RAF Halton Equitation Team
Inter Station League
The aim of the Inter Station League is to introduce and encourage competitive riding at Station level and promote riding within the RAF. Stations are grouped into geographical areas where each station competes against the other stations in their area. Each competition consists of a Riding test and a Show jumping course which is set to test the rider’s skills. This is made particularly difficult due to riders competing on horses that they have had little or no experience riding before – especially if the competition is away at another unit.
After a successful year in 2011, the 2012 RAF Halton team reformed with some new riders and consisted of 8 competitors; Flt Lt Katie Birch, Flt Lt Victoria Rackham, Fg Off Hannah Welch, FS Andi Goodall, myself; Sgt Flo Dent, Cpl’s Sarah Elwood, Steph Lundy and SAC Tanya White.
With the competition season fast approaching and funding secured from the RAF Halton Sports Fund, training sessions were carried out at RAF Halton Saddle Club and Hideaway Farm, Oving, Aylesbury. For some of the riders it was a case of dusting off the jodhpurs and riding boots and getting back in the saddle after a period of time and for others it was a great opportunity to compete for the first time or improve their current skill set.
RAF Halton was placed in an area with RAF Brize Norton, RAF High Wycombe and RAF Northolt.
The first competition was away against RAF Brize Norton and was held at Shrivenham Defence Academy Saddle Club. Flt Lt Birch, Myself and Cpl’s Elwood and Lundy arrived on a damp, murky day wondering what our steed’s for the day would be like! Our practice sessions came in handy when remembering the riding test which went without a hitch. The Show jumping proved to be good fun and I got the only clear round of the day. Our efforts, it would seem were not enough and resulted in RAF Brize Norton beating us by 3 points but myself and Cpl Elwood gained 3rd and 4th individual places respectively.
Training continued throughout the summer months and the next competition against RAF High Wycombe was drawing near. This particular competition was one that we wanted to win as RAF High Wycombe claimed victory over us in the 2011 Finals which were held at RAF Cranwell Saddle Club. In theory we had the ‘upper hand’ as it was a home competition which was held at ‘Hideaway Farm’, Oving where we had been practicing on horses that we were competing on. Hideaway Farm, for the second year, were kind enough to let the RAF teams take over their stables for the day. On a sunny August day, Flt Lt Birch, Fg Off Welch, Myself and SAC White donned our jodhpurs and boots to face the opposition. The competition was pretty even between all of the riders and after the riding test, 3 of the riders were on the same score so the Show Jumping round proved critical. During the Jumping phase lots of poles were knocked down on both teams but eventually resulted in RAF High Wycombe stealing the victory by 1 point!!!!! We were so close but once again our hard work as a team hadn’t quite paid off. Individual successes were won by Fg Off Welch who gained 1st place after achieving a very good riding test score and a clear Show Jumping round and myself who was 4th and again managed a clear Show Jumping round.
Our 3rd and final competition was against RAF Northolt – again held at ‘Hideaway Farm’. The team consisted of Flt Lt Rackham, FS Goodall, Cpl Elwood and SAC White. The day was going well with good Riding Test scores under our belts. Once again, the Show Jumping would really test all of the competitors!!! The Show Jumping went relatively smoothly although some of the rounds were more noisy then others, with riders, I can only describe as ‘Squealing’, and using a few choice words to get them around the course!!! But alls well that ends well and RAF Halton came out on top with a 3 point lead over RAF Northolt. Finally all of our efforts had paid off. Individual successes were gained by Cpl Elwood who claimed 1st place with an outstanding Riding Test score and a clear round and Flt Lt Rackham in her first competition gaining 2nd place with a very good Riding test and a clear Show Jumping round.
Unfortunately, our achievements were not quite enough to get the team into the 2012 ISL Finals or Runner Up Finals and we finished 3rd in our Area. I think all riders would agree that we have learnt a lot during the competition season and improved our riding skills. We certainly all had a lot of laughs and fun along the way.
But it was not the end of the competition season as the RAF & RN Championships at Larkhill were closing in and representing RAF Halton, Fg Off Welch and myself had some more training to do before the weekend arrived.
RAF & RN Championships
On a particularly cold Friday in September we arrived at the Army stables on Larkhill camp for our ‘Suitability Lesson’ where we were being matched with our horses that we were hiring for the weekend. This was our first and only opportunity to try the horses out and get used to them before the competition started on the Saturday. It was either going to fill us with confidence or give us doubts about the forthcoming days ahead. My horse was called Cromwell and appeared to be very forward going and if anything lacked brakes!!!! But I was fortunate compared to Fg Off Welch as she was paired with a horse called ‘Ollie’ who only had one eye!!!!!!!!! On a positive note, she had previously ridden Ollie a few years previous and knew what he was like.
We were both entered into the Novice Event which consisted of a Dressage Test, Show Jumping course and Cross Country. We arrived on a bright, sunny Saturday morning to get the horses ready for our Dressage test and made our way onto the edge of Salisbury Plain where the competition was being held. I was first up to do my test. Cromwell was feeling very fresh and was not concentrating at all – a difficult ride and a disappointing start. Fg Off Welch shortly followed on Ollie who performed a good, accurate test and drew a lot of attention due to his one eye!!!!
Next up was the Show Jumping in the afternoon. Again I was first to go into the ring and my lack of brakes was clearly evident! We got round though with only 8 faults as he knocked two fences down. Now came Fg Off Welch and Ollie’s turn which was going to require some tactical riding!!! Ollie was proving to be extremely difficult and appeared to have his own idea of how it should go but Fg Off Welch persevered and completed the round with rather a few faults but still in one piece and not feeling overly confident for the Cross Country on the Sunday.
Sunday morning arrived and on Salisbury Plain it was wet, windy and wild – just what we didn’t want!! Both horses were raring to go (even if we weren’t particularly keen) but at least we looked the part with our RAF Halton Cross Country clothing that was funded by the RAF Halton Sports Fund.
I was up first! Again having no brakes and a horse that was putting his head down and thinking he was a racehorse was quite unnerving, especially when you are approaching solid, wooden fences at a flat out gallop!!!! It took everything to get Cromwell to slow down but in the end it was easier to just go with it and use lots of leg to ensure he jumped the fences (even if it was at a flat out gallop). The fences were allsorts of shapes and sizes and included a water complex, sunken road and bank. But we completed the course very wet and bedraggled feeling exhilarated and enjoyed every minute of it – even though we resulted in having four refusals.
Fg Off Welch was hot on my heels around the course but was having issues once again with Ollie the one eyed horse – he was proving a particularly difficult ride and had a mind of his own. With all elements contributing to a relatively unpleasant experience, Fg Off Welch retired from the course calling it a day.