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Prince Philip Cup Mounted Games Final

The Roller Coaster that is HOYS from a parent point of view!

8 days, 2 competitions, 7 sessions, 480 meals served, 800+ cups of coffee and tea served, several bottles of something slightly stronger drunk and enough adrenaline to keep you awake after missing hours of sleep. HOYS – “you won’t know what it is like until you’ve been there!” everyone is told by those who have been regular attendees! The Atherstone Mounted Games Team is the 3rd most successful Branch in the 57 year history of the Prince Philip Cup. We have been to HOYS 5 times in the last 6 years and won the cup 5 times in 14 visits. 2009, although perhaps a surprise visit, was well deserved with the team turning it on on the day it counted at the Zone Competition back in early July in Newark. From that day, the build up for HOYS began with a weekly meeting to organise fund raising, discuss requirements and a weekly practice session of the games most likely to be encountered at HOYS. All this, after practising week in week out since January 23rd and competing nearly every weekend from April through to July. “Is it really worth it?” I hear a chorus from many quarters. I’ll let you know later, but ask any of the people who have been involved and gauge their response.

Day 1 – Monday – The Horse of the Year Show begins on the Wednesday and finishes on Sunday night. As you drive through the NEC entrance on Monday morning it all looks a bit deserted and in the throes of last minute pre-exhibition chaos, but soon order is resumed and the team support mechanism is in place tightly parked next to each other in South Car Park 5 along with the other 5 teams. The carpenters moved into action and converted the standard plain 6 stables allocated to the Atherstone into deluxe pony apartments and an en suite tack room your DC is proud of – it’s all part of the Tack and Turnout competition which is fiercely contended by all the teams. Meanwhile the support team are preparing base camp for the pampered riding stars, a five star kitchen with freezer, 6 hob catering cooker, microwave, fridge and food for the 20 plus daily dinners. Ponies arrive at 4.00 pm and all is completed by 6.00 pm. Day 1 complete – phew and we haven’t even seen any action!

Day 2 – Tuesday – is acclimatising to the new surroundings, a gentle practice in the arena while last minute preparations are put in place for the “World’s most famous horse show”. Lights, music and action on scale not seen or experienced by any of the young Atherstone riders and only experienced by one of the ponies previously. The anticipation and excitement of being at HOYS is slowly penetrating the team and what it just might be like over the coming days. The thought of winning rather than just participating is becoming a focus. How good are the other teams? What were they like in practice? Which ponies reacted to the environment positively and which one’s negatively? Where are the weaknesses? How will we do? More questions asked than answered, but it’s getting closer! Tuesday passes quickly with a quick vetting, and then the evening “get together” of the 6 teams and parents for the presentation of the colours is made by the new sponsor NFU Countryside. That’s the first time we have seen the actual cup in real life – that’s what everyone in the room wants to win! Funny how competitive we all get, but I bet everyone had a thought about it. The Atherstone perform their interpretation of Grease Lightning to the other teams and in fairness – you were the best! Back to base camp for drinks. What a great tradition the presentation is.


Day 3 – Wednesday – this is when it starts – Practice at 6.00 am for 30 minutes – the car parks are full of 2,000 temporary stables, the place is alive at 4.30 am with floodlit manéges brimming with elegant creatures. The generator is up and running at 5.00 – thanks to Andrew – ponies fed, team ready 5.30 to be escorted to the practice arena – you start to get the feeling of a military operation, scheduled and maintained. This is it, last practice before the 1st session, got to iron out any issues, make up your mind on the running order – the pressure is on the young shoulders of Janey Surman (20) although there is plenty of support from experienced campaigners. Now the waiting – 1st session of the NFU Trophy, all six teams in the arena at 2.40pm – 4 races out of 6 for us. Everyone is nervous, the ponies are immaculately turned out, and the team looks the part with all the rugs and coats in blue with white Atherstone A’s. All gather together to walk the 20 minutes up to the stadium – there is little said and everyone is wondering what will happen over the next 40 minutes.


Take your seats in the stadium and watch whatever is on before the Prince Philip Cup, there is nothing anyone can do now – it’s down to the team – they’re on their own. The place is 70% full and when the lights go down and the music comes up you are minutes away – its slick and very professional and before you know it, its over – how many points did we score? Who was disqualified? Why? How did we compare with the others? Wow that was quick! Before you know it, you are back again for the evening session and then back at base camp with beer in hand and everyone is discussing the day’s events and where we are in the competition. Its 11 o’clock and its practice at 5.30 am tomorrow – can’t wait for that!

Day 4 – Thursday –The practice is shorter than the previous day and there is pressure on the team to practice everything at least once before the evening session, the opening of the Prince Philip Cup. We only manage one practice of a new race which adds to the anxiety. We’ll have to work on it in the car park and around the table to figure the best shot! There’s friction in the practice ring between the teams as everyone wants to practice the new races and there isn’t enough time – that’s when you need the experience – not a place for the shy. Session 3 of the NFU Trophy is the final – we can’t win but we’ve managed third. The WWW’s have won and are looking good. The Percy are last and things aren’t going well for them. We have our own problems which we are having to deal with and the timing isn’t really ideal as the Prince Philip Cup starts for real this evening.

The atmosphere has changed, it’s highly charged, there is suddenly more at stake than there was – this is what everyone is here for. I haven’t seen the jockeys looking quite so nervous, I can see one is physically shaking; another has locked out the surroundings and is concentrating on the job ahead. Even in the arena there are more people, more noise and more interest. We’re hoping no one will make a mistake, especially your off spring, it’s an adrenaline pumping 35 minutes – nothing compares to this in all the time we have been doing mounted games – “don’t watch the big screen – they’re showing you missing the equipment! Concentrate on the next race – what’s done is done – moving on” – we’re talking to each other and willing them on, but there is nothing we can do – they are on their own in front of 8,000 people. It’s over – I’ve been told off again for videoing by some huge security muscle – “it’s for training purposes” I retort!Things aren’t working out too well – there are high emotions running, not only in the Atherstone but in the Cheshire and others. It wasn’t a great session for us, but good enough (14 points), a few mistakes cost us.

Day 5 – Friday – Once again the generator is alive and kicking at 4.30am as practice is earlier than yesterday. We only ride once today – the evening session; so there is more time after practice for everyone to spend a little time watching the show and visiting the shops. After a full English breakfast which would have graced the Metropole over the way (alfresco dining under the pagoda sounds very idealistic, but add the smell and noise of the generator to NEC South Car Park 5 in the middle of October, it loses some of its appeal!), however the cuisine was plentiful and exquisite! It’s a different day, not having to be ready with everyone else – time to go tasting the Lemon Chello and checking out the shops! But it’s not long before the afternoon session is upon us and we’re watching the other teams fight it out.


Evening sees all report for dinner  (another culinary delight – Chicken stuffed with goats cheese wrapped in Parma ham  before preparing for the evening session.

Tonight’s session starts well – but things come undone – seemed to make a small mistake on each race while the others didn’t make any (unusual) and an elimination produce the lowest score of the week so far (9 points). These teams are so good and a small mistake puts you fourth in each race. This hasn’t gone down well. “It’s OK”, we tell ourselves; there are another two sessions, where we can make up the difference.

Day 6 – Saturday - body blow – things have totally come off the rails – we are a rider down for one reason or another and we can’t score in races where 5 participate, but we can still participate in the arena. Winning the Prince Philip Cup has gone – oh well – there is bitter disappointment amongst the team but “the show must go on”. The Cambridgeshire and others will be quietly pleased as this means there is only one team going to miss out on Sunday night as the Atherstone are down and out! By afternoon, the team has rallied and are going to give it everything for the last two sessions -and they did. Saturday night saw something that had never been seen before, 3 teams tied on 15 points for first place. The Atherstone, proudly rode down the centre, collected their rosettes and took the lap of honour with the Percy and the WWW’s, eventual winners and runners up respectfully.










Day 7 – Sunday – Although we aren’t competing we are riding three times and will participate in all the activity. After a very late Saturday night, early Sunday morning and a substantial lack of sleep – at least there was no need for practice. Now we can relax and enjoy the remaining hours. We have decided to back the Percy, for some reason we feel a certain affinity to them and they are looking good. The kids get on really well together so maybe it’s what’s meant to be!Back in the car park, the Percy have won (on the last race – Oh how the WWW rider is feeling, if only he could have got on his pony quicker…) and are partying with the Atherstone in the car park (until 4.00am I believe), the other 5 teams are wondering where it all went wrong, “if” and “but” are frequently used; but they are all swearing they will return! For some it is the end of the road with Pony Club mounted games, they are too old! At least they had the chance to ride at HOYS and for England in Emma’s case.

Now it’s been and gone. Was it worth it? – Every second.
Would you do it again? – Absolutely.

Would you encourage anyone else to have a go – Yes.

Well if you managed to get to this part of the epistle, on behalf of the team and parents, we would like to thank everyone who supported the PPC 2009 team in whatever way and know that the team had a wonderful week at the Horse of the Year Show, even though we came 6th and had some very emotional moments with highs and lows each day. We have learnt from the experience and know that we have one of the best young trainers in the business, have one of the strongest clubs in the country with real depth. This club knows what is needed to get to HOYS in the Prince Philip Cup and would recommend it to any family who enjoy competitive team games, who are prepared to commit to the cause. We all know now and would agree “you won’t know what it is like until you’ve been there!” and can add “once you’ve been, you’ll want to go back again!”

A last thought, interestingly, in the last 10 years no team has won the Prince Philip Cup unless they have been to HOYS with the majority of the team in a previous year. (The Atherstone went 3 times prior to winning in 2007) – Next Year then?