Happy Friday, dear readers. And what a Friday it is: Kim Severson is merrily smashing records at Carolina, eventing has actually managed to go ahead without any cancellations in the UK, and all of the Monty Python films are about to be added to Netflix, so we all have an excuse to prance around like loonies while smashing coconut halves together. Blissful.
Your Friday video, so kindly brought to you by World Equestrian Brands, is something a little bit different today. That’s because it’s the fulfilling of a promise I made to you all long ago, in the shadowy depths of 2017, when I was merely a contender in the seriously high-stakes Eventing Nation Blogger Contest. I got my claws out. I pulled my trump card. I told you about the camels.
‘What camels?’ I hear you murmur from the back. ‘What is she talking about? Who is this person, and where is my Friday video?’ You are adorable when you play coy. Get comfortable, and allow me to tell you all about my first international of 2017…
Picture it: a cluster of eventers and their mums are perched atop a hill on the Norfolk coast. There’s a handful of eventing fans amongst them, because people who like eventing are insane, and team GB chef d’equipes Dickie Waygood and Chris Bartle, zooming in circles on their bicycles, looking like mildly deranged (and colour-coordinated) collie dogs herding their parka-clad victims. The wind is blowing at approximately 860 miles per hour, threatening to pick everyone up and deposit them merrily into the sea. Some horses are probably also running around and jumping over things. I wouldn’t know, because I am on the side of the hill feeling very nervous.
Nervous about what, you ask? Not nervous about the fact that Oliver Townend has nearly galloped straight over the top of me and then reappeared a few minutes later to ask me if I happen to have any black tape on hand (NB: if I ever post something that just says ‘COPENHAGEN’, I’ve been kidnapped – please mobilise the troops). Not nervous about the fact that I’ve just accidentally made eye contact with an elderly Lord whilst hastily changing in the back of my Peugeot, because that’s just life in the British eventing scene. Nope, I’m nervous because at some point over the winter I went completely stir-crazy and agreed to take part in a camel race to raise essential funds for the region’s extremely busy – and extremely valuable – air ambulance service. And today, on this fine, hurricane-y day at Burnham Market International, is the day I have to make good on my agreement.
Have you ever been close to a camel? I mean really close – within spitting radius? They are ENORMOUS. Like a 22hh behemoth of rage and wonkiness and pom-pom encrusted tack. I had to sign a disclaimer agreeing not to sue if I died in a horrifying and violent manner, and I had to take out specialist extreme sports insurance for the day, which, I discovered, also insured me for a rather marvellous sport called ‘dirt surfing.’ I think that’s just another name for the particular brand of eventing that I partake in, but I digress.
I’m never sure if it’s comforting or highly concerning when very accomplished riders harbour the same fears as you, but fellow dirt-surfers Lissa Green, Jonty Evans, and Laura Collett were looking a bit green, too. I mean, Jonty always looks green, because he has to make up for the fact that he’s the most belligerently English-sounding man in the world by plastering himself and everything he touches with shamrocks, but he didn’t look wildly confident, either.
Our small group – a cluster of normal people, and the three nut-jobs who jump over trucks for fun – were split into heats and assigned camels according to our experience. I was given the four-year-old who, I was told “bucks – and doesn’t steer”, which made me feel miles better about the entire experience, frankly. You’ll see him merrily terrorising another hapless rider by refusing to let her get on in the following video.
Jonty’s heat went first, and despite somehow looking rather graceful on a camel – probably because he’s also about 22h – he got thoroughly trounced. Then it was my turn. There were no practice runs, I hasten to add. Not a quiet moment to get used to the feeling of getting on the rage-beast and maybe meandering around a bit. Nope. The entire event was paused, so every single mad person on site was clustered around to watch (Dickie and Bartle were still merrily cycling in circles, their tiny bicycles squeaking away like budget church bells portending my imminent death and/or dirt-surfing), the camels plonked themselves on the floor, and we were expected to pull our big girl knickers up and get on with it. Ugh.
Believe me when I say mounting and dismounting a camel is the worst thing about it. They lie down – although they don’t always stay down – and you have to wedge yourself in between their humps without startling them, offending them, accidentally jabbing them in the ribs, or taking longer than the allocated 0.4 seconds to do so. Then, they lurch upwards, front end first, until your head is at the upper edges of the ozone layer. If you think you can grab hump to stabilise yourself, surprise! They wobble. In fact, a camel is pretty much just wobble, from top to bottom. Nothing moves as it ought to. Also, they sometimes get back down again, with no warning, and double wobble.
A lifetime of learning how to manoeuvre a horse in a sort-of straight line means nothing when you race a camel. They go exactly where they want to go, exactly when they want to go there, and using exactly the route that they deem most appropriate. They veer and crash into one another and I’m sure their entire ribcage is just on a spin cycle the whole time they’re moving. You begin to fear for the safety of your kneecaps. This is a long, roundabout way of saying that I lost. Lissa Green beat me and I have held a grudge ever since. Later in the day, I volunteered myself again, because apparently I wanted to combine the sensations of riding a barrel down Niagara Falls and a backwards lunge lesson, and then Bill bloody Levett beat me, too. Although he nearly got himself bucked off in the process, which will forever remain one of my most precious memories.
That night, the cold sting of defeat propelled me home, and I realised that after two months of fundraising, I could no longer think in anything but tenuous camel puns. Sometimes, you have to accept these things, and so I put on my most soothing car playlist – Smooth as Salted Camel – and trundled back down to the south, where people are normal and ride feral Irish horses instead. I still listen to that playlist, just to test the sticking power of my hump-related PTSD. It’s sticking well, thanks for asking.
So there you have it – the story of my first ride at an international. Just in time for the advent of Burnham Market, which begins next week, and at which I shall stay very much earthbound. Unless, of course, the opportunity to finally beat Lissa Green happens to arise…
Camel racing at horse trials! Yes indeed, Malcolm went along to Burnham Market where they're doing novelty races in aid of East Anglian Air Ambulance. More here –> http://www.itv.com/news/anglia/2017-04-16/novelty-event-sees-thousands-raised-for-air-ambulance/
Posted by ITV Anglia on Sunday, April 16, 2017
I thought it would be just like riding a youngster- send it forward and let it run underneath you!
Posted by Bill Levett eventing on Saturday, April 15, 2017