It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am really rather partial to a throwback video. Is it grainy, jumpy, overlaid with ludicrously posh narration and does its footage flagrantly disregard any commitment to health and safety regulations? I’m sold. One day, the epitaph on my headstone will read, ‘Here lies Tilly Berendt; she loved a cheeky dig through the archives, may she rest in peace’ and there will be no further context, but perhaps a picture of Murphy Himself lovingly sellotaped underneath. One can but dream.
In my latest trip down the rabbit hole that is the eventing corner of YouTube, I stumbled across a lovingly restored short documentary film about the training programme of the cavalry. Of course, every eventing nerd knows that the sport developed from these training programmes, but what makes this piece really interesting (other than the fact that they refer to the riders as ‘modern centaurs’, which I am totally stealing) is the time period in which it sits. The date of the film itself is circa 1920, which leads us to believe that much of the footage may have been gathered over the previous couple of years. This puts us firmly into World War One, in which the notion of an operable British cavalry was suddenly revived, with widespread, grievous consequences for both man and horse.
The earliest iteration of eventing as an Olympic sport had taken place just a few years earlier, at the 1912 Games. Count Clarence von Rosen, who managed the stables of the King of Sweden, established the sport’s initial format. For a brief period, eventing – then simply called ‘Military’, if you’ve ever wondered why Military Boekelo is thus named – as a recreational activity and its ancestral heritage existed in tandem. Somehow, somewhere, someone must have been practicing cross country for competition as another horse and rider used that same skill set to try to survive the countless horrors of the battlefield.
In either situation, partnership with the horse is paramount. So enjoy this visit to the granddaddy of our brilliant sport (and marvel, if you will, at the fact that the horses were apparently stabled up a fairly sizeable flight of stairs. Someone sack the architect).