Varsity Match 2015

Equestrian Varsity 2015 – Battle of the Blues on horseback.

By Alice Strang Steel

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CUET Varsity Victory (L-R Ginny Fellows, Ali Simon, Ollie C-T, Alice SS, Alice Watson, Katy Surman, Mary Tivey, Holly Mason, Kate Garnett).

The Equestrian Team Varsity competition 2015, was hosted by Cambridge at Witham Villa in Leicestershire on Tuesday 10th April. In recent years this competition has been alternately hosted by each Blues team at their own training venue,  giving a massive home advantage in knowing the horses. However, this year with it being the turn of Cambridge Captain, Alice Strang Steel, to host, the decision was made to move back towards a more neutral and therefore far more fair and competitive venue for the Varsity.

The Cambridge First Team consists of Captain, Alice Strang Steel (Emma), Alice Watson (Fitz), Ginny Fellows (Sidney) and Ali Simon (Fitz). The Second Team consists of Captain, Ollie Coombe-Tennant (Selwyn), Holly Mason (John’s), Kate Garnett (John’s), Katy Surman (Churchill) and Mary Tivey (Girton). This year the teams are particularly strong with some astonishingly good results, so there was much anticipation in the build up to Varsity. Both teams have won their BUCS leagues by considerable margins, and the first team have been unbeaten so far this season. So it was all to ride for at Varsity this year.

Being a considerable distance from both Cambridge and Oxford, both teams had an early start on the day of the competition. With a Cambridge group getting lost for an hour en route and another Cambridge group forgetting to factor in the traffic, it was a hectic start for Alice and Alice to get five dressage horses plaited, groomed and tack cleaned in less than an hour. It was a case of all hands on deck, when the rest of the Cambridge team members arrived, just after the Oxford Teams.

Once ready, the draw for each rider to be randomly allocated a dressage horse was done. In these types of competition, riders have just 7 minutes to get to know their horse before riding a dressage test. For the first team, the test was BD Elementary 44 which contained some tricky movements, such as a simple change, to ride on unknown horses with little time to practice. The second team rode Novice 27 BD test.

First team dressage was first to get under way. With Captain Alice being the first of the Cambridge riders, she had little time to switch from a hugely stressed and under pressure state of mind of running the competition, to being entirely focussed on her ride. Despite this, she still managed to finish on a 0 penalty score and put the equivalent Oxford team member,  also riding Milo, 22.5 penalties behind her. Next up, was Ginny Fellows riding a huge and talented dressage horse, Solly, on which she was able to ride a very fluent and skillful test to also finish on 0 penalties, with the Oxford rider 20.5 penalties behind. Alice Watson was the next Cambridge rider to enter the arena, riding Caesar, whose ability to perform some of the required movements was looking questionable during the warm up. However, Alice managed to find some hidden talent and energy within Caesar, and rode a particularly impressive test to finish on 0 penalties, with the Oxford rider 24.5 penalties behind. The final Cambridge First team rider, was Ali Simon riding Willow, who performed a very accurate and engaged test to score 0 penalties, and the Oxford rider an incredible 45.5 penalties behind.

Next to run, was the second team dressage. Riding the Novice 27 test, Ollie Coombe-Tennant, Holly Mason and Katy Surman all scored 0 penalties. Of particular note, was Holly who put an outstanding 48 penalties on the Oxford rider on the same horse. Mary Tivey narrowly missed out on the 0 penalty score. Kate Garnett was unlucky in drawing the same horse as the Oxford seconds team captain, but only added 16 penalties to the Cambridge total.

By the end of the dressage, a huge margin between the Cambridge and Oxford teams was already emerging. In the first team competition, Cambridge riders had maintained their nerve to be on 0 penalties, whilst Oxford had already accumulated a massive 113 penalties. The Cambridge second team were on just 16.5, compared to the Oxford second team’s 72.5 penalties.

This was no time for complacency though. It was straight onto building a technical and challenging show jumping course of 90cm, and getting the horses ready to jump. Again riders drew horses at random. Before the jumping started, riders from the centre jumped a round to show us what each horse was like. This was a stressful moment for the Cambridge Captain to make rapid decisions under pressure, as one horse was point blank refusing to jump and another was throwing in the odd buck, which seemed to have the Oxford team worried. However, at the discretion of the judge and after some persuasive riding by a member of the centre, it was decided that both horses were entirely capable of remaining in the competition. Before each rider jumps the course, they have 5 minutes to warm up and 3 practice fences to get to know their horse.

Again with little time to put stress aside, the Cambridge captain, Alice, was first to ride the show jumping course. Alice managed to hold together and create energy from the very long striding and lethargic Ben, to finish on 0 penalties, gaining the highest collectives score of the day (collectives are the marks awarded purely for the rider, based on effectiveness, position, influence on the horse and accuracy). Next up was Alice Watson, who produced a smooth and well prepared round to finish with just 6 penalties. Ginny Fellows again drew a huge and talented horse but Monty had been unsettled by the previous rider and became tricky for Ginny to manage. She did an exceptional job of guiding him round the course, with an unfortunate refusal at the double, but her clearly effective riding meant that she still finished on 0 penalties. Ali Simon rode a confident and tidy round to also finish on 0 penalties.

For the second team show jumping, Ollie, Kate, Katy and Mary all finished on 0 penalties, despite Oxford’s strong point for the seconds clearly being the jumping phase. Holly was unlucky, in that her ride, Monty, had lost confidence with previous riders and was no longer playing the game.

The Cambridge second team finished on 46.5 penalties, compared to Oxford’s massive 118.5 penalties, allowing the second team trophy to return to Cambridge. In the individual placings, Mary was 4th, Ollie 2nd and Katy 1st.

The first team also returned their Varsity trophy to Cambridge after a one-year absence. Their massive victory over Oxford has got to be the biggest margin in the history of this competition, with Cambridge finishing on just 6 penalties, and Oxford on 164! The individual placings were tighter, with Alice Watson finishing on 6 penalties in 4th place. Alice SS, Ali and Ginny were all on 0 total penalties so the final placings were decided by their collective scores, based entirely on the rider’s individual talent. This put Ginny in 3rd place, Ali in 2nd place and Captain Alice SS in 1st place. All of the team members put in incredibly strong performances to achieve this fantastic result, with all of their hard work and commitment to training through the year, paying off.