For the first time in a very long time (so long that I can’t bear to work it out), I went to the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead. When I was little and we first moved to Sussex, our parents took their horse-mad girls for the day out a few years in a row – we had moved to an area which involved an international showjumping venue being on our doorstep, and I’m very lucky that our parents took advantage and, in addition to ferrying us to and from the stables year-round so that we could ride, they also endured blazing sun and sideways summer rain so that we could fill our boots with live, professional action once a year. If medals were handed out for parenting…
Hickstead has hosted two international showjumping meetings since the dawn of time: the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) and the Derby. Traditionally, the Derby was held in August, and RIHS in July, until about 15 years ago when the Derby got unceremoniously shunted to August thanks to broadcasting conflicts. The Hickstead Derby is infamous – to me, it’s the summer version of Olympia’s Puissance. As a child, I dreamed of sliding down the Derby bank atop a powerful horse, landing perfectly, seeing the ideal stride and sailing over the impossibly-close fence at the bottom, then completing a dream-like run through the venue’s other permanent bogey fence, Devil’s Dyke. Of course, the reality is that I have neither the guts nor talent, but I did walk the course as a child, completely in awe of the fences.
So the Derby is The One. It is on my doorstep. And I was working on the day it was held this year. So I settled for using one of my days off to attend the RIHS instead. I missed my favourite day of this show, the one which hosts what used to be called the Eventing Grand Prix (a class which was invented during my childhood and had its glory days then). Instead, I attended on a day when the Nations Cup class was being held.
My sister and I went together, both armed with shopping lists (hers in preparation for her upcoming year-long trip to New Zealand; mine in anticipation of a British winter spent facilitating equine learning sessions and running my seasonal version of Prince’s Boot Camp), food and a thirst for horse power. The event manager in me is proud of the changes which have occurred at Hickstead since I last attended (it WAS this century, but only just!): a new grandstand has gone up this year (but, in kind of a cute way, the old covered one still stands… with rows and rows of plastic chairs painstakingly lined up and cable-tied together for the occasion) – there are lots of fancy bars now, plus another entrance has been created to ease queuing congestion. The catering offerings have also joined the 21st Century, with options far beyond the standard horse show burger bar – there are fashionable food trucks offering cuisines from far-flung places such as Thailand, Mexico… and Greece and Italy (wood-fired pizzas they are, though).
Hickstead’s enormous shopping village defies the recession, and I certainly contributed to the economic upswing – I have prepared myself for our infamous weather by purchasing not one but two coats! One of them makes me feel like a proper horse person – it’s a long windbreaker-style, and has more leg straps than horses’ rugs do. Hopefully it’ll do the trick! I also gained some much-needed new breeches, and a book I’ve been after for a while (no spoilers in case I decide to do a review). Oh and I replaced Prince’s feed bowl, because he stood in his and destroyed it. If that horse wore shoes he’d be truly dangerous.
It sadly wasn’t Team GB’s day at the Nation’s Cup (proving my theory that, unless the Olympics are on, we can only be good at one sport on any given day, and Friday 31 July belonged to the England cricket team) – they came sixth out of eight teams. Ben Maher’s round was superb, the Italians had an even worse day than we did, and Switzerland only sent three riders in for the first round because they were all Just That Good.
It was great to be back among my people, it’s a very long time since I’ve been at a competitive horsey event (er, that’d be the Paralympics!), and the weather was kind. Fingers crossed I can make a return to the Derby next year. May be time to start looking at booking a day off work…