Like many little girls, I was pony mad as a kid. I adored reading books about ponies, from Black Beauty–probably the first book I cried over–to the Pullein-Thompson books, and finally my absolute favourites: the Jill books by Ruby Ferguson. Not only did Ms Ferguson have such an exotic first name to my young eyes, she wrote wonderfully and even made mucking out sound like the best chore in the world! I used to smuggle a torch up to my bedroom so that I could keep reading Jill’s adventures with Black Boy and Rapide long after I was supposed to be asleep. My dreams were always filled with Saturday morning hacks, riding in gymkhanas and pinning rosettes to my pony’s bridle. The reality of being dumped on my head several times during a wet pony trekking holiday was a lot less glamorous!!
So when Derby House invited me and my boys to spend a day out at the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials I positively jumped at it! (Pun unintentional, but I like it and therefore it shall stay.)
We chose to go on Sunday for the cross-country as I thought the sheer speed of horses thundering past would appeal to my family of speed-freaks who are more used to horses prancing around under the bonnet of a F1 car.
After arriving to a very misty Blenheim Palace we were greeted by a rather astonishing piece of sand art. Carefully carved from sand over the previous three days, this horse looked like it was ready to stumble to its feet and canter away.
We stopped by the stables to meet some horses. Lucas and I thought this was really nice as big horses can be a little scary until you spend a little time with them. A few of the stalls had information boards propped up outside and it was lovely to learn a little more about the horses and of course, admire their hard-won rosettes. It was at this point, as I was explaining to Lucas why a man had a horse on a very long rope (lunging) that Dave decided I clearly knew more about horses than I’d let on, and appointed me tour guide. Eeek! If you’d like to know more about eventing and horse trials, Derby House have a brilliant article here.
Our first proper stop was the dog agility demonstration. I had a hunch Lucas would enjoy this and yeah…he was totally enthralled by it. We cheered on as dogs of all shapes and sizes jumped and wiggled their way round the course. He particularly liked a little Papillion who zoomed so fast around the course that he almost flew. Inevitably he now wants a dog…
We checked out the little funfair after the demonstration was over; Lucas decided that the helter skelter was a bit too high for him but had loads of fun in the adventure playground…
There were plenty of sweetie stalls to keep him occupied, too.
The shopping village was huge and I imagine that if you’re in the equestrian world this would be akin to an afternoon at Whole Foods for me. There was a dizzying array of hats, bridles, riding helmets and boots. Oh, the boots! I quite fancy a pair of Dubarry country boots now. They look tremendously practical and much nicer than wellies…If only I could purchase a suitably sylph-like pair of legs to go along with them.
I was rather tempted by these amazing driftwood horses; I think they’d look magnificent at the bottom of the garden beside my apple tree. (They remind me of thestrals from Harry Potter, too. I know, I’m a geek.) The little Highland Cow is adorable, too.
After much debate we stopped for lunch at these gorgeous vintage-style vans. Dave and I had pork and stuffing rolls–they used the stuffing as a spread, genius idea–and Lucas munched his way through a massive portion of sausage and chips. He really seems to find his appetite out in the fresh air… I was quite looking forward to helping him polish off the chips!!
Once we’d finished lunch we went looking for a good place to watch the cross country. I hadn’t realised that the cross country course twisted and turned around the shopping village and arenas; I had assumed that we’d have to walk for miles and miles to see a slice of the action, but there they were, jumping astonishingly large fences right beside us! Every so often we heard whistles swiftly followed by marshals leaping into action to clear pedestrians from the course, and then a horse and jockey thundered past. Breathtaking.
We walked a little bit of the course but spent most of our time by the lake where there was a spectacular water jump. The course took riders across the lake, through the woods and then downhill at speed to a huge jump that plunged them back into the lake.
The views around the estate are stunning. It’s been beautifully landscaped and the wide open spaces are perfect for kids to run around and play, despite the horses galloping past every so often. Of course the countryside is nothing in comparison to the gorgeousness of the palace itself. We’re definitely going to come back and do a tour!
We rounded off our day by watching some of the side-saddle riding demonstration. None of us had ever seen side-saddle before and we were very surprised to see the riders taking jumps. It looks quite tough on the back and it must be more difficult to control the horse, too, so seriously skillful. A delight to watch, though, and very elegant.
We all had a wonderful time at Blenheim, especially Lucas who was so sad about having to go home that he cried. We ended up staying an extra half hour watching Pony Club teams in the Bladon Arena competing in their eventer challenge–a mixture of show-jumping and cross-country jumps against the clock–which was pretty awesome. Lucas was thrilled to watch kids only a few years older than him riding in competition. I doubt he’ll change careers from prospective F1 champion to competitive horse-riding, but he did get really invested in the riders and clapped wildly for all the clear rounds. He wants to go back next year and I’ll be delighted to take him!
Disclosure: This post in association with Derby House. Thank-you for having us.