DIARY – BARBURY INTERNATIONAL HORSE TRIALS
FEATURING THE JCB CHAMPIONS CHALLENGE IN AID OF THE IJF
SATURDAY 11 JULY 2015
Jockeys taking part in the JCB Champions Challenge
– Sam Twiston-Davies, Richard Johnson and AP McCoy
Having been to Worcester races the previous Monday, to see the Twitterati syndicate’s horse Menace run, I’d caught the travel bug following a quiet Spring period. I’d been thinking about attending the Barbury International Horse Trials for a few weeks but, even as the chosen day approached, I was in two minds as to whether I’d go. I even purposely slept in a little later than intended on the day, so didn’t get up until 07:30. This being the case and after some procrastination too, which included having a shower and washing and drying my hair, eating two croissants for breakfast, transferring my handbag contents to a haversack and applying some make-up, I wasn’t ready to leave home until 09:38!
My outfit today was a bright blue BHS cardigan, white with blue flowers Per Una shirt, with white vest beneath, thick blue denim M & S jeggings, deep teal and midnight metallic Hotter shoes, butterfly design haversack, burgundy/brown jacket and sunhat, plus blue summer scarf. I took my sunglasses too, and contact lenses. I also wore my Unique Dichroic silver/blue butterfly wings earrings ... all the way from Australia!
Had I not been so tardy in my preparations for the day ahead, I might have chosen the scenic route via Aylesbury, Bicester and the Oxford bypass to reach the M4 today. But, as I was running late, it had to be M25 and M4, with fingers crossed that not too many people would be out and about on the motorways today; also bearing in mind that the school holiday getaway was not expected to begin until either 18 July or 25 July.
Although the nearby section of the motorway includes Junction 21, the M1, the weekend traffic is rarely a problem in this area if there are no known hazards on the motorway. Thus having negotiated the London Colney roundabout and headed down to the Bell roundabout to join the London circular route at Junction 20, everything was going smoothly at that point. Although there was the usual problem of drivers of slow moving heavy goods vehicles suddenly discovering that they were in the wrong lane when approaching the Kings Langley exit, forcing cars to move out as they pulled over without consideration as to whether the vehicle outside them was able to move out a lane also; no change there then!
I noticed that the road surface at the start of the Kings Langley viaduct was looking in a sorry state, with vertical schisms in the road where the tarmac had worn away to what appeared to be the underlying infrastructure! I guess it came as no surprise to me that, by the time I’d driven past the Maple Cross exit, the traffic was beginning to slow; it eventually ground to a halt. We then proceeded at a very sedate pace for much of the journey to the M40 junction; probably exacerbated by the fact that vehicles in the inside lane were required to transfer into lane two as the junction approached, otherwise they’d have had no option but to join the eastbound carriageway of the M40 heading for London.
I was not going to allow myself to get held up further on the stretch of the M25 between the M40 and M4, so took this opportunity to join the westbound carriageway of the M40, remaining on the latter motorway until Junction 4 at High Wycombe. I then took a left turn to head down the A404 and A404(M) dual carriageway to reach the M4; the central reservation barriers of the latter section were under repair and cordoned off. I moved into the outside lane in plenty of time to approach the roundabout above the M4; this junction is controlled by traffic lights.
After waiting briefly, I negotiated the traffic island and headed down the slip-road onto the westbound carriageway of the M4. With Choc out of action, I’ve not been a frequent M4 user this past year, so was surprised to find that improvements and repairs were still being made to the motorway close to the Reading South junction.
Also, the bridge beams at Junction 13 Newbury, known as Chieveley Bridge, were currently in the process of being replaced. This meant weekend restrictions between 21:00 on Fridays and 05:30 on Mondays between May and August. I recall there being information signs on the M4 stating that there was no access to the A34 northbound carriageway from the westbound M4; likewise no access to the A34 southbound carriageway from the eastbound M4 on the return journey. So, presumably, had I chosen the cross-country scenic route via Bicester and the Oxford bypass, it would have been impossible for me to join the westbound carriageway of the M4 at Newbury too.
