Barbury International Three-Day Event

Including the Hit-Air Challenge – Jockeys vs Eventers

Saturday 30 June 2012



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Choc with Alice Plunkett


Eventing fans should enjoy the jockeys versus event riders’ challenge at Barbury Horse Trials – held on the Barbury Castle estate, where Alan trains”, wrote Choc in his final Horse and Hound diary of the season published on 03 May.


As always, I was greatly looking forward to seeing Choc again, having attended the Heythrop Summer Fair to see him compete in the Driven Donkey Derby just two weeks previously.  Although I love to see him at the races, it’s really nice to have a variety of events to attend and to see him facing different challenges in aid of charity.  


The original plan was to attend the Barbury International Horse Trials on Sunday 01 July, for which I had purchased a ticket in advance; early website information indicating that the Hit-Air Jockeys versus Event Riders Challenge in aid of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund would take place on that day.  But as the weekend approached, it became apparent that the challenge would take place on both Saturday 30 June and Sunday 01 July.  Then, to complicate matters, when the five-day declarations for Sunday’s fixture at Uttoxeter were published; Choc had three provisional riding engagements.  At the 48-hour stage, this reduced to a sole ride in the 17:10.  So, being late in the day, it would still be possible for Choc to go to Barbury before heading to Staffordshire, although unlikely.


I knew that my friend Denise enjoyed attending country show events, so on the previous Wednesday I’d texted her to ask if she’d like to join me on Saturday for my visit to Barbury.  Yes, she’d be delighted.  So that was Saturday sorted.  I decided to keep my plans fluid for Sunday ... and make the necessary arrangements to attend if necessary. 


There had been no recent tweets about the event from Choc, although a number of weeks ago he’d asked via twitter for colleagues to volunteer.  On Friday night he’d tweeted a photograph of himself dressed in cricket whites, and re-tweeted another taken by Tom Messenger of same.  Further investigation revealed he’d been part of Richard Johnson’s Jockeys XI who’d played a 20-20 charity match against the Pacific Islanders Rugby XI at Kenilworth Cricket Club that day.  The consolation was that, even if I’d known about the event, I would not have been permitted to take the day off work due to staff shortages caused by holidays.  The previous eight working days had been the busiest I’d known for a long time; a nightmare in fact.


Research informed me that it takes around two hours to reach Sharpridge Farm on the Barbury Castle Estate, and I needed to factor in a short detour to Caversham to pick up Denise en route.  So, to allow myself plenty of time, I set my alarm for 05:30, with the intention of setting off at 07:45.  Gate opening time was 09:00, with the Challenge scheduled to commence at noon. 


Upon waking I showered, washed and dried my hair, ate a breakfast of two croissants and two slices of plain buttered toast before applying make-up and getting ready to depart.  My outfit today was blue jeans, blue ankle boots, coral coloured Wallis tunic, turquoise cardigan and purple jacket.  I also put my large Wimbledon umbrella in the car, just in case of rain, and my red Hunters too.  My camera, money, mobile phone, etc, was packed into my Accessorize butterfly rucksack. 


I also took along a birthday card which I’d stitched for Choc for his 32nd birthday as, for the past two years, fate had conspired against me and I’d failed to meet up with him in the weeks running up to 14 July.  In 2010 he’d suffered his serious knee injury just 9 nine before his birthday then, in 2011, I was very unwell during July due to acute sinus problems which seriously affected my breathing.  Would I be lucky in my endeavour this year?    


I was ready to set off at 07:53.  My route took me via the M25 to reach the M4; a heavy shower of rain occurred early in my journey.  I set off westwards along the latter motorway, leaving at the Reading East junction and driving down the A329(M) to reach the A4.  I then turned eastwards and travelled a short distance before entering the lane which leads to Sonning.  There is a speed limit of 20 mph through the riverside village, aided by the addition of speed bumps.  I waited briefly at the traffic lights at the entry to the single track bridge over the Thames which dates back to the latter part of the 18th century.  Upon reaching the roundabout at the far end of the lane, I turned left and drove up the Henley Road towards Caversham.  I was 09:10.


Having parked up outside Den’s house, I rang the doorbell and was invited in for a warm drink before we set off for the Horse Trials.  To rejoin the M4, Den directed me through Caversham itself, across the River Thames once more, around the inner ring-road and onto the A4 Bath Road.  Having reached Junction 12 of the M4, Reading West, we drove westwards along the motorway, heading for Junction 15, the Swindon/Marlborough turning.  It was noticeable that the motorway had been repaired quite recently, as, in places, it had a patchwork appearance.  There was also a field of beautiful blue flax which we noticed upon the way.


Having left the motorway at Junction 15, we headed south along the A346 towards Marlborough.  For the most part, the road is very straight, running as it does along the route of an old Roman Road.  It is also very undulating, although this did not prevent local traffic speeding past me despite it being a 50 mph zone with limited visibility at the crests of the hills. 


The Horse Trials had been signposted shortly after leaving the M4, and the route took us past a Golf Course and to the outskirts of Marlborough before we were directed to turn right, then right again and follow the lane towards Rockley.  There was a shorter route, but this travelled along a very narrow lane, deemed unsuitable for a mass invasion of traffic! 


I drove carefully along the lane and, having passed close to Rockley, we eventually saw the parked up vehicles and tents of the Trials on the horizon.  We turned off the lane to the right, and purchased tickets from a steward at the entrance; £15 each.  There was a slight delay here, as Den had put her rucksack on the back seat and needed to retrieve the bag before rummaging through it for her entry fee! 


We then drove up the field and into the car parking area.  I changed into my blue boots before we set off to walk to the entrance.  I purchased a programme for £5 at the entrance tent and we walked along a taped off corridor to reach the main horse trials arena and adjacent Wiltshire Show area.  It was 11:10.


Time to get our bearings.  The main arena was located within an amphitheatre; large rocks having been placed along the slopes and upon which people were seated.  Having not brought my deckchair with me from the car, we walked along the slope until we found an empty stone to sit upon.  We watched the remainder of the CIC3* show-jumping phase; I recall seeing Mark Todd, Mary King and Kristina Cook compete.  


The show-jumping continued way past noon; so we checked the programme.  The Hit-Air Challenge was to begin at 13:00.  I can’t believe how much conflicting information had been given out prior to the event!!!  I think they must make it up as they go along ...


Eventually it was time for the Challenge to begin.  A white van containing the equipment was driven into the arena; it headed for the far end, parking on a slightly raised area near to the pond.  Having realised we would now be far from the most important action of the day(!) we walked along the area beside the rails to reserve a suitable position.  Game On!!!


The equipment was set up; the Pro Bull and inflatable to protect the riders from injury.  The gladiators began to muster outside the arena.  Choc had a bout of last minute nerves and decided to light a cigarette; however it was a windy day and he jogged off briefly to find shelter from the breeze.  He soon rejoined his colleagues. 


Event rider Jonty Evans and Channel 4 Racing Presenter Alice Plunkett (aka Mrs William Fox-Pitt) were on hand to commentate, requesting that the riders report for action.  Each team consisted of four competitors; Laura Collett, Lauren Shannon, Mark Todd and team captain Paul Tapner representing the event riders and Andrew Tinkler, Wayne Hutchinson, Richard Johnson and team captain Choc representing the National Hunt jockeys. 


Once inside the arena, a coin was tossed to decide which team members went first.  I believe Paul Tapner selected tails and won the toss.  He chose that they go first.  There was much joking that the jockeys had decided to wear their racing kit which included slippery breeches!  Alice asked if she could feel Andrew’s breeches, which she did, and suggested that the team should take them off!  They declined.


The first rider was Laura Collett. She stayed aboard for 49 seconds.  It was then Andrew Tinks Tinkler’s turn.  He lasted for just 42 seconds.  Next up was Mark Todd; being very tall he couldn’t wrap his feet under ‘Billy The Bull’s’ rubber horns.  He lasted a mere 22 seconds.


Choc chose to go next.  He eagerly vaulted onto the bull.  Alice was so impressed that she asked him to dismount and do it again!  Choc’s face was a picture as he hung on for grim death; he turned quite red.  He recorded a score of 44 seconds. 


Next to try their luck was Lauren Shannon; she lasted just 25 seconds.  The jockeys’ next representative was Wayne Hutchinson.  He took up a number of remarkable positions and managed to hold on for 46 seconds. 


The event riders’ captain, Paul Tapner, was the last of his team to go.  In typical Aussie show-off style, he hung on for 59 seconds.  Last to go was Richard Johnson.  Like Wayne, he also managed a number of weird positions and was dislodged after 49 seconds.


Team totals stood at 188 to the jockeys and 155 to the event riders.  However it was not the end of the challenge, as the team captains were asked to select a ‘wildcard’ from the audience.  Paul Tapner chose a lady event rider ... I can’t recall her name.  And Choc decided to call upon his boss, Alan King!  There was much leg pulling about Choc being in danger of losing his job if it all went wrong!!!


Alan King did okay, but I guess the nameless event rider must have done better ... as the Event Riders’ team were declared the winners and awarded the cup.  Paul also received a smaller trophy for the best Hit-Air performance, having lasted 59 seconds aboard Billy The Bull.  The Team Captains shook hands and the teams left the arena. 


Having not wanted to miss anything, I’d not re-positioned myself to where I could speak with Choc, nor present him with the birthday card.  Damn ... oh well, perhaps I’d bump into him later in the day, although knowing my luck, highly unlikely.  I was convinced I’d missed my opportunity for another year.


Billy The Bull was re-located to the slope above the arena, with members of the general public given the chance to beat the jockeys’ and event riders’ scores.  I gather Alan King’s wife, Rachel, was one of those who took this opportunity.


We decided to take a look around the Festival of Food tent, Denise setting off to explore further whilst I returned to the area above the main arena to watch the next show-jumping event.  When we met up again, Denise and I decided to explore the cross-country course, where the CIC2* horses were currently in action.


The course weaved backwards and forwards across the hillside above the arena; stewards controlling the many crossing points to ensure no spectators were on the course when any of the competitors passed by.  We took a look at both the Crocodile Water and the Hippo Water jumps.  Also the Stonehenge complex, only one part of which the CIC2* competitors were instructed to jump; presumably all three phases of the obstacle would feature in the CIC3* event taking place the following day.


We also waited for a number of competitors to negotiate the Quarry complex; although there was a slight delay in proceedings due to fence repairs when one rider fell further down the course and had to retire.  The pairing was uninjured, the horse being led back. 


We then decided to return to the main arena briefly, before Den took me on a tour of the Wiltshire Show area which she’d walked around earlier.  There wasn’t much to see, unfortunately; but there were a few breeds of sheep – I quite liked the Texel sheep; Den liked the Herdwicks. I like lambs, so don’t often eat their meat because I feel guilty about it!  Den is a vegetarian.  


After a brief visit to the Festival of Food tent, where we caught the tail end of Brian Turner’s cookery demonstration and heard a short presentation by Claire Burnet from Chococo during which we sampled ‘proper’ milk chocolate and dark chocolate buttons!  Wicked!


The skies were dull and overcast when we left the tent.  We paused briefly beside the TH White arena where, during the day, an Its A Knockout competition had been held.  There were a few raindrops in the air, so we decided it was time to depart and wandered down the hill to enter the roped off corridor leading to the car park. 


You know how it never seems that you are in the right place at the right time without a lot of effort ... well today was completely the opposite and I just couldn’t believe my luck!!!  We’d begun walking towards the entry/exit tent when who should we see heading in the opposite direction but Choc himself!  He’d changed into his jeans and wore a waterproof jacket to protect him against the now chill breeze.  I think he may have been carrying an umbrella too. 

I’m always pleased to meet and greet him, with a kiss on the cheek and a brief hug.  ‘I’ve got something for you,’ I told him as I rummaged in my bag and found the birthday card to hand to him.  I introduced him to Den and, as he was alone and in no hurry, we had a lovely little chat too, during which he asked if I’d enjoyed my day. I mentioned that I’d not been to a 3-day event before and, yes, I had enjoyed it.  I asked if he would be at Barbury the following day.  No, he would be riding at Uttoxeter.

It was wicked to speak with him!!!  He is just so lovely and so cute ...

Having said cheerio to him, we returned to my car and departed along the lane leading back to Marlborough.  The sunshine soon reappeared; as we neared the M4, the surface of the A346 became saturated.  There had obviously been a heavy downpour recently.  We joined the eastbound carriageway of the motorway and headed back towards Reading.  At first, the glare off the road made it difficult to see properly. 

I decided against exiting at Reading West; instead I headed to Reading East and we returned via Sonning.  Den directed me through a shortcut within the village, saving us a couple of minutes.  I had been invited to join Den and her husband Terry for dinner. 

Before dinner I had the opportunity to look around Den’s garden; she is a very keen gardener.  We took a peak in the compost heap, just in case there were any grass snakes to be seen.  No sign of any.  Later, Terry told us that he’d seen around ten full grown ones in the heap the previous day but he’d disturbed them!  And I also discovered the name of an unknown plant which is growing in my wild flower patch this year, as Den has a number of the same.  Evidently it’s a variety of Mallow and will shortly produce pink flowers.

I departed at 21:10 but my trip home was rather embarrassing ... I had a feeling there was something wrong with my headlights, as the blue main beam light was showing on the dashboard.  Strange really, as I very rarely un-dip my headlights!  It felt like I spent ages during my drive home twiddling with the headlights switch to the right of the steering column, but it seemed to make no difference at all.  I gave up in the end; the oncoming traffic would just have to suffer and flash me (which they did) ... tough!!!  I wasn’t about to pull up in a country lay-by at dusk to examine the manual and try to fix the problem; as I would probably have needed to get out of the car to check that they were now dipped.  And you never know who might be about. 

I arrived home at around 22:30.  I put the car away under the carport and took the manual from the glove compartment.  I discovered the indicator ‘stick’ on the left hand side also contained an option whereby I could turn off the main beam.  The blue light subsequently disappeared from the dashboard.  Why do manufacturers put switches in places where you can accidently change the settings without realising it?  I knew what had happened.  I’d hit it when trying to climb across from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat, which I have to do each time I get in the car to drive it out of the car port.  I also had a similar problem with my previous Fiesta ... I used to accidently kick the fog light switch when climbing across the seats!

There was time for me to log onto my laptop, upload my photographs, and write a blog entry before turning in at 00:30.  I also caught the very last game of the Andy Murray versus Marcos Baghdatis third round match from Wimbledon.  It finished at 23:00; the British player striving to end the match by the curfew deadline time. 


Click here to view photos Hit-Air Challenge Part 1

Click here to view photos Hit-Air Challenge Part 2

Click here to view photos Hit-Air Challenge Part 3

Click here to view photos of Three Day Event




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