“Today was of course FEI Nations Cup™ day, the only place to watch Team GB compete on home turf, and one of two Olympic qualifiers here at Hickstead.
The competition was fierce, as it would be when you pit the very best in the world against each other. Coursebuilder Kelvin Bywater certainly rose to the challenge with very few clears forcing a three horse jump off between the Americans, French and Germans. The Germans emerged triumphant with anchor man Marcus Ehning producing one of the immaculate rounds against the clock for which he has become known. What a great competition.
We were delighted to have the President of the FEI with us today, Princess Haya, who made a welcome return to Hickstead after some years, having been a regular here for many years when she herself was competing. She has been on a break to have her first child, but was telling me of her plans to begin competing again and suggested that she might try our new national show in September to ease herself back in gently! The topic of lady riders having children is something that is much debated in the sport, and indeed in my household, as my sister Chloe has also taken a break from competing internationally to have two children Lorna and Darcy.
It always seems rather unfair that whilst women working nearly any other job may decide not to return to work for a while in order to enjoy the very special time with their baby, apart from a bit of ‘milk brain’ they theoretically could go back a week later if they had to. For sportswomen however it is simply impossible because even if they were to start training soon after the birth, it takes so much time to regain the fitness needed to compete at the top. Recently though at least there has been a ruling that means women can ‘freeze’ their world ranking points at the level they reach before having the baby, so they don’t have to claw back to the top again when they get back to work. It is never more evident though than in a Nations Cup how men and women compete side by side in our sport, unlike so many others, and is certainly something to be proud of. Girl power.
You’ll all be delighted to hear that I managed to refrain myself from doing anything too clumsy whilst hosting the Princess for the day. It’s always such a funny one meeting VVIPs as they are of course all just people like you and I (although perhaps a tad less accident prone than me) at the end of the day. Princess Haya is charming, relaxed and very informal, and said she was delighted to be back seeing all of her old friends again. She didn’t even seem to mind when two-year-old Darcy Breen decided to lunge at her unannounced for a very jam-donutty-fingers hug.
Just after HRH’s arrival I could see several members of the Hickstead team staring adoringly in her direction and beginning to emit slightly alarming and high pitched noises, somewhere between a squeak and a moan. It wasn’t until Princess Haya had moved out of my eye line that I could see the swooning was caused not by being in the presence of royalty, but of a hamster. Top Gear’s own Richard Hammond was here today watching his daughter show, and tried his hand at a bit of presenting in the main ring. Proving my point that celebs really are just like the rest of us, when I asked what class his daughter was in he said, "Um, the one for ponies?" a classic 'Dad' response. He was very excited about watching her though and said she’d hardly been able to sleep with excitement. He then remembered that she was probably on ‘some kind of Exmoor’ but that ‘crikey we’ve got so many of them at home!’ I’ll never be able to watch Top Gear in the same light again, knowing that he’s just another long suffering showing Dad.
Favourite celeb of the day though has to go to the lovely Jennifer Saunders, here with her daughter Freya, who I bumped into when they’d snuck off from their snazzy box lunch to hit the shops. They’re both huge horse fans, and Freya was delighted to have bagged a coveted official Team GB shirt from one of the riders.
I must be off as we have a BBQ tonight in the gardens of Hickstead Place to thank all of our sponsors, international riders and officials. It’s one of my favourite nights of the year as we have to leave work at a sensible hour to host everyone.
Tomorrow is Ladies Day and I can’t wait because I have a particularly ridiculous hat to wear. See tomorrow’s blog for piccies, if Lizzie doesn’t ban me from wearing it. Larry Lamb will be here to judge the best dressed filly, and there’ll be a very special parade not from our four legged friends for once, but our four wheeled ones.