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A Day in the Life

A fence judges view... from Steph Freeman and Mike Bain, a 'behind the scenes' look at Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials.

About 120 volunteers, many having travelled long distances, turned up at a marquee at the centre of the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials at 8am today ready for another great day’s sport.

Immediately on arrival, Jennie Smith, the Fence Judge Coordinator, welcomed everybody and made sure they had a cup of hot coffee and a Danish pastry. Also there to welcome us was Event Director Mandy Hervieu who thanked everybody for giving up their time so willingly.

The fence judges’ briefing, (a requirement at every event), was hosted by Chris Farr, cross-country controller and assistant technical delegate, Dave Thompson.

Although these briefing sessions can often be very amusing, with some good anecdotes thrown in, they carry a very serious message. The safety of the horses, competitors, officials and spectators, as well a good competition, are all paramount and this message is always driven home.

With Dave’s and Chris’s words of wisdom still ringing in our ears we set off to man the 29 cross-country fences. Each fence had a team of very experienced fence judges in place. Many of these unpaid volunteers have been to Olympic Games, World Games, European Championships, Asian Games, etc., all over the world as well as hundreds of events all over the U.K. Once at our fences the day’s work began. Stopwatches, flags, scorebooks and whistles at the ready the day ran smoothly. 

Spectators relax and enjoy the day's competition.

At our fence, the Petplan Puddle, we met our fellow fence judges Lesley Clay and Roni Swords. Sitting at a fence for anything up to nine hours can be quite stressful, but having the support from other judges always makes the day a worthwhile experience.  The fact that loos and a baked potato stand were nearby helped a bit too!

Fortunately for us our day passed almost without any major incidents. Every rider who jumped the Petplan Puddle cleared it, using the direct route, without a problem.  The same could not be said for the hundreds of spectators who had to run for cover when a nest of very angry wasps was discovered on the hillside overlooking the fence!

Regular visits from the picnic run team bearing gifts of tea, coffee, soft drinks and cake helped make the day pass really quickly. Our four-legged friends were not left out either. Waterbowls supplied by Chudley’s were kept topped up for their refreshment too! 

Time for some 'celeb' spotting? Zara Phillips and Dan Jocelyn walking the course.

After the last horse had successfully completed the cross-country course we all made our way back to the marquee where yet more tea and cake awaited our return. This however was not the end of the day’s entertainment. With thoughts of either retail therapy or watching some show jumping very much in mind, the 120 tired fence judges made their way to the shopping village!

Hundreds of hungry mouths to feed in the marquee at the competitors, grooms and officials barbecue.

Hospitality was still on hand as we had all been invited to a barbecue near the stables. Not quite sure where the stables were situated we asked Hannah Bate for directions. She was very pleased to show us in return for a lift there. The deal was done. We had not, however, realised that Hannah was accompanied by her owners, groom and at least half a dozen ice cream eating friends! I’m not quite sure how many piled into the car but we set off in pursuit of burgers and chicken legs. The excellent barbecue had the added bonus of a really good local band The Red Bullets.

Entertainment from The Red Bullets.

Altogether a really good day for all concerned. The best bit, however, is that we get to do it all again tomorrow………!

Steph and Mike (courtesy of Eventing Worldwide).