Horsin’ around with Lancaster University Equestrian Club

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Our A and B teams compete in dressage and showjumping against other universities around the country, which take turns to host each competition. On Wednesday Week 9, I took the opportunity to give the A team a hand in hosting Lancaster’s very own home competition.

We set off early for Eccleston Equestrian centre, about 40 miles south of Lancaster University. The A team league is between four universities: Lancaster University, University of Bradford, University of Central Lancashire and Bishop Burton College (which specializes in agriculture and equine) and each team consists of four riders.

First, we plaited and polished the horses ready for the day. Altogether, there are sixteen riders and four horses: each horse is ridden by one person from each university. The riders are judged against the others riding the same horse to make sure there is no unfair advantage. These horses had been strategically chosen by our Lancaster team, who of course know them inside out already. They had thrown in a couple of curveballs in an attempt to test the other universities, and hopefully gain the advantage.

Among the dressage horses was Gus, who I quickly discovered had the least experience. Young and rather confused, he didn’t really seem in control of his hooves as he blundered around the arena. Lancaster’s Emily Quick, however, confidently took him in hand and secured us a cracking score of 184, which granted her joint first out of the four riding Gus, matched only by equine experts Bishop Burton.

The two flashiest horses Stanley and Hamish had both attended Horse of the Year show in their day. Ridden by Lancaster’s David Lovell and Alex Herring respectively, a chance to secure some excellent results arose. Lovell impressively achieved 192, the second best score of the entire dressage competition. However unfortunately, Bishop Burton stole first place using the same horse, which is taken into account. Herring scored 182 on Hamish, a mere two points behind Bishop’s score on the same horse.

The last horse, Indie, received the lowest scores across the board, and it was easy to see why. Described as a ‘sassy stiff camel-like thing’ by a team member, she kept tripping over the edges of the arena, and always looked sulky. Lancaster’s team captain, Emily Cowland, made the best of a tricky situation and received another second behind Bishop Burton with a commendable score of 170.

By the end of the dressage, Lancaster had absolutely dominated the two non-agricultural universities; Bradford had a total of 90 penalties, and UCLan 72. Bishop Burton frustratingly had zero, because they had come first on every horse, however, Lancaster was tantalizingly close behind with only 28 penalties.

If I had thought the morning had been exciting, it was all about to kick off in the afternoon. We readied the showjumping horses: a new set for the new discipline. Bailey was the straightforward point-and-jump horse; Hannah had lazy and stroppy tendencies; Frankie was a bold little pony; and Peter was the total freak-out horse.

Before the competition started, Lancaster needed to prove the horses are capable of completing the course. The eight fences were a variety of shapes and sizes, maximum 90cm tall. Lancaster’s Louise Henderson had the task of jumping the course on Bailey, who has apparently never refused a jump in his life.

I guess this is why no-one, not even Louise, was expecting what would happen next. They approached a bulky oxer fence filled in with large blocks from the schooling ring. Without any warning, to our horror, Bailey skidded to an abrupt halt a millisecond before the jump, and a bewildered Louise somersaulted over the jump without him. She crashed down on the back of her neck and was unable to move.

A full hour of dazed shock went by as we waited for the air ambulance, and watched the paramedics pack her onto a stretcher, pumping her with oxygen and morphine for the pain, before they rushed her away across the sky towards the nearest hospital.

Thankfully, Louise is well on the road to recovery now; to our immense relief she did not break any bones. She has spent the last two weeks heavily drugged up on painkillers, but not holding any lasting grudges towards Bailey.

Still in shock, Lancaster’s Captain, Cowland, bravely resolved to finish the competition. She did a fantastic job of keeping everyone calm and rallying the competitors once more.

Everyone was on edge of their seat as Cowland took on Bailey, this time in the real competition. However there was no cause for concern, as she determinedly charged him around the course and secured a close second behind Bishop Burton, with much relief!

Quick rode Hannah, who was ironically well behaved, despite being expected to play up. She scored a low 13 penalties behind Bishop who took first place.

Lovell and Herring, however, took the showjumping by storm and both received first place on their horses, Peter and Frankie! In this competition, the horses proved to us that they cannot be predicted — Peter did not refuse a single jump, and the confident and safe Bailey let us down.

Despite the day’s dramatic ups and downs, Lancaster rode phenomenally well and the team achieved an incredibly close 2nd place overall. The final penalty totals were as follows: Bradford 211, UCLan 142, Lancaster 55 and Bishop Burton 36. Impressive scores against riders whose degrees are in horse riding.

In terms of individuals, Lancaster were the only university to have all four riders placed: Herring came third, Quick fifth, Lovell sixth and Cowland seventh. And an extra congratulations to Alex Herring, who has qualified for the regional competitions as an individual, which will be taking place on April 15th.

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