Visit to Aintree Racecourse on Becher Chase Raceday

We were treated to a fantastic day at Aintree Racecourse. A guided tour and course walk was followed by a sit-down lunch in a private function room and an afternoon’s racing.

December 8th dawned dry and sunny despite a wet and windy forecast. We were greeted with coffee and mince pies, which was a sign of things to come. We were so well looked after throughout the day. Daniel Cooper, Trainee Clerk of the Course began the tour by taking us to the Parade Ring, followed by the jockeys Changing Room which we very lucky to get a glimpse of. We were there fairly early so it was empty apart from a couple of valets working away. There was an area dedicated to A P McCoy, his saddle, boots, body protector, hat etc. We were then taken to the Weighing Room where a discussion was had about weighing in and out. Interesting facts included that jockeys are allowed a 3lb clothing allowance. When weighing back in, jockeys are allowed to be up to 1lb light due to sweating on a hot day. They are allowed to be up to 2lbs heavy due to rain and mud in wet conditions.

On the way to the stables we were shown how a hurdle is constructed and a discussion was had on materials and colours and how much safer jumps are today than they were in the past.

We were privileged to be allowed in to the stable area. Some trainers are superstitious and like the same stable numbers. Stable hygiene is very strict. Stables are emptied, jet washed and fumigated between horses. We had a talk from vets Jim Tipp and Paddy Macandrew and were shown round facilities including a knockdown box where horses can be brought in anaesthetised. Vets are employed by the racecourse to ensure horse welfare which it was evident is of paramount importance. There are a minimum of 3 vets in attendance per race, more for a long race and as many as one vet per 2-3 fences on the National course. Common injuries include over-reach injuries, tendon injuries, stress and catastrophic fractures, usually cannon bone or fetlock joint injuries. When you consider that the load on the fetlock at full speed is 3 tonnes every stride, that’s not surprising!

Amy Bannister-Bell, who had organised the day, then conducted a course walk and it soon became evident that Amy has an encyclopedic knowledge of Aintree, and the Grand National in particular! The course at Aintree always finishes in the same place, the start obviously differs depending on the length of the race. Fence 3 provides the first test on the course, an open ditch. The Chair is the biggest fence on the course, so called because a judge’s chair used to be positioned at one end. Foinavon is named after a horse who won and was the only one not to be taken out by a loose horse in 1967. He won at 100-1! The fences were big and imposing but horse friendly and certainly a lot safer than they used to be in the past when the course included many more upright fences, natural hedges and doubles! Fence construction and horse welfare is a top priority and improvements continue to be made. Since 2013 all National fences have a flexi brush plastic core and since then no horses have been lost in the Grand National as a result of a fall. It was also interesting to see the Catching Pens, of which there are 3, just on the National Course. Loose horses cannot gallop past those fences but instead are caught in the Catching Pens. Amy and Alice form part of the Catching Team who operate at each of the 5 fixtures at Aintree which run over the National fences.

Just as it started to rain we headed off to Paddock Lodge, a private function room where we ate a delicious lunch. To top it all off there was a raffle in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund which I was lucky enough to win! The raffle raised a fabulous £300. We were then able to enjoy an afternoon’s racing at our leisure. Of particular interest were the 2 races running over the National fences.

What a fabulous opportunity to see behind the scenes at such an iconic venue! Many thanks to Amy for all her hard work in organising such a unique, interesting and enjoyable day.

Report by Tessa Ryley BHSI

A Day at the Races

November 8th dawns – well actually it hasn’t as the alarm went off at 1.15AM & it’s pitch black!  Fran & I left Malsbury Cottage in Wexford at 2.15 AM to drive to Dublin Airport to change Faith into Fran as dear Faith had a family bereavement, the wig wouldn’t stay on Fran’s head & he point blank refused to take off the moustache, so we were told we had to check in at the desk in plenty of time.  Dublin Airport T2 Aer Lingus, YES we are not going on Michael’s airline BUT we went to Gate 335 and Oh Dear we had to go down steps catch a bus and then WALK across the tarmac to the plane.  With me stating in a loud voice with tons of marbles in me mouth “But as this is Aer Fungus I wanted to go down a tunnel to board NOT a bus ride & walk” Anyway, we arrived safely in Gatwick & found Dahling Sam C W & Peter who were to drive us to NEWBURY RACECOURSE.  There we met with other like – minded people all going to support the BHS Charity Race at 12 noon and for us it was Ann Bostock we were cheering for.

Loads of us gathered in the paddock to cheer ‘our’ rider whilst her trainer Brendan Powell legged her up onto No 8 Gannicus, he of Irish breeding, Ann had that steely determined look on her face – the one that says don’t argue with me.  In fact, a young Irish Lad who became a BHSI/St 5 Coach last year & who is coming to the Annual Course has pleaded with me not to let Ann ask him anything about Point to Pointers!  Then popping on the specs & reading the Race card I see other riders I know.  Holy Moly that’s Alan he of Police horses & Ride Safe.  So off they canter down to the start & suddenly they’re off.  “Come On Ann” and she did, she rode a wonderful race.  The cheers that greeted the riders as they later came up to the BHS room, the Race Goers room in the Dubai Grandstand were phenomenal.

