Robert Walker’s season is gathering pace, and he’s not slowing down just yet as Royal Windsor beckons...
I COMPILE this column slightly early as, even though we’ve been flat out busy with showing, things are gearing up even more. In the next two weeks we’ll have done Cheshire and Lincolnshire County shows, the North of England Summer show as well as Royal Windsor. The day after Windsor, we head to the National Hunter championships.
While we’re getting there with early Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) tickets, we’re still not at the point, like many other professionals, to say that we can’t go somewhere yet, as we still have several to qualify.
These events are long days for us, the horses and the grooms. One recent show ran four and a half hours behind schedule due to no fault of the organiser. There are a couple of fixtures with lots of classes which we cannot support as it’s simply too much for everyone.
While some might perceive our showing schedule as overwhelming, it’s my job so we do as many as we physically can. After last year, it’s still nice to be getting out, especially with the young horses who are proving themselves.
With ride judges back in action, I’m pleased that these new horses are coping with the change. My argument has always been that you should not take a horse to a show if it’s not fit for a ride judge, even though we have enjoyed riding our own freestyle shows, which gets the best out of certain animals. I’m a traditionalist and producing a young horse is an art form. Ride judges are the main difference between showing and dressage; you’re training an animal to carry a rider.
The first couple of shows back to the usual format did take some getting used to. As expected, the steward wiped my reins but then wiped my saddle. I did have to ask him what he was implying. Jokes aside, we’ve had to adjust and adapt.
Prepare for the Windsor buzz
WHILE Government guidelines have been changed recently, it was uplifting to see that shows such as the Great Yorkshire and Royal Windsor have announced they will still go ahead. My first journey to Royal Windsor was when I was 19 with a small hunter. Growing up when my father was competing hunters, it was classed as a southern show and it wasn’t on our agenda.
Today, it’s a highly competitive event where the north and south meet for a championship-type showdown. Since my first ride there, we’ve had some fantastic times and great championships. With no qualifiers, the results are not the be-all and end-all, but the novice hunters are always a highlight for me.
However, it’s a show you must be prepared for. The special environment makes for a very different atmosphere some horses won’t have experienced before. I would always make sure a horse has had at least two outings prior to Windsor. Even with the open rides, to win in the outdoor ring can be a leisurely experience – all you can hear are the birds singing – in contrast to the championship held in the Castle Arena.
Usually, the grandstand is packed to the rafters. A lot of the crowd haven’t seen showing before, so they give you a loud round of applause when you come past in walk. They’re one of the most enthusiastic audiences out there and while it’s great to see, you have to be prepared and you can’t expect a fresh horse to control itself.
An ultra-special place to win
This year, horses should be looking better than ever due to the later date, but usually planning for Windsor is tricky. With the unpredictable English weather, it’s getting harder and harder to have them ready in May. I especially feel for my fellow northern riders who have to battle colder, wetter conditions.
To take supreme in 2018 with View Point was one of my most poignant memories. It was won on the back of a hard week and it was ultra-special to have The Queen watching, although any result at Windsor is arguably special. My daughter Izzy does not care about her placing. She only wants to have a picture taken by the river.
This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 1 July, 2021
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