July has galloped past, and it feels like a lifetime since I went on a lovely pub ride with my Stage 1 group to celebrate the end of our course – and the onset of exams! I’m thrilled to say that everyone passed with red rosettes, so I’ve got a lot to live up to when I take mine next month!
It was such a treat after how hard we’d been working over the past 12 weeks. We had lovely canters through the Enfield countryside up to White Webbs, where we had a beer at The King and Tinker before enjoying a lovely dusky London sunset and putting the horses to bed back at Trent Park. Dear Mr Darcy took it all in his piebald stride, as ever.
I had an unlikely horsey spot a couple of weeks ago while covering the D23 Disney fan convention in Los Angeles. Alongside the previews of new films (the live-action Lion King looks INCREDIBLE! Honestly, I burst into tears on seeing the adorable new CGI Simba) there was plenty of dressing up, or “cosplay” as it’s known, and I was incredibly impressed with the efforts made by these girls, who were cosplaying as centaurs from the 1940 film Fantasia (that’s the villainous Chernaborg from the same film behind them, acting as a vaguely threatening curtain). Understandably, the girls told me they weren’t going to keep the legs on when they went into the main arena to go shopping!
Flying back to London, I had a day to turn around before a day off I’d been looking forward to for ages – the Festival of Hunting in Peterborough. This wasn’t just my first trip there, but to my first trip to a horse show full stop – although, when I mentioned this to a friend they gasped, “This is NOT a horse show!” in horror! Sorry for damning with faint praise.
This was also an excuse to show my non-riding husband what I’d been up to on those early winter weekends, and for me to go gaga over hundreds of adorable hounds. A friend from the Fitzwilliam Hunt had very kindly organised tickets for us to watch the foxhound judging, and we spent an hour watching hounds from all over the UK gambolling around the arena, cheering extra loud when representatives from the Fitz appeared. “These hounds – they’re not being judged on obedience, are they?” asked Non-Riding Husband as yet another one threatened to escape. “Haha, no,” said my learned friend.
The hound names have a magical poetry that is quite bewitching, and I loved the commentator calling them out. There is a particular skill to hound naming that I hadn’t realised: many with two syllables, and all with something uniting them that I can’t describe: Statesman, Often, Drastic, Radar, Graceful, Songbird…and Wotsit. (Wonderfully, there was also a pony named Wotsit competing later on.)
Then followed a lengthy period of mooning over the bloodhounds and bassets, and plotting how I could hide one under my skirt and cart it back to London. I was thwarted from this plan by being reminded that it’s a) theft and b) bassets are mad, so instead took NRH to watch the Inter Hunt Relay. My GOD it was exciting. We rocked up just in time to hear a Fitz team being knocked out (boo), but then to see an electrifying turn by their Team 1 putting them through to the next round, during which I had fast-paced daydreams of it one day being me. This will take a looong time. I was very much in the non-jumping field last season; every time I planned to do “just a little jump” to get the hang of it, I’d be distracted by going down my first bank straight into a gallop (imagine my face – it’s basically the horror emoji), and getting to grips with gallop full stop after two years of riding school hacking. So no jumping yet – my first season was quite exciting enough!
NRH and I went to watch some of the showing, which reminded me of how rude I was about dressage when the time came to do it in my lessons last year. I wanted to learn how to jump and that was it! Well more fool me. All the horses here looked stunning, and so beautifully presented. I especially loved the heavy horses – one class had a mother and foal, who was far more keen on bouncing around like a gigantic Gummi Bear than making his mum proud.
After a wonderful picnic lunch at the Fitzwilliam lorry, it was time for a smidge of shopping. There were so many beautiful old hunting whips, many with inscriptions that transported you right away to misty mornings in the 20s and 40s, but I reminded myself I’d be far more likely to trip over one if I got one, than do anything useful with it. That can be for another year. Instead, I found a gorgeous blue tweed coat for my Stage 1 exam, and my Exmoor riding holiday – I came perilously close to being enchanted by a buttercup tweed, which caused glorious horror in my friend, who pointed out that I’d probably be banned from hirelings if I turned up looking that exotic.
A last, wonderful look around the field, a final sniff around the vintage boots, waistcoats, and those lovely hunting whips, the lovely sight of the hounds peering out of their trailer ready for home and it was time to go – but not before I’d bumped into a friend from Jilly Cooper Book Club having a drink in the Vice Presidents enclosure. I imagine we’ll be 10 a penny at polo!
After such a lovely country day, it was back to earth with a bump, and onto journalism’s upside-down summer, Christmas in July. This is when brands show off their wares to long-lead publication who are about to start their festive issues – I was a bit pushed to find equine toys, but this new Barbie, and amazingly odd spinning pony certainly distracted me from hunting whips! Now, back to the books, it’s time to revise. If you need me, I’ll be reciting the rules of feeding and watering like they’re spells in Harry Potter!