Last Sunday I took a trip to Gatcombe Park, Gloucestershire for the 2014 Festival of British Eventing. If you're not familiar with the sport, eventing is a competition comprising three disciplines of horse riding- dressage, showjumping and cross country. The major British events make excellent days out, even for 'non-horsey' people! This was a one-day event, meaning all three disciplines happen in a single day, but when I go along to three-day events I prefer to go on cross country day- it's the one I find most exciting to watch.
Gatcombe Park is located in the beautiful countryside of Stroud, Gloucestershire and the whole event is set among this stunning landscape. Even without a horse in sight, this is still a pretty view! How many sporting events give spectators the chance to wander through such lovely estates?
I started horse riding when I was about nine years old, and carried on regularly until halfway through my third year of university. I never competed seriously myself, but I did get into watching and following eventing. I don't have the time to keep up with all the results anymore, but I still enjoy the days out when I can.
Olympic medallist William Fox-Pitt was just one of a number of top international riders competing that weekend. Something I really enjoy about eventing is just how close to the action you can get. There's also plenty of opportunity for photography - although my camera is a bit slow for getting good shots.
Gatcombe Park is also home to Princess Anne. Who wouldn't want to live here, looking out over the park?!
We spent a while sitting by the lake watching the horses come through. Fortunately for all the riders nobody came off in the water! This was Oliver Townend on Armada.
Yet more beautiful scenery. This was looking along the very last stretch of the course up to the finish line. We managed to walk the entire 3,500m of the cross country course stopping to see each of the 24 fences. In my mind, this is the best way to spend a day at an event- seeing a little bit of everything! It also means you have to wear sensible shoes- it wasn't a muddy event, but others held at different times in the year can be especially boggy!
This event had a very modest sized shopping area, some of the biggest events such as Badminton have huge shopping villages with hundreds of stalls selling horse equipment, country goods and a huge amount of food and clothing. I actually didn't spend any money this time- nothing in the Joules tent took my fancy, and seeing as I'm no longer riding regularly I don't actually need anything horse-related. We did however spot some miniature leather sofas designed for dogs... (although I rather suspect my dog would turn her nose up at them, only human things are good enough for her don't you know?!)
We took our own food along- but there was also a good selection of stalls selling a variety of hot takeaway foods. We stopped to eat our picnic on a slope right in the middle of a loop of the cross country course where there was a great view. I didn't get any pictures of lunch because, er, I was too hungry!
More fields and hills. The Festival of British Eventing might not be the biggest event on the calendar, but I think Gatcombe wins prettiest location for me!
I always find it incredible what horses will jump if they trust their rider! I loved this fence and think it was so cleverly designed to make use of what I assume was an old farm building. You can't really tell from this photo, but the jump is a huuuuuge (and very solid) table, with the final stride in the shade of the building.
Yet more fences, these ones designed to look like a little village of houses. At the end of the event the course is opened up for spectators to go right up to the fences and have a look.
The water complex looked beautiful in the sunshine. Something I liked about this event was the smaller crowds as compared with the bigger events.We had no trouble finding places to sit, or getting a good view of the jumps. There were also hundreds of dogs at the event- therefore truly a family event in my opinion! I didn't bring my dog along though- she would have been a nuisance I think, barking at horses, sniffing everyyyything and whining on the two-hour car journey.
Apologies for the blurry shot, but I like to think it just gives a slight hint as to how fast these horses are travelling round the course! This was the New Zealand rider Andrew Nicholson on Avebury who won that day, making his way to the final two fences.
The day wasn't all about the big horses and eventing though- there were a number of other attractions going on throughout, including falconry and scurry driving. We were too busy making our way around the cross country course to see these things, or any of the showjumping rounds, but something I made sure to see was the Shetland Pony Grand National! If you've never seen one in your life, you are missing out I tell you! This event involves nine to fourteen year old jockeys racing their tiny Shetland ponies twice around the arena, jumping miniature versions of Grand National style jumps. It's every bit as competitive as 'proper' racing and (I think) even more exciting! The race I watched went pretty smoothly, but the ponies have been known to play up and not do what they're supposed to...
I spotted this little helicopter on our walk back to the car park. This is how I would like to arrive to events in future!
If this has got you interested in spending a day at a event, I will leave you with some useful links and tips:
- Buy tickets in advance. You generally save a few pounds doing this.
- Check the event timetable online to plan what time you want to arrive. Gates often open early, but that doesn't mean you need to be there. Just remember to leave a bit of time for getting into the venue (country lanes and a few hundred/thousand cars can be a bit slow!) and walking from the car park.
- Take food. Although there is no shortage of places to buy food and drink, I think it's nice to just have a few bits in your bag in case you find yourself right over the other side of the cross country course and hungry!
- Dress for the weather. The event is held in a field, so be prepared!