My intended motorway departure point was Junction 15, Swindon; I always forget that the further away from London you travel, the further the distances between junctions become due to the sparser location of larger cities and towns. Having left the motorway, I turned left onto the A346, and headed towards Marlborough; the road is very straight at this point, and undulates with a number of hidden dips. The road passes through the village of Ogborne St George ... or rather, it overflies it!
Further on I could have taken a short-cut via a narrow lane signposted Rockley, but decided to remain on the main road as far as the outskirts of Marlborough, where a right turn followed by a second right turn took me into Free’s Avenue; cones signed ‘no parking’ had been placed alongside the roadway beside the golf course. There appeared to be an event taking place there, with a number of cars parked upon the grass. I headed out into the countryside once more.
The Manton Estate is situated to the left of the road which leads to the Horse Trials site; I’d not noticed the grand entrance gate on my first visit to Barbury. Continuing along the lane, firstly entering from the right is the the short-cut from the A346 via Ogbourne Maizey and then the lane to Rockley Village to the left. Eventually I arrived at the signposted gate to the Barbury Estate, to the right-hand side of the road. The route then bears around to the left via a wide expanse of grass. After that you cross a gravel driveway; I waited for a vehicle approaching in the opposite direction and we both entered the area where three stewards were waiting to take the entry fee of £20; my ticket was number 1407 ... that’s Choc birthday!
I then followed the perimeter of the field before entering the main car park area. On this occasion I was directed to park over to the left, on the back row of two; the noticeboard held by the parking steward instructed drivers to leave their car in gear due to the slope, fortunately it was not too steep at this point but I always leave it in gear when parked on a hill anyway. There was a line of horseboxes parked over to the left; these were the transportation belonging to the competitors taking part in the Inter-Hunt team relays in the arena nearby. It was noon when I arrived; almost an hour later than on my previous visit.
It had been sunny when I left home, but had clouded over during my journey only to clear again; at Barbury there were white cumulus clouds in a blue sky and there was a pleasant breeze. I decided to put on my sunglasses, initially, but felt there was no need to wear a coat. It was the right decision, as I didn’t feel cold at any point during the day.
Having eaten two of the cheese rolls which I’d brought with me, I set off through the lines of cars to find the marquee at the main entrance in order to purchase a programme; £5. There was a cordoned off pathway to reach the main showground on my previous visit; not so this time. I remember because my friend Denise and I encountered Choc at this point whilst on our way out that day!
There was already a queue for the portable loos situated just prior to the main concourse! Amazingly, I didn’t need to answer the call of nature all day, not even with a visit to a service station on my way home ... more information than you needed!!! To the right of the concourse entrance was the Sheep Show wagon, housing nine breeds of sheep ... but not my favourite Kerry Hill ones.
I walked along the concourse to find somewhere from which to view the show-jumping which was taking place in the main arena at that time; it was the CIC*** show-jumping phase but, as it had begun at 09:00, there weren’t too many competitors still left to go ... and they were running a little early too!
It mentioned in the programme that Nigel Bunter, owner of the Barbury Estate, now owns an ex-racehorse eventer in partnership with two others; she used to be trained by Alan King and is named Counterparty. Evidently having raced on the flat and once over hurdles (when pulled up by Choc) she was given away to be a riding horse because she wasn’t very good! So, having given her away, Nigel and partners were persuaded to buy her back! Being an ex-racehorse, she took part in the Barbury RoR event and is in the care of Paul Tapner.
I found a photograph of Counterparty on my twitter feed:
The RoR event was won by Front Street ridden by Sir Mark Todd, the prizes were presented by Grand National winning trainer Oliver Sherwood.
Anyway, show-jumping phase over, it was time for me to head out to the cross-country course, which is located in the valley bottom to the far-side of the main and warm-up arenas and heads up onto the far hill-side too.
As the CIC** cross-country phase was in full-swing, spectators had to wait at the course-crossing points in order to make their way across the valley bottom, through a gap in the hedge, and up onto the hill where the main crowd-pulling water feature jumps were located. I headed first to fence number 11, the ‘crocodile’ obstacle, to see a number of horses successfully negotiate it; then onwards to the silver-birch water jump, fence number 12. The steward looking after the fence wore wellingtons so that he could regularly wade into the water to check the fence; which he did.
Whilst I was viewing at the latter, a horse fell or unseated its rider at the crocodile fence; I’d missed it! The rider was okay, but the horse decided to head back along the course, in the process passing by the next competitor and before the runners were halted. Despite a number of efforts to stop the loose horse, it found its way back to the starting point before being caught. In his following Horse and Hound column, Mark Todd said he would like course designer Mark Phillips to shoot the wooden ‘alligator’ because it always causes a few horses to leave legs and tip up ... also the second water tends to cause some falls as well, so he suggested that maybe it needs to be looked at too.
The easiest way to distinguish crocodiles from alligators is by looking at their jaw line. The teeth on the lower jaw of an alligator fit into sockets in the upper jaw, so only the upper teeth are visible when the mouth is closed. The teeth on the lower jaw of a crocodile fit into grooves on the outside of the top jaw making both the upper and lower teeth visible when the mouth is closed. Crocodile, alligator, whatever ... but I don’t think if presented with one which is not behind a safe barrier, your top priority will be to discover whether it’s one or t’other!
I soon headed along to fence number 13, the stonehenge-style obstacle which has now been renamed the ‘Avebury’ in honour of Andrew Nicholson’s horse which had won the event for the past three years. That fence is followed by a brewers dray, the pub fence and then the quarry style fence. Further along, another competitor took a tumble, from a grey horse, and was thus eliminated. Rescue vehicles headed over to check that the rider was okay too, before returning. There was a motor-cross rider whizzing up and down every now and again to assist the stewards too.
I returned to the crocodile fence briefly before heading back down the hill and across the valley to the area beside the Main Arena. I found a spot to the corner of the arena, close to the warm-up area and gradually moved further down as people drifted away! Whilst I had been viewing the cross-country action, the final 4 Inter-Hunt relay teams had been fighting it out in the Main Arena for the opportunity to take part in the JCB Champions Challenge in aid of the IJF against the Eventers’ and Jockeys’ teams. I gather one of the riders had fallen in the water too, much to the glee of the crowds!
I believe the eliminated hunts were the local VWH (Vale of White Horse) and the Wilton. The horses ridden by the Eventers and the Jockeys were lent by these hunts. The Eventers’ Team taking part in the JCB Champions Challenge consisted of Tina Cook, Harry Meade, Andrew Nicholson and Sir Mark Todd. The Jockeys’ Team members were AP McCoy, Richard Johnson, Sam Twiston-Davies and Wayne Hutchinson.
AP chose one of the Wilton horses; it was well turned out with plaited mane and tail. Sam rode a grey, Wayne a dun, and Richard’s was probably the smallest horse taking part! I know that Wayne and Richard popped their horses over a fence or two in the Warm-up arena. Evidently ‘someone in the know’ had shouted that one of the jockeys or eventers should claim one of the greys and Harry Meade overtook Wayne, who had been eyeing up this particular horse, to reach it first. However, in his eagerness, Harry vaulted onto his chosen conveyance and promptly disappeared over the other side of it; but he did retain the ride.
Meanwhile Alice Plunkett (aka Fox-Pitt) interviewed John Francome regarding the Injured Jockeys Fund; he is the current President thereof.
The first semi-final was the Eventers against the Portman juniors, which the former won to take their place in the final. The Bicester with Whaddon actually beat the Jockeys in the second semi-final because Richard’s mount decided to crash through the fences rather than jump them but, as the main idea of the event was for the Jockeys and Eventers to ride against each other in the final, they were allowed to progress regardless! However, prior to the final, Richard swapped his mount for a more co-operative one; Wayne was also asked if he’d like to change his horse, which, after a little thought, he did too.
As for the final, Richard Johnson again acted as anchorman for the jockeys, and tracks were crossed with Harry Meade whilst heading through the water obstacle during this round, but the Jockeys won; not because they headed across the finishing line first, but because they scored fewer penalty points during the course of the relay race!
The prizes were presented by John Francome, with the teams heading to the top of the arena adjacent to the Avebury Public Bar area to receive their rosettes and JCB goodie bags. The competitors then did a celebratory tour of the arena, including a further trip through the water feature; with commentator Mike Tucker hoping that someone would fall in!
Evidently each goodie bag presented to the team members contained a JCB toy digger. Sam Twiston-Davies gave away his digger to Richard so that the latter’s sons Casper and Percy had a toy each; Fiona Johnson was relieved and tweeted to say a thank you to Sam, as it saved any arguments between her boys!
The Hunt teams posed for photographs and selfies with AP and Richard Johnson; and they also collected autographs from the Jockeys’ and Eventers’ teams.
With a break in proceedings whilst the fences were set up ahead of the Showjumping Grand Prix, I popped across to see the Sheep Show, which included shearing, accompanied by a number of sexist and risqué jokes and, as an encore, the dancing sheep ... no, of course they didn’t dance, they just nodded their heads a little bit!
As the showjumping was about to commence, I then headed back to the concourse above the main enclosure; I sat upon the grass for a while, until a couple who had been sitting on one of the nearby rocks moved off and I transferred to sit on it instead. The competition took a little while to get going, with the commentator chivvying the riders along to ensure there was no time gap between the rounds; in fact, soon, a rider would be warming up in the arena whilst their predecessor was still jumping their round.
I recall seeing Tim Stockdale jump, although he did retire his horse; also Alfie Bradstock, son of Gold Cup winning trainer Mark and his wife Sara, his horse had a number of faults. I was getting restless by this stage, and regularly glanced across towards the exit, noticing that attendees were beginning to head back to the car park and leave for home. Thus, after consulting my watch on a number of occasions, I headed back to collect my vehicle. I wasn’t too sure of its exact location within the field, but set off in the general direction seeking a dark blue car; all but one of the Team Relay horseboxes had departed, but I headed in that general direction and soon found my Fiesta.
I left at around 16:30, having removed my contact lenses prior to my drive home. I drove along the same route back to the entrance gate, turning left as I exited onto the lane. Fortunately I arrived just prior to a tractor which was heading in the same direction. Phew! But I did follow a large horsebox heading home from the event; I think it was carrying one of the inter-hunt relay teams. I re-traced my route back to Marlborough and out onto the A346. I had been worried about travelling behind the horsebox, speed-wise, but it moved along at quite a clip!
I had reached the M4 motorway at exactly 17:00; the horsebox was heading in the same direction as me, but I managed to overtake it on the slip-road. I headed back along the eastbound carriageway towards London, taking note of the reduced speed limits where there were road-works being carried out. I recall that, approaching the Slough Central junction, a driver of a red sports car was weaving in and out of the traffic, over and undertaking. Dangerous idiot.
As I drew closer to the M25 interchange, there were signs warning of delays on the M4 due to an accident which had occurred between junctions 4B and 3. However, in the event, it was traffic wishing to transfer onto the M25 which suffered the delays, rather than vehicles continuing their journey towards London. Thus the speed on the inside lane varied between a crawl and standstill! But, as soon as the slip-road was reached, the queue cleared and I was able to join the M25 clockwise carriageway without further delay.
There were no delays on the M25, and I left the motorway at Junction 20, London Colney. I arrived home at 18:40. I had been hoping to catch the end of the Wimbledon Men’s Doubles Final but, in the event, Jamie Murray and his playing partner had been beaten in straight sets. This left just the Women’s Doubles Final to watch, but it was entertaining, with Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza triumphing in three sets.
I ate a pasta-based ready-meal, but didn’t need to log on to update my blog as there had been no National Hunt racing today. I think, all in all, I’d enjoyed my day ... although it would have been nice to have had some company. The travelling time had also been an issue, because it took a total of 4 hours and 30 minutes to drive there and back; that’s exactly the same amount of time I spent at the event! That’s slightly worse than my trip to Worcester, when I spent a total of 5 hours 30 minutes travelling and 6 hours at the track, although probably at least an hour of that time was spent sitting in my vehicle in the car park!
For the record, the final phase of the CIC*** event, the cross-country, took place the following day ... with Avebury and Andrew Nicholson winning for the fourth consecutive year!
Click here for photos – CIC** Cross Country Stage
Click here for photos – Inter-Hunt Relays including Eventers vs. Jockeys Part I
Click here for photos – Inter-Hunt Relays including Eventers vs. Jockeys Part II
Click here for photos – Grand Prix Show-Jumping