Last Monday I went FJing with my newish, lovely, non-horsey boyfriend. It was a slightly steep learning curve for him, but as an old hand at it, I thought I wouldn’t learn very much. I was wrong.
We were judging an Intermediate fence, then an Advanced fence, then finally for just one section of Novices. We didn’t have any incidents at our fences, fortunately, but plenty at the fence just before and the fence close after. Very educational!
For the Intermediates, the distance from the previous skinny hanging log, up the mound to our hay rack, was pretty much 6 and a half horse strides, walked in a straight line, which brought you to the hay rack on an unnecessary angle. After the hay rack was a slope down with weird camber to a brush corner. So, control needed. Our fence required a slightly curving line, and usually either moving on to, or the stride shortening very slightly. Interestingly, even at Intermediate (where you’d think most people would have it very sorted) the ones who did it absolutely perfectly were in short supply!
The best did it on a perfect forward flowing 6 strides. Jock Paget’s rides were poetry in motion, as was his trainer Kevin McNab’s trip through. Blyth Tait looked back to his exemplary best. Plenty did it on a very nice even 7. But there were a lot who did a nice 6 and then a shortish additional one to get 7, which broke the rhythm and wasted time. Quite a few did it on 8. One of these, riding super-carefully and protectively, paid the price for lacking forwardness by having a run-out at the brush corner.
One, just one, did it on 5. It was a seriously hairy 5, from a horribly long way off, which was almost enough for the horse to change his mind and try to add one. They got away with it though, and negotiated the corner just fine.
Our Advanced fence was a skinny triple brush approached after a turn from a log drop to a brush corner, and it had another brush corner in a straight line after it. Horses really have learnt to lock on to triple brushes: we didn’t see a single horse waver, even though some riders really cut the corner, and others swung far wider.
Our Novice fence was a skinny curving box with brush top, the second of two, separately numbered in a straight line. Although the first one caused a few run outs, none ran out at the second, although a few riders did have to do a LOT of straightening and correcting between the two. I wasn’t counting strides at this one, but there would, again, have been plenty of variation!
A few additional things we noticed:
The only rider all day who was named by various FJs (all female, funnily enough) as he rode round the course (so, instead of the usual, professional, “number 82 clear over fence 12” kind of thing, we heard his name quite frequently instead) was Jock Paget. This, said in admiring/smitten tones, got more and more amusing as the day went on…
When Pros had a run out at a skinny (the fence before ours in the Novice), they didn’t react much. They got the horse back between hand and leg and circled calmly to come again. Amateurs, on the other hand, were heard to utter four letter words and also the rather charmingly bewildered (for a needlessly dramatic “I spy a Dragon” run-out that started about 8 strides before the fence) “Where ARE you going?”
Advanced competitors don’t necessarily bother memorising long routes. A few had a run out at the brush corner after our fence, and had to circle for a bit, looking for the alternative route.
The only other dramas of the day were: a loose horse heading back to the lorry park and joining a horse & rider at the water complex… I’ve never seen that before. Luckily he stayed slightly out of the way and both horse and rider maintained their concentration and coped just fine. Also, Ginny Howe had a crunching fall and was down for some time before being ambulanced away, on Twitter she said that she’s broken a bone underneath her collarbone, and will be out of action for a while. Get Well Soon, Ginny.
It was a good day’s fence judging. I recommend this to everyone, in fact I think all riders should FJ or otherwise volunteer at at least 1 event per season. It’s surprisingly enjoyable, and we were, as ever at Little Downham, very well looked after by Tina’s fantastic team.
Boyfriend’s verdict: “Well-organised, entertaining briefing, a good day, and the highlight of the radio chatter was someone asking plaintively when the tea wagon would come round. I was grateful I only had to run once to put a flag back up, and I never thought blowing a whistle and clicking a stopwatch could be so exciting!”