A summer of equestrian sports

What a summer for equestrian sports! At a time when the world came to London to celebrate the very best of human endeavour, the horse, too, has shone in all its glory. I have been privileged to see some of it for myself, beginning, fittingly, at Glorious Goodwood. Only an hour or so from the capital, the South Downs were blustery and bright, with a clean wind blowing from the sea and intermittent sunshine lighting up the course.

Ladies’ Day began with the second running of the Magnolia Cup, a six-furlong, invitational charity race, in aid of Spinal Research and Winston’s Wish, for amateur female jockeys. One of them, model, columnist and music manager Tricia Simonon, is a civilian rider with me for 2 Troop The Blues & Royals of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, and there were plenty of civvy riders at the finishing post to cheer her home. Sadly, as it was only her first time race riding-not to mention the first time she had sat on her horse, Pat Eddery-trained Harrodian Hotshot-she didn’t feature in the ribbons, but it has only made her more determined to come back next year. On a faster horse!

The Magnolia Cup race at Goodwood

The race was won by Philippa Holland aboard Russian Bullet: Philippa is a jewellery designer and noted follower of hounds more often seen riding side saddle over hedges than astride on the flat,. Second was event rider Harriet Bond on Photo Finish and Channel 4 presenter Emma Spencer aboard Bellevue Beauty was third. Last year’s winner, model Edie Campbell with George Baker, was fourth.

Normal racing then commenced with the Betfred Bonus King Stakes. The superb Saddler’s Rock was my sole winner, in the Goodwood Cup, but there were some fine finishes on show. Being perched in a saddle of the Downs, Goodwood can be astonishingly windy, but my boater fortunately stayed in place, unlike larger, poorly anchored creations. Less formal than Ascot, yet more naturally elegant, the crowds filling the Richmond enclosure are a stylish crew, but there were a few that seemed to have stumbled down from Aintree, with vertiginous heels, higher hemlines and bronze-medal tans. Even some of the men had joined in-the winner of the bad-taste award going to a suit in green-and-orange shot silk. Fortunately, such sights could be ignored in favour of Nic Fiddian-Green’s monumental bronze horse’s head and the gleaming white of the rails and roofs.

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The following day, red, white and blue were the order of the day at Greenwich Park, where I had the privilege of seeing eventual gold medallist Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro break the Olympic record for Grand Prix dressage. Being a hunting girl myself, the heights of pure dressage are a mystery, but, as the day went on, the reasons for the marks became ever clearer and I was utterly absorbed in the nuances of piaffe and passage. Charlotte got the best score for her riding of any of the top riders in her first test, and it is the way she allows Valegro to go forward so well, so balanced and yet so completely in control, that won her the gold medal.

The Dutch were annoyed to be knocked off the pedestal they have shared with the Germans for so many years by a slip of a girl only 18 months into her Grand Prix career, but the fact is that Parzival, second under Adelinde Cornelissen, was tense and crossing his jaw. Charlotte barely touched Valegro’s mouth, whereas Adelinde forced Parzival onto the bit. Some Dutch riders use the much-derided rollkur technique to drag their horses’ noses far behind the vertical, which stops the horses moving forward freely, and Parzival was already overbent when he came into the arena. Each movement might have been perfectly precise and, during the final freestyle test for the individual competition, exactly in time with the music, but there was no sign of the joyous, centaur-like partnership that won the gold medal for the Brits.

Ben Maher Showjumping at Greenwich

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I was back at Greenwich on the middle Sunday for the first round of the team showjumping, when Nick Skelton and Ben Maher gave cause to cheer with clear rounds and Scott Brash was unlucky to have the last pole down in pelting rain. Bob Ellis’s course was nothing short of stunning-echoing Sue Benson’s imaginative cross-country course-with London landmarks encapsulated in beautifully designed jumps. My favourite was the triple-London burning in the Great Fire of 1666 in the first element, then rising from the ashes with Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral in the final upright.

The return home on a Thames Clipper from Greenwich Pier-the best way to travel to the Olympics-was as hot as Murray’s simultaneous win over Federer, and I much enjoyed playing tour guide to some enthusiastic Kiwis. Long may the new tradition of chatting to strangers on public transport last!

Back in the office the following day, we raised the ceiling when Peter Charles pulled his first clear out of the bag to clinch the jump off against the Netherlands in a thrilling climax that will do more for showjumping PR than we could have dreamed. Follow that up with double dressage gold and Laura Becholsteimer on the bronze-medal step, and these Olympics have seen the very best of equestrian skill. (The worst, too, in the modern pentathlon, but we’ll gloss over that. Suffice to say that it proves riding isn’t just sitting on a horse.)

From speed at Goodwood to precision in Greenwich via the unfettered gallop after the clear round that took the first showjumping gold for 60 years, this has been a triumphant fortnight for British riders and horses. I’m so lucky to have seen a small part of it, and my memories will endure as bright as the bullion around our riders’ necks.

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