I have no idea why I first started affiliated eventing. I hadn’t done any unaffiliated eventing, I didn’t know anyone who did BE and I had no real idea what was involved. I think it was just something that I’d always fancied having a go at. So I rang BE, got them to send me the forms (no website in those days!), filled them in, signed a cheque and waited for my letter of acceptance (remember them?) to arrive in the post.
It was June 2004 and I’d entered one of the new Intro classes at Northallerton. It was Bramham weekend and I remember going to Bramham on the Saturday, watching the big boys do it, and buying some XC boots and a number bib. The horse was a dun mare known simply as Mare, though she did have a proper name, and she was my hunter. She was a super hunter, really special. Brave but clever. You could gallop her at a hedge or pop an iron gate from a couple of strides of trot. I’d done the odd show-jumping class and hunter trial on her but not much more. Naivety is bliss!
I remember turning up at Northallerton at 6.30am on that sunny Sunday morning to learn the first rule of eventing. Even if it’s forecast to be 25C, if you’re walking the course early take wellies as the dew on the long grass means that your trainers and trouser legs will be soaked through by fence 3. I remember not being too bothered by either the SJ or XC course and managed to steer the Mare round the dressage arena for a tidy 39.5 in a class where scores ranged from 32 to 50.
My BE record says that we show-jumped clear, though I cannot even remember whether it was on grass or the all-weather. The XC was fine for the first 4 fences until we had to go through a wood where the intro and pre-novice tracks diverged. I’d forgotten that the Mare hadn’t walked the XC course and as she merrily shot off down the pre-novice track I stuck to my guns and headed down the intro one. On my own. She took a bit of catching and I took a bit of clambering back on (I was terrified of accepting a leg up as in the pony books I’d read in my childhood people were always being eliminated for outside assistance!), but finally we were back together and completed the rest of the course clear.
At that early stage I learned to play the ‘what if’ game and worked out that if we hadn’t gone our separate ways in the woods I would have finished about 5th. The bug must have bitten as before the end of the season, and on my birthday, I competed in my next event – a pre-novice at Bishop Burton – where I came 8th. At which point I decided that eventing was a piece of cake – a thought I came to regret as it took me quite some time to gain another placing.
The Mare continued to be a star on the hunting field and was pretty consistent at pre-novice (or at least those pre-novice tracks without corners – she never got the hang of corners). Sensibly she dug her heels in on our two attempts at novice – with the benefit of hindsight she really wasn’t a novice horse. Sadly she had a severe anaphylactic reaction to an injection of penicillin she had after cutting a heel bulb at Richmond BE and had to be put down. A sad end to a lovely horse and a great all-rounder.