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My First Open Team Chase - by Kate McKee

I fell completely in love with team chasing from the word go. I don't recall what had motivated me to cajole a group of dubious but impressionable friends into being team mates and striking off into the unknown at the Badsworth and Bramham's Frickley Hall event, but there I was one spring day with Dolly the Shire borrowed from a local farmer, a very little amount of knowledge but a bucket load of enthusiasm.

The course walk was a revelation; my eye was drawn over and over to the enormous hedges, timber and drops of the Inter and Open. I wondered: "What kind of supreme beings are these 'teamchasers'?" Not coming from a horsey background and having little experience to draw on, I had no idea that anyone would even contemplate jumping such things.

After an exhilarating run round the Novice, I was desperate to get back on course to watch the big teams jump hedges that stood above my head and make turns that a polo pony would be proud of, all done at a breath-taking pace. Watching this glorious display of bravado, scope and horsemanship had me utterly hooked; if I could one day achieve the lofty heights of being an Open rider I knew I would die happy. My dream however, seemed as remote as the stars. No-one I knew was interested in hurling themselves over frighteningly big obstacles at speed, and with no experience, mentor, horse, transport or team, I had little chance of getting to even the first rung on the ladder.

Enter The Cunning Stunts, and namely, Emma Burton. After a few more local events and minus a team, in 2010 realising I needed to get serious I took to the team chasing forums for help and got talking to Emma, who, realising I was in need of guidance, took me under her wing and agreed to look after my horse during the team chase season, teach me how to ride properly across country and take me to events, an unprecedented act of encouragement and generosity.

After a promising start at the Belvoir in 2011, I broke my ankle at the third at the Meynell Inter, writing off the rest of the season. Undeterred and armed with new horse Boo, I was getting ready for the Spring 2012 season when he degloved his leg in an accident in the field which was another season out. Through all of this, my enthusiasm remained undiminished, all year I would count the days to the start of the next season and watch endless replays of YouTube videos, dreaming that one day it would be me riding over those fences.

Finally, in Autