The day started off with several pony races. The ponies followed a lead hunt rider around all of the jumps, who set a decent but safe pace, before they were set loose on the homestretch to race for the finish. Totally something I could have seen myself doing as a youngster. It looked like a blast!
After the pony races there was a sort of intermission where they showcased several carriages.
Once the real races started everything became a bit more exciting, but also much more dangerous. This was a timber race which is run over solid split rail fences rather than the brush of general hurdle steeplechase racing so any mistakes are really magnified, no room for error. I'd guess that (conservatively) nearly 1/3 of the riders became dislodged from their mounts through the course of the race and many horses took some serious tumbles. In one race of 8 riders only 1 pair made it to the end. Thankfully none of the riders was seriously hurt. I was amazed at how many horses continued to race on riderless, taking all the hurdles and keeping up with the rest of the pack.
However, not all horses were so lucky; I saw my first horse get put down today, as a result of a racing accident. I don't know exactly what happened as the horse didn't fall or anything but the rider pulled him up after one fence and immediately started untacking. The horse was walking around but then the ambulance drove up and took him away. Later on I saw them pull over on the far side of the field and I picked up my binoculars to check out what was going on just in time to see the vet walk him to the edge of the woods and give him the injection. Not my favorite memory of the day :(
Overall, though, we did have a really good time and I got some fantastic pictures. We were so close, it was amazing! I have decided without a doubt, though, that I will stick to hunter paces and the show ring myself. When things go well in timber racing I'm sure it is exhilarating, but after what I saw today it is waaaay too dangerous for me. Here are some of my favorite shots of the day:
|One of the many horses continuing on without their rider|
|Yeah, that jump didn't end well|
|Neither did this one (note three riderless horses)|