What to remind you about our Fellows & Instructors Association’s Vice Chair the Formidable Ann Bostock?  35 years ago, she had open heart surgery & then this year things started to go wrong again & she was in & out of hospital ending up with an 8-hour operation in mid-August.  Ann started riding again on 5th September and it’s been a roller coaster ride to pass the fitness test, find a horse and get to the stage of being able to hold her own & come in the first 5 of a 10-horse race.


Meanwhile there was lunch to be had a silent auction & a ‘real’ auction, far too much prosecco was drunk by yours truly who is now the holder of a Day for Two on the Doc Martin set in Cornwall!!!!!  We stepped back into the house at 1.15AM 9th November.

Report by Jillie Rogers

Burghley Course Walk with Eric Smiley FBHS

Honesty, Energy, Time

Those that attended the course walk were in for a treat this year as we were lucky to get input not only from Eric but Captain Mark Phillips himself.

At the very beginning of the walk the first thing Eric explained was that as a rider you need to know your horse, your own style and clearly have an objective. Are you here to be competitive? Are you here just to complete or are you here to drink some beer and say you have ridden at Burghley! This divides the field into three clear groups. A four-star track will easily split the riders up but each group will think about the course in a slightly different way. Eric asked us to think of a specific horse we work with or train and imagine how we would deal with each fence riding that horse.

The next thing to think about is the course designer’s background; how did he ride cross country, was he brave, was he accurate? These kinds of questions will give you an incite into the mind of the designer and help you to understand his style and the type of questions he is asking you.

The designer has a tough job, because beside simply building a 4* course, he has external pressure from the FEI and media to try and prevent bad press. With this in mind Eric explained the course is fully up to height from the start. The reason for this is to try and eliminate combinations near the beginning which are not genuine 4* competitors. Eliminate them early before they get tired and present a bad image later on.


Eric’s theme for the walk was based around Honesty, Energy and Time. To complete inside the time, you need a good balance of all three and you can’t afford to run out of any. On this course it is difficult to maintain the speed due to the influence of the environment, there are lots of narrow ‘lanes’ where the horse has so much to look at they will be reluctant to keep moving fast enough, for example in and out of the main arena and this alone puts pressure on the time factor. This will mean it takes a canny rider to shave every turn and ride every line with true accuracy to be able to get close to the time.


Eric’s attention to every detail started to show more and more as we progressed through the course. He pointed out the innocuous log pile placed just after the part A log at fence 5. He explained Mark was beginning to challenge the horses in a subtle way and see if they could hold their line. The log pile is neatly stacked just to the side, but the horses won’t see it until they are in the air and if they are not ready for the level it will make them spook away and off their line.

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At fence 6 you need to make a moving rebalance 1/4 25m circle, keep coming and use as a confidence fence. Eric explained that there will be a lot of people who interfere too much with the canter and will struggle to find a stride- expect some expletives!

The first proper Burghley question comes at fence 7 with the famous Leaf pit. To a certain extent a test of courage, Eric said it rides better than you think but it comes up very fast! His main comments here were around basic rider skills. Knot your reins so you don’t go to buckle, then you will still be able to steer to the skinnies and make sure you swap your whip into the appropriate hand for your horse! He said it is very surprising to him how many riders at this level keep their whip in the same hand for the whole course!


Back at the Discovery Valley we met Mark Phillips. He was kind enough to spend a few minutes discussing the course and gave some insight into his methods. If you look at a fence 3 times change it, it’s not right, it isn’t the dimensions, it just isn’t right. We discussed leaf pit and he had heard a lot of riders discussing the longer alternative as they think they can go long but maintain a higher average speed. He felt that to make a good completion it is very much about risk management and knowing where you can take those risks, or not. He felt the trout hatchery was the most difficult combination on course. He described it as a high-risk area with so many opportunities to go wrong that the riders will need to have super-fast reactions and make good decisions according to their individual circumstances.

Mark didn’t think any rider will make time but would be delighted if all riders got round. In order to attempt it they need to be hitting their early minute markers exactly, too fast and they will have too much lactic acid and will falter later on. They will need to be very efficient with their lines to get close.

Mark’s final comments were around fence dressing. Everything you see is to enhance the course. For example, the flowers on the ends of the rails in the Rolex combination are there to help the horses read the rail as they go over it, not just to look pretty. He explained that horses see in contrast due to the composition of cones and rods in their eyes, so they are very careful with where they use certain jump colours. For example, don’t use dark rails in dark areas or shiny white rails into reflective water. Most fatalities come from the leading edge, so we do as much as possible to help the horse read the front rail of the fence.

After we parted with Mark we went onto the trout hatchery, so many choices so you really need to know your horse. This is where Eric’s ratio of Honesty:Energy:Time is so well illustrated. You need to train horses to be quick thinkers and honest, the fast ones will save lots of time here but will have dipped into honesty box. If they don’t it will become very tiring and they are going to pay for that over the next undulating bit of the course.


As always, the Rolex combination is big and tricky, you need to be bold in so you have options to be careful and hope you’ve put enough in the honesty box.

Capability cutting is very disruptive to the canter and almost becomes a related distance at the top, so this is a fence sapping energy. If you have trained your horse to look at the top rail 17 a & b shouldn’t be a problem. You need to keep coming forward, make a moving rebalance and not waste time and energy.

There is a long pull up hill to the inspiring Cottesmore leap, swinging right to an accuracy test of 2 shoulder brushes or two arrow heads before the last big test on course. The Clarence Court Egg box combinations is another place where you need to assess how much you have left of your reserves and once again trade honesty, speed and energy!

The final fences are fairly simple, you have answered the questions of the course, now the test is to see how fit your horse is and test the focus of the riders. 27 is disruptive to flow of getting home and need to ensure they see and don’t leave a leg and after that beware of ‘last fenceitis!’

Thank you, Eric for a thoroughly enjoyable and informative course walk and good luck to your horse!

Fred Hodges BHSI

The Royal International Horse Show, Hickstead

What a super day I had at The Royal International Horse Show on Saturday 28th July.  The day was spent with many other F & I members and their guests where we had the luxury of the BHS box    with a supply of drinks and a lovely lunch right next to the main ring.  I wouldn’t like to try to work out how many times I have been, but I always love it and this year definitely didn’t disappoint!

We watched a speed class, some showing classes (Miniature Horse and Supreme Hack championships) and the fast and furious Scurry Driving.  It was particularly lovely that we were all able to congratulate Elisabeth Boyce, the latest member of the F & I group who was awarded her certificate by Lynn Petersen (BHS CEO) and Jillie Rogers (Chair of F&I).  Congratulations Beth!

Highlight of the day for me was walking The Queen Elizabeth Cup course.  Matt Sampson kindly took us round.  (He’s the chap who sang his way to Bolesworth International show by serenading Nina Barbour (the show’s organiser!)).  The arena had the most amazing green grass (I’m struggling to remember what that looks like!) and was like a cushion to walk on.   What never ceases to amaze me about Hickstead’s arena is the undulations of the ground which you struggle to appreciate on the television.   The course builder cleverly used these undulations to make a technical and tricky course for the riders.  Matt was most informative during the walk.  He highlighted the first fence as an area where the horses may lose their concentration due to the camera man who was on one side of the approach and a big TV screen on the other.  The third fence was a large parallel (although there weren’t any small fences!) with a hedge as a filler in the centre which Matt felt was not particularly inviting.    Another fence, quite early on, had horizontal stripes and he commented that horses can struggle to assess these though, in the competion, neither fence caused too many problems with these experienced horse and rider combinations!

We put Matt on the spot and asked him what he expected the result to be.  He predicted there would be 8 through to the jump off and that James Whitaker would win (because he wanted him to win as he’s his mate!)  Well he got one prediction right anyway!

Four made it through to the jump off – there were plenty of problems around the course – notably at the water jump (some horses definitely said ‘no’ to this) and also the treble – which came up quickly after the water on a right-hand turn.  Possibly some horses were rattled by the water jump and others were keen to leave at the nearby exit!  Of the four riders who were in the jump off, three of these were female – quite apt for the Queen Elizabeth cup – one being Pippa Funnel riding her husband’s lovely stallion Billy Congo, now 17.  He seemed to be on springs!  The combination achieved a second clear round but finished as runner up to the only man in the jump off, James Whitaker riding Glenavadra Brillivant.

The day concluded with a speed class – talk about riding forward …..!    The end to another fantastic day at Hickstead.  Thank you to the BHS, the Education Team were well in evidence, with our own members of F&I Oonagh Meyer and Julian Campbell. The Director of Education Alex Copeland joined us with his family and, of course, the wonderful Karen Irving who organised us all brilliantly! 

Nicole Biggs BHSI

Jumping Techniques Training Day Nick Turner FBHS

at Bold Heath Equestrian Centre, Cheshire on 5th July 2018.

We had five groups of eager riders for the training day with Nick Turner. Mark Baker and his team at Bold Heath had built a fantastic track for us, with a testing series of jumping exercises for us.
They have fantastic outdoor arenas at Bold Heath, which we planned to use but due to the penetrating rays of the sun they kindly let us have the indoor school! The surface was amazing, which allowed us to ride more confidently and positively through the exercises.

Nick expertly supported and challenged us through combinations of angled fences, skinnies, spreads, corners and brush fences. All the exercises required us to commit to a positive canter and hold focus and conviction to the line. This really allowed the horses’ to think, perform and learn.

This was shown very clearly by Mark Baker’s and Becky Cooper’s young horses who really began to understand what was being asked of them and improve their technique and confidence.

Common themes with many riders where, preparing sufficient balance and energy in the canter and maintaining an equal contact with hands together and down to allow the horse to think and react. Props to hold or riding with reins in one hand were used to assist control of the contact in some cases!

Nick did a wonderful job involving spectators in discussions whilst they were observing the sessions. All horses and riders survived the heat and humidity and were provided with challenge and skills they can use in the future.

A huge ‘thank you’ to Nick Turner and all at Bold Heath.
We look forward to the next time!

Sue Ricketts BHSI