenie and I began our eventing careers at Brigstock in 1988.

I learnt the new test in time but was so rattled that I spent the whole test concentrating on where to go next, none on how the horse was going. Not good. But we didn’t go wrong or escape the arena (which felt absolutely tiny, definite failure on the training front there) and scored 44 to be somewhat down the order in our section, which wasn’t surprising.

As a partnership who had been doing Newcomers and some Foxhunters, the SJ held no terrors, and we blithely went clear, although I now realise I was doing far too much. I suspect she went clear in spite of me rather than because of me!

Then the XC. Brigstock also had an Intermediate and Advanced track, and the golden rule was that if an event had bigger tracks, the smaller ones would be top-end. Brigstock was no exception – nothing was small, it was big and bold and galloping. There was a corner fence and I think that was about it for accuracy. We sailed round, clear and fast, and had a whale of a time, to finish on our dressage score, in 11th place. Not bad for a clueless rookie and a horse who’d never evented.

If you look closely at the photo you can see that I wasn’t wearing a body protector – they weren’t compulsory back then, believe it or not! After the XC a family friend frog-marched me to the tradestands and forced me to buy one. It was one of those awful ones with a piece that went between your legs to keep it down, like a nappy thing. Ugh. You can also see that I’d banged her tail up, which was a very ’80s thing to do!

Having finished on our dressage score, I can remember thinking “What was everyone going on about? This eventing lark’s easy, just got to get the dressage sorted and we’ll be winning.” Ha… hubris will get you every time. It was quite a while until we did!

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