Sophie Hall reports ..
On Wednesday 8th June the British Team consisting of Sophie Wragg (Chef d’Equipe), Zoë Etherington and Sophie Hall (this month’s blogger), accompanied by former student rider, supporter and team motivator Charlie Knapp, set off from Luton airport towards Sighisoara, Romania. Thursday 9th June was arrivals day and MY BIRTHDAY!! We started the day with a beautiful breakfast in the sunshine before heading off on a leisurely hack. We had the rest of the day to relax whilst the other teams began to arrive. The ‘party bus’ arrived around midnight carrying perhaps most notably the 16-strong loud and proud Irish squad who were ready to teach us ‘newbies’ (Zoë and Sophie Hall) how to truly enjoy an SRNC.
Friday 10th June: Dressage Day
Competition begins and we unfortunately don’t have luck on our side drawing first to ride on three frisky Friesians. To make things worse, on entering down the centre line to begin our test, one of the judges stops us to say that Zoe and I are riding the wrong horses. In the heat of the moment the order of our horses was changed – the fiery Friesian deliberately put at the front was now to be ridden at the back of the ride and the baby who had trouble figuring out how to canter was now supposed to be leading at the front – needless to say we didn’t get off to the best start! Zoe and I, arriving as dressage divas more than show jumping specialists were gutted with our bad luck. We knew it was beyond our control but were so desperate to prove ourselves. Nevertheless, in true international spirit everyone was very supportive and we quickly picked ourselves up and remembered how lucky we were to be in Romania and to make the most of it. Our Chef Sophie also did us proud and progressed to the 2nd dressage round. Well done Sophie!!
That evening was the fancy dress event. With the theme ‘Nostalgia’ we dressed up as St Trinians school girls equipped with non-other than our pony club ties, straw boaters and accompanied by Charlie who came in his first ever SRNC costume: dressed white and bright as a back street boy. Everyone travelled to a local town where we climbed the spooky steps towards what is rumoured to be the home of the one and only Dracula. We were then taken to a beautifully quaint restaurant where we enjoyed champagne and strawberries. Despite the rain it was still warm and as hardy riders the weather was never going to be enough to dampen our mood – it was fantastic! We returned back to our venue where our resident DJ was ready to help us dance the night away.
Saturday 11th June: Show jumping Day
Show jumping Day had arrived! We were all keen to turn yesterday’s events around and excited to get started. As riding got underway, interestingly the tables had turned – the teams who had led the dressage were no longer in command. All three British riders really enjoyed our first jumping rounds and to our elation we ALL won on our horses and were through to the second round that afternoon! Just like the first, the second round was also judged on style. We felt we had ridden well but had no clue who would be going through to the semi-finals. Now to wait until the Gala dinner where we would hear the results – fingers were all tightly crossed!
That afternoon all student riders helped out with Cross Country fence judging for the International Transylvania Horse Show which was taking place alongside our SRNC. It was great fun, despite the heavens opening on us and getting us well and truly soaked! So many spectators attended the event, estimated at more than 4000 and it was lovely to see how popular equestrian sport is worldwide. We were even stopped and asked for photographs – celebrity life!
The Gala dinner took place that evening where everyone got dressed up in black tie. It is fair to say that everyone scrubbed up well and the entire evening, hosted in a beautiful local restaurant, was incredible. Celebrations were well under way when the results were announced – myself (Sophie Hall) was through to the show jumping semi-finals! I couldn’t believe it! Then as if things could not get any crazier, we had a PROPOSAL from Mihnea Virgolici to his girlfriend Adela Filip who had organised the SRNC. In this beautiful romantic setting it could not have been more like Romeo and Juliet, everyone was on their feet in celebration. A huge congratulation to the happy couple! Could this Nations Cup get any crazier??
Sunday 12th June: Finals Day
Captain Sophie Wragg had warned us that a mountain of pro-plus would be necessary to get through this weekend and today our tiredness helped us understand why. Half-human, half-zombie we dragged ourselves up for the big final day. The morning began with the final rounds of the dressage where Ireland’s Tori Dixon pulled off a brilliant performance to win Gold. The afternoon was then time for the Show jumping. Now it was all down to faults and time. With a reputation from my teammates back at Durham University for having an ‘electric bottom’ I knew I was often a speedy show jumper but honestly did not expect to make it to the final two. Luck would have it however I did! I was up against a German show jumper with two minutes to warm up on two different horses before riding a track approximately 1m20-1m30. To our amusement we took part in the SRNC tradition – a shot of whisky followed by rolling around on the floor with our commentator Ed Holloway in between horses – absolutely hilarious and a brilliant way to eradicate any nerves. The team were so supportive, I had a full psychological pep-talk as Sophie, Zoe and supporter Charlie tried to convince me I was a female Scott Brash (at least for the next 10 minutes). Finally, we finished the day with a bit of fun; a mirror jumping game where Zoe stood up to entertain the crowds aside from the competition.
Overall, Great Britain won team Gold Show jumping with myself (Sophie Hall) winning Individual Silver. The team also came 5th overall. Everyone was thrilled and I couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of girls to have done it with.
I now fully understand the term “session depression” as we have arrived home and returned to reality trying not to drive our friends and family completely crazy with our stories of “this one time in Romania…” Safe to say the best birthday week I have ever had and we cannot wait to do it all again.
A huge thank you to everyone who helped organise the event, provide such lovely horses for us to ride and fantastic prizes, especially Mihnea Virgolici at Cross Country Farm. A further thank you also to our National Representative Henry Womersley Smith and Chef d’Equipe Lauren Innes for giving us the opportunity to take part and represent GB in such a fantastic SRNC.