Exhilarating world class equestrian competition comes to Norfolk in May at the stately Houghton Hall
Topdrawer eventing at Houghton Hall
Attracting top competitors from across the globe, the Houghton International Horse Trials is considered one of top events on the equestrian calendar.
Since gaining international status 12 years ago, the event held in the spectacular grounds of Houghton Hall now welcomes more than 700 horses and hosts the only British leg of the FEI Eventing Nation’s Cup, where teams from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand battle it out to top the table come the final event in Holland in October.
Current eventing world champion Ros Canter, who grew up, and is based in neighbouring county Lincolnshire, has competed at Houghton many times, and says it has become a hugely important part of international competition.
“Houghton is a beautiful setting so getting to spend a few days staying in the park is special in itself. The competition is also very competitive so it is a great chance to see how you are doing against international competitors and normally the weather is just starting to warm up which always makes it lovely.”
For those who don’t know what to expect during the weekend, Ros says there are three very different, but equally compelling, phases of eventing
“The dressage is the first phase. The riders have a set routine to ride with movements being marked out of 10. Dressage should look elegant and effortless and the lowest score from this phase takes the lead. The next phase is the cross country. This is a combination of speed, endurance and bravery of both horse and rider and it is exciting and adrenaline-filled.
“One mistake can knock you right of the competition and here you will see lots of action including the odd tumble! The showjumping phase comes last. This is another jumping challenge but here the jumps knock down, so the need for precision is great. The challenge is made more difficult because the cross country phase the day before might have taken a lot out of the horse and the competitors
What do people enjoy most about the sessions?
Riders enjoy the feeling of being in command; of achievement; the feeling of movement of the pony under them. Children like being physically taller than the grown-ups. Coaches follow a lesson plan to encourage each rider to use their physical and mental abilities to the maximum to control the pony and carry out exercises and tasks.
What do you look for in the horses and ponies?
There is a common misconception that Riding for the Disabled needs old, slow, ‘bomb-proof’ ponies. A good temperament is vital, but we also need them to be fit, healthy, happy, ready to work and capable of helping our riders achieve their very best. They should be quiet, good with sudden noises and movements and be patient.
When were the Norfolk groups set up?
Riding for disabled children began in Norfolk in 1968, one year before the national charity was formed. Major Derek Allhusen and his wife offered therapeutic riding on their ponies to the disabled children of the Clare School, Norwich. It became Norfolk’s first RDA group and the first in the UK to receive a visit from RDA President the Princess Royal. This spring saw the establishment of new groups at Walsingham and Worstead, bringing the total to 10.
How did you get involved?
I started as a helper and immediately found the rewards of seeing the riders’ progress and enjoyment to be the highlight of my week. I enjoy meeting riders and volunteers and seeing how riders of all abilities cast aside their disabilities to achieve so much and have so much fun doing it.
Do you need volunteers?
Volunteers are always needed. No RDA group can function without volunteer helpers and most groups do not have any salaried staff. Anyone from age 16 can volunteer and there
RIGHT: British eventing rider Kelly Aldous at the Houghton International Horse Trials BELOW: Ros Canter and Pencos Crown Jewel preparing to compete in the Houghton International