Hard to believe that my first BE was 14 seasons ago, there are Pony riders out there who weren’t even born! It was a lovely sunny day, clear skies, a few fluffy clouds and a brisk breeze lending themselves to the most wonderful cliché that is a British Horse Trial. It was at Knaptoft, run on beautiful old pasture, the likes of which a 17 year old brought up in Belgium had never had the thrill of riding on.
I was riding my 7 year old Selle Francais gelding Fabuleux du Fief, and we had made the trip to England during my summer holidays to try and impress the British selectors for the Junior team, having done a CCI* (long-format, oh yes!) and a new-fangled CIC** earlier in the year from our Belgian base. My mum drove us over in the car and trailer, and having carefully perused the Omnibus schedule our plan was to do two Intermediates in quick succession – Knaptoft and Aston le Walls, then for her to go back home with the car whilst I stayed at friends, then for her to return and to run at Highclere Intermediate before heading home again.
Back to our day at Knaptoft. On arrival all was such a novelty, the thrill of picking up my number and getting my hat tagged. And everybody speaking English!! And actually wearing tweed! Fabuleux was not the most reliable creature at dressage, his walk was usually the first thing to suffer if he got tense, but thankfully having made such a long journey he did keep it together. Sadly I wasn’t as with it as him, and I went wrong in my test, having never committed that particular sin before! I know it was at least once, and I have this sneaking suspicion it might even have been twice! Nothing like it for improving my long-suffering mother’s mood!
On to the show-jumping, which somehow was also so different from what I knew, on grass with a simple rope around the ring and even the show-jumps themselves looked different. Fabuleux was a very reliable show-jumper usually, having spent his early years doing just that, and we redeemed ourselves somewhat with a clear. With yet more delight I went and discovered the score-board system with each person’s score written up manually, and squeaked in recognition at names I’d only read about in the odd gleaned copy of Horse & Hound or Eventing.
On to the most memorable (14 years later!) bit of the day: walking the course. I can remember quite a lot of the individual jumps, but the ones that stuck out by far for me were the hedges. Real, genuine, field-dividing hedges. Some with ditches! Belgians have neither hedges nor hunting, so the prospect of galloping my horse across the undulations at these wonderful fences filled me with excitement! I seem to remember thinking that it wasn’t all that technical, apart from a drop and turn to a corner at about fence 6, but a course that just begged to be jumped with big, bold fences and wide open fields.
Needless to say we had a wonderful time across country! I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, Fabuleux or I, and he gave me such a great ride, loving the room we had to open up and the jumps that really encouraged horses to be bold and brave. He was a real joy to ride across country anyway, but he came into his own on a course like that. He had a fantastic mouth and at that time was still running in a straight bar nathe snaffle without any problems. He finished with just a few time faults and topped the day off by finishing 4th, earning us a rosette and a cheque! It was simply the most fantastic day and I was besotted with UK Eventing without a doubt!
Victoria is now based in France, and she and her homebred By Crikey II (William) completed Luhmühlen 4* clear in 2011. Her website is here, she has great training facilities for horses and riders, and she is always on the look-out for new sponsors.