For the first time ever, the RAF Equitation Association (RAFEA) fielded a team of four riders at one of the UK’s most prestigious events, the London International Horse Show, Olympia.
Only eight places are available for military riders who qualified earlier in the year at the Royal Tournament, DAC Melton Mowbray where senior riders aspire to obtain the highest total points over four tough classes all at 1.0-1.20m in height over a testing three day event. The qualifying RAF riders were Sqn Ldr Elise Kidd (MOD Stafford), Sqn Ldr Sam Martin (RAF High Wycombe), Sqn Ldr Caitlin Wroe (RAF Valley) and Sgt Paula Golder (Denison Barracks). This highlights just how strong equitation as a sport within the RAF is currently; in previous years, the RAFEA have had at best two riders so this year really was something special.
On 14 Dec 2016 the RAFEA riders, grooms and supporters made their way to Central London for their 1630 start time. Unfortunately the eight riders became seven as an accident occurred which injured Private Isabelle Drapers horse ‘Touch of Rouge’ and forced their withdrawal from this years’ competition. It was down to seven riders to go for the winning title over the two phase jumping competition. Round one was set at 1.10m where time and faults (i.e. knockdowns, refusals etc.) would earn points. The jumps were increased to 1.20m during the second round – again, this was based upon the lowest total faults and fastest time to determine the overall winner.
Round One: After a competitive first round, the pressure was on as Sqn Ldr Sam Martin led in pole position closely followed by Sqn Ldr Caitlin Wroe and Major Chambers (Riding Master of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment). Round two began in reverse placings order, i.e. seventh position to first position. This was certainly going to be a fast and furious round – no pressure guys!
Round Two: Captain Spilsbury rode first and certainly set and electric pace but unfortunately accrued 12 points with her speedy 46.82 time. Our very own Sqn Ldr Kidd was next to go. A super quick round with a 43.07 sec time was again the fastest time in the whole competition but unfortunately a knock down of one of the final jumps cost her another 4 points bringing her total to 12 faults. Sgt Golder (pictured right) took her turn with Banff. She achieved another good round but again had a total of 12 faults which took her lower down in the final placings. This was the first time that Paula has competed at Olympia but is no doubt becoming a familiar face across the RAFEA community as one of our top level riders.
Next, came the turn of Major Chambers (Riding Master of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment) on his favourite Army-owned horse, Hightide. The Riding Master was out to win it this year and really put the gas on finishing with a fantastic clear round and a speedy time of 43.98. This certainly put the pressure on our final two RAF riders as they gave chase going in with an all-or-nothing attitude! Sqn Ldr Wroe entered the arena and really gave it beans with Max. She put the pedal to the floor and gave a good chase as she pursued the Major’s super quick time. Unfortunately, the pace cost an additional 8 faults as two poles were knocked down meaning she could not beat Maj Chambers in the placings.
Last to go came Sqn Ldr Martin who although looking cool and calm as ever, must have known that he was the RAF’s last chance to take the title from the Army this year – no pressure! All eyes were on him and Cruise as once again, the pair tackled the course. Unfortunately, just like RAF colleague Caitlin, the pair had 8 points after two unlucky knock-downs and finished in 48.27 seconds bringing the pair into third place overall.
The winner of the 2016 Services Jumping Championship, Olympia 2016 was Major Chambers and Hightide – Riding Master of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. The four RAF riders, Sqn Ldr Wroe (2nd), Sqn Ldr Martin (3rd), Sqn Ldr Kidd (4th) and Sgt Golder (7th) also did a tremendous job taking their horses to compete at such a high-pressured and tricky environment whilst taking the pride of our RAF service on their shoulders.
“Although I had ridden on the RAF team in 2007 and 2008, going to Olympia was a first for me! The Services Championships puts the military firmly in the public spotlight and I was determined that I would commit 100% to being as prepared as possible. To ride at Olympia is a dream for most horsey kids growing up so to have the opportunity to do it whilst representing my Service in No1 uniform meant I was bursting with pride – overall, not a bad day in the office!”
Sqn Ldr Elise Kidd
*Article by By Cpl Alison Cartlidge (RAFEA PRO). Photo credits to SBS Photography www.sbsphotography.co.uk and Stephen Sparkes Photos*