Have you ever tried to single-handedly manoeuvre a body protector, helmet, pair of riding boots and full suitcase down the corridors of a full train? Nope? Well I’ve taken one for the team and done a trial run. I don’t see it catching on as a mode of transport for those of a horsey bent.
What, I hear you cry, was this elaborate piece of performance art in aid of? We were heading off to the NATIONALS, the culmination of a year’s training and the highest point we’d reached since our sponsorship rep was forcibly removed from the student union for illegally scaling five metres of scaffolding.
One train and one bus down and I was reunited with a further quarter of my team and the two individuals from Dundee and Edinburgh University. With Mickey the minibus crammed full of gear we hit the road and the Scottish contingent was go: 341 miles of open road ahead of us, 340 miles of petrol in the tank and a speed limiter set at 62 mph.
Can you guess what might have happened next?
One breakdown, a phone call to the AA, and a jerry can of petrol later Mickey trundled into the car park at Hartpury College. We greeted the remaining half of our team red-faced, muttering about the shocking lack of petrol stations on the A417.
Putting the unplanned delay behind us we summoned our game faces as the first serious business of the competition began: drawing horses for the first round of dressage. The demonstration wasn’t until the next morning, so we distracted ourselves by finding a pub dinner the size of our faces and rolling into bed. The potential for pony squishing the next morning was frighteningly real.
Since there were so many teams to get through, the dressage was run as a quadrille, with three riders in the arena at once. Geography had made team training a logistical nightmare, and as such we’d only had one ridden run through. Not ones to be dissuaded by a mere lack of horsepower we had rehearsed on foot until it was a physical effort to prevent myself from carrying out spontaneous walk-canter transitions. Turns out riding is a little different to walking and the movements came up a lot quicker on horseback, although we stuck to our game plan of riding in tight formation. Sadly the judge didn’t entirely appreciate my riding nose-to-tail, trekking-centre approach, and our overall style mark suffered. Pip, our individual, rode brilliantly to secure qualification into the second round and finish 10th overall. Sighs all round as our dressage credentials were rescued.
The next day was a rest day for us. We watched the finals of the dressage – a crazy competition where the two finalists had to ride an Advanced test and then make up a freestyle, all in the space of about twenty minutes – and the second league’s showjumping & dressage.
Considering the amount of time it took to learn the dressage test it was clear that there wasn’t an abundance of navigational intuition between the team. Thus on Thursday night we found ourselves on top of a large hill and engaged in a face-off with a herd of cows, rather than in the pub as we had originally intended. Having disentangled poor Mickey from the bovine threat, and unceremoniously abandoned him by the side of a road, we hiked back towards dinner. The night took a turn for the surreal as a band of Morris dancers trooped in and, aided in no small part by efficient Pimms consumption, persuaded our president to join in with a spot of after-dinner stick bashing. The video evidence is under heavy protection.
And so we arrived at the last day, our final hurrah, the showjumping. Always in it for the lols and looking forwards to reliving our pony club days on the county’s finest selection of 14.2s, confidence took a turn for the worst as my pony proceeded to dump its rider during the demonstration. The only tactic left to me was that of bribery, and consequently we pinged round on a polo-fuelled high for a fairly respectable two poles down. Super-captain Kirsty represented us in the second round and was narrowly beaten by the eventual over-all winner to end up 9th, and Hannah ended her BUCS career with a bang and, er, fell off.
All that was left was to collect our team rosettes, pack up the mini bus and aim for the North. We may not have covered ourselves in glory, but the best bit about BUCS is the team camaraderie which was only intensified by crossing the border. Another year of training, both on horseback and in the pub, may make all the difference for the next season.