With the fens and Isleham Horse Trails only half an hour away from my base it’s a no brainer that I should run there as the first event of the season. But what makes it a go to destination for those living further afield?
I think Isleham’s main selling point is its going. Its unique black peat, similar to that of neighbour Little Downham always drains well and makes it the perfect early season event. What Isleham lacks in hills, it makes up for in confidence giving going which is so important as a first run. So what else is on offer to eventers?
The arenas and warm up are as flat and level as you can get, with plenty of space to work in your horses. One disadvantage is the proximity of the cross country course, which you have to cross. A few horses on Saturday found this very exciting. However, there is room to find a quieter spot and focus. It can be bleak before the sun is fully up so wrap up and bring an exercise sheet!
Again, lovely level and plentiful warm up with a x pole, upright and oxer set up as practice fences. There is also plenty of space to loiter pre jump and riders exit the other end of the arena so there are no horse traffic jams. The BE 100 course that I rode made use of the whole arena, with a great start of season track. There were a good range of fences with a couple at maximum dimensions. In my section it appeared that many coped well with the track, so an ideal confidence giver, particularly to those who might have not had time to jump on grass for a while. A note to add is the really lovely ring stewards who were really helpful when I didn’t make my allotted time.
Isleham offers a range of courses from 90 to Intermediate. What is nice is that there are no shared fences, each track is different and offers that right kind of questions that you need to assess your horse at the start of the season. Both the 90 and the Novice offered alternatives at ditches and coffin fences which provided riders the chance of educational rounds. The 100 track had a good range of fences and was a great opportunity to get out and ride over some solid fences. As I mentioned Isleham isn’t hilly but there were fences on curves or off curved corners which were great experience givers and in some cases meant not everyone went time fault free. The rail, ditch, skinny combination at fence 11 caused a few issues as did the water (roll top onto slope then ramp into water) which was placed before it, particularly when the sun shone on the water nearer midday. In sum, Isleham is sensibly designed, offering a confidence giving run, but with some questions appropriate to the levels offered. Once again, the going was super. In wet areas the approaches were limestoned but only in a handful of places.
Isleham is a well organised event with some really helpful and friendly volunteers who come back to support the event year after year. The lorry park is manned to ensure everyone can fit on site and there are lots of helpers about to give directions and answer questions. There is a hospitality area, food vans and a couple of trade stands, such as Tigga’s Saddlery, for those forgotten pieces of kit. So in general the atmosphere is busy but without all the bells and whistles of some of the larger events.
Isleham Horse Trials are very much a family affair and it was great to see the ‘boss’ Clem Tompsett in attendance when I walked the course on Friday.
If you are looking to hit the ground running then pay a visit to Isleham. Their track record says it all, and they have rarely had issues with going, even after the monsoons of 2013. Definitely a great run to get your blood up and assess the areas you need to develop for the rest of the season.
HERE IS NIKKI RIDING HER HORSE WAYWARD WANDERER AT ISLEHAM