Catton offers drivers one of the most exciting courses to drive as well as superb arenas in front of Catton House and a fabulously scenic – tough – marathon route. I have driven the course a few times and it has a couple of serious “driver frighteners”: a very steep banked obstacle and the wooden bridge into the water. It’s still worth mentioning the “posts, posts and more posts” obstacles, which, in hindsight, seem relatively easy, and the nice flowing “blue mound”, obstacle 8, complete with flowers.
While I was clicking away at the water obstacle, I met Rhonda, who is here with her friend Michelle Jones, one of the Australian drivers. She and Elizabeth Lawrence and The “Gang from Oz” are getting experience with their new horses over here under the wing of top four-in-hand driver Boyd Exell. They are going to Pratoni, Rome, at the end of July to compete in the World Single Horse Championships. It’s just not economic to bring their own horses here so they have two acquired two lovely horses Lorraine Cairns, Michelle’s groom, is writing a fascinating blog full of their adventrues, great and small, see http://roadtorome.edublogs.org/ Jessica Meredith, another Australian driver, who has represented Australia, is acting as their coach/trainer, and Dot, their chef d’equipe (who keeps everyone organised). They strike me as a very cheerful, positive group of people. They’ve had some setbacks, which they have overcome – I hope they do well. The Brits will be giving them some good competition…
Rhonda told me that, when Michelle was about 12, George Bowman had visited Australia and had given them both a driving lesson. She was a great admirer of his ever since. The others got George’s autograph but didn’t get one for Rhonda – I hope she’ll get one too, she was rapt! Prince Phillip was discretely timing on the water obstacle all day and he came to meet the Australian group too, which they appreciated.
It was a lovely day and not too hot for the horses as it clouded over some of the time. Some horses and ponies were slow in the obstacles as the marathon had been quite tough and there were plenty of hills. There were some retirees and one was spun by the vet at the halt (which is immediately before the obstacle-driving part of the marathon). Graham Heath, another Australian driver who drives in the UK for six months of the year, had the bad luck to mess with a post on the bridge and bent his carriage, however he came round with his second horse later – but then retired. No-one, or the horse, was hurt. Karen Bassett took out a post in the water and it was fixed in minutes by course designer Mark Ingham and his team with the help of a tractor: most impressive.
Results: see www.horsedrivingtrials.co.uk