Written by Charlotte Sellers
Having missed the opportunity to compete at the British Eventing U18 championships in 2019 due to a horse injury, I set my heart on the U21 championships for 2021. However, I always doubted that it would become a reality. You might have guessed, that luckily enough, my goal was realised. Playdun (known as Jake) and I headed off to Bishop Burton College last week to compete in the 2*L class. This blog will interest those who own or know about horses already - and hopefully also those who don’t!
In its simplest form, this is a three-day event (which, confusingly, was held over five days). It consists of a dressage test, a cross-country course and a show-jumping round on the final day. Several horse inspections are interspersed with the competition elements – more commonly known as a trot-up, which involves an assessment of the horse’s soundness.
A huge amount of preparation is involved in the lead up to the event, from starting fitness work 6 weeks before and following a strict training schedule, to packing and washing everything (and trust me, there are a lot of things to pack and wash – it’s not just like taking a weekend bag away for a staycation). Naturally, there was a certain degree of worrying about all the things I might forget or panicking over the items we’d run out of or lost and needed to buy last minute – but one thing that I knew for sure was which cashmere knitwear I’d be bringing with me. All in all, I was excited at the prospect of finally achieving this year-long ambition. However, there was still the worry that something could still go wrong at this late stage, as I knew all too well following my similar attempt at the U18 championships in 2019.
Before I could even comprehend that the time had finally come, we set off at 6am on Wednesday morning with horse, family, tack – and of course, cashmere – all on board. The journey flew by, and all too quickly, we were pulling into the gates of Bishop Burton College. It suddenly hit me that everything I had worked on for the past year or so was about to culminate in the following few days. As you can imagine, those familiar nervous butterflies began. Having unpacked, we set up a base of gazebos and barbecues alongside our friends who were also competing.
Before long, the first trot-up was looming, meaning it was time to plait up and get changed. The expectation is that horses will be immaculately turned out, and riders will be dressed well. For this reason, it often attracts lots of spectators – and this event was no different. With lots of onlookers, it makes what you wear so much more important – it’s a real chance to show off your favourite outfits. For many riders, deciding what to wear proves really difficult, but I had no such worries; cashmere was the answer! My mum has passed onto me a deep-rooted and long-lasting love for Cashmere & Cotton, of which my wardrobe is evidence.
This was as good an opportunity as any to indulge in some more – that is if one ever needs an excuse in the first place! Choosing which cashmere to get was tough because, being so versatile, any of the styles would work for the trot-up. I did, eventually, manage to select the Amelia poncho in regatta blue, which I paired with the classic cotton shirt and some white jeans. I received so many compliments on the look that it was especially eye-catching whilst I ran as it floated so elegantly. The regatta blue colour was even better than I had dared imagine, and it complimented Jake so well. I felt confident that it would work brilliantly as soon as I first tried it on – and I was right. However, horses are less predictable! Jake was fit and fresh, so he could have misbehaved, but instead, he seemed to really enjoy the spotlight. In any case, I was relieved when “Playdun accepted” rung out over the tannoy.
There is not a huge amount to report from the second day because my dressage (the first stage of the competition) wasn’t until Friday. I was grateful for the day off because it gave me a chance to support friends riding that day. When the evening came, we had a big barbecue under the gazebos, which, as you can imagine, is where the classic cashmere jumper came into its element.
Friday was dressage day. I had watched several riders early in the morning to calm my nerves, but it did the reverse! I was worried that I would forget my test or that it wouldn’t go as well as I knew it could. Luckily enough, Jake felt very composed and rose to the occasion, producing a beautiful test to score 34.8, which put me in 12th place overnight.
Although I knew it was a challenging XC track, I was excited to get on course. That excitement was soon replaced with nerves as I warmed up and could hear over the loudspeaker that several of the riders who set off before me had fallen off or been eliminated.
I didn’t need to worry, though, as Jake flew round clear, taking all the direct lines and just picking up some time penalties to add to our dressage score. It was really encouraging to hear family and friends placed around the course cheering me on. The greatest moment of the week was, without a doubt, coming through the finish flags and getting that familiar rush of emotion and adrenaline. That feeling still hasn’t quite left me, and I am so pleased to have finished safe, particularly as there was only a 30% clear rate in my section.
On Sunday, there was a real sense of tension in the air as riders nervously prepared their horses for the second horse inspection. The time came for me to get changed and walk over with Jake for the trot-up. I wore the classic cashmere jumper in the shade Parkland, which gave a real country look. This just goes to show the versatility of the classic jumper, given I had worn it for the barbecues earlier in the week and also at the trot-up. If a horse shows any signs of soreness after the XC, they will be rejected from the horse inspection and eliminated from the competition. Thankfully, Jake had recovered well and was accepted. This meant we only had the show jumping phase left. The course was quite twisty and caught a lot of people out, especially as the horses were tired on the final day. There were only three clears in my section, and unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them, but I still finished in a respectable 8th place.
Competing at the U21 championships was one of those dream-like weeks; it all felt surreal. If someone had pinched me, I was sure I’d wake up to a duller reality! In all seriousness, I am incredibly lucky to have the ride on Jake – he is so consistent and continued to perform even though it was his first stay-away competition. After all, 8th place isn’t bad for a first attempt! It does mean that there is a lot more to come and exciting things to happen in the future. That’s why I love this sport…there’s always room for improvement. One thing that doesn’t need improving or changing, though, is the cashmere I wore throughout! Having discovered Cashmere & Cotton many years ago, I have always loved their pieces. What shone through this weekend was their complete versatility. The ability to remain stylish and practical simultaneously is hard to come by, but Cashmere & Cotton have excelled in creating beautiful, long-lasting cashmere that I will treasure for years to come.