There are only two things I have ever willingly set an alarm before 6am for – holidays and horses. Most will understand holidays – cocktails, sun, relaxation, (maybe even tanning for those of us who don’t just gain more freckles) but, for horses? I’m aware it probably seems ridiculous to non-equestrians. If you haven’t been bitten by the horse-loving-bug, you understandably cannot fathom the thought-process that results in four girls, wearing approximately 386 layers between them, getting up before sunrise to drive the length of Scotland for a horseshow, but that is exactly what we do.
6.30am, armed with a flask of coffee and desperately trying not to spill it over my white jodhpurs in my sleep deprived state – I mean who decided it was a good idea to make horse-people compete in white trousers? More importantly, who actually manages to keep their jodhpurs white for the whole horse show? I digress…back to some ungodly hour of a Wednesday morning, de-icing the windscreen of my car (for those interested my jodhpurs are normally still white at this point). Sat nav set, and windscreen de-iced, its show time!
There is honestly no horse competition weirder than a BUCS equestrian show. A far cry from the satisfying speed round, (in English for those of you not familiar with equine terms, the winner is the competitor who completes their jumping round in the quickest time without knocking any of the fences down), the BUCS system is a much more complicated than that!
There are two elements to the competition – the dreaded dressage, which is marked in the same way as any other dressage competition would be and a show jumping phase. Unfortunately, the jumping it not settled by speed round, but instead marked as an equitation round with points for style, accuracy, position and so on. Sounds simple enough so far? We’ve only just begun!
One of the questions most asked about university riding competitions is if we have our own horses. I can confirm that we do not, though if anyone from the Athletic Union is reading this, some additional funding to purchase and maintain a string of horses would be fab! Instead of bringing our own horses with us the hosting university provides four dressage horses and four jumping horses… I say horses, but honestly it could be anything from a mule to an unbroken cob – all part of the fun though! One member from each university will ride each of the 4 horses and judging is then on a comparison basis. For example, if rider 1 from St. Andrews draws horse A, she will be judged against the other riders on horse A. The person with the best score is given 0 penalties and the other competitors gain the difference between the winner on that horse’s score and their own score in penalties. In a nut shell, it’s a hugely confusing system with lots of numbers flying around.
As I hinted to earlier, the horses we compete on often have ‘individual’ qualities, just to make it all a little more interesting! It’s always a joy trying to get an extended trot out of something that just about can be bothered to trot in the first place… or jump around a course of fences, trying to look pretty and effective to gain style points, on an animal that insists on sticking its head straight up in the air – I mean who needs to see the jumps anyway? Despite the many interesting characteristics of our furry friends do not be fooled into thinking that we don’t take the competition extremely seriously. We are a team with matching coats for goodness sake! Imagine mean girls meets pony club mums, admittedly a rather terrifying combination, but a fairly accurate description of the clash of the uni riding teams. Don’t get me wrong, we can usually have a good chat and a laugh with the other teams, but we are all very much there to win!
Thankfully, after a series of pre-sunrise starts we won three of the four first round competitions resulting in qualification for the Scottish regional finals. There will be another early start in April for the big day. Dressage training complete and team coats ready to go, Team St Andrews will be hoping to earn their place at the national finals – regionals here we come!