What better way to spend Valentine’s weekend than a trip to Edinburgh to compete for Cambridge University Vet School in the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies Horse Society International Riding Competition? The team of Alice Strang-Steel, Hannah Clifford, Ginny Fellows and Mary Tivey set off (in the rain) for what would be the shortest journey in terms of distance of any team competing, but of longest duration. A brief trip to platform 8 (unnecessary when our train was leaving from platform 4) saw Ginny demoted as navigator. But we all made it safely to Edinburgh.
We were greeted in the Frankenstein pub (after lugging our bags up a mountain in Cambridge terms), with refreshments and a series of disclaimers that made it feel like an autograph session. We drew horses in groups, and then selected amongst us, based on the horses name and size, decided which steed we would each compete on.
Alice’s grandparents had kindly offered to have us to stay, and we were treated to warm beds and fresh linen, after a pre-bed snack where we discovered grapes do not last long with students around.
The dressage was relatively uneventful. Alice was first up for the Cambridge team and rode a beautiful test, despite the stirrups lacking the extra 3 holes in length on her 16.3hh mount. As the dressage phase progressed, we noticed the showjumps were shrinking from around 90cm to nearer 70cm. This may have been the result of several of the dressage tests being completed outside of the arena – not quite the right definition of ‘use all the space’.
After a quick break for lunch, the showjumping horses were brought out. Alice’s family had kindly come to support, and watched as one horse, in the warm up, promptly ejected its rider and exited the arena. On notifying Alice of this, they found out that was supposed to be Alice’s ‘easy’ jumping horse – maybe not what mummy Strang-Steel’s nerves expected. 10 minutes later ‘Denter’ returns, after a counselling session on the gallops. He was not the only one to try his luck, and the innocent looking grey pony (Ginny’s jumping horse) received similar treatment.
So there were two falls before a fence had been faced. More were to come though and we questioned the stickability of the continental europeans jodhpurs, especially after one completed a clear round, the crowd cheered and as the pony motorbiked round the corner she slid off into the boards. The Cambridge riders all made it round, managing to stay in contact with the horse, clear except for one pole from Ginny. Even after the competition finished, there was further excitement as one team, complete with banner, managed to fall over a fence while trying to take a picture!
Alice’s family showed us further kindness, taking us back for ‘knife and fork’ soup and a warm shower, before the evening’s awards ceremony, dinner and ceilidh. Individual dressage results saw Alice take 2nd and Hannah take 1st places, and individual showjumping placed Ginny 4th, Mary 3rd and Alice 2nd. Overall the team finished on 33 penalties taking 1st place, with the next team finishing on 93 penalties – Ginny and Alice finishing with no penalties.
During the dinner, we quickly found that turning up prepared to ride was not sufficient, as the swedes sang, performed a dance to ‘a little party never killed nobody’ and initiated drinking games. The ceilidh got everyone to their feet, spinning around the room long into the night.
We had a fantastic time, and are very grateful to Alice’s family for their hospitality (which included Sunday lunch before our journey back to Cambridge). Next year we will make sure to be equally prepared for the riding, but up our game in the entertainment stakes, with a song, dance and drinking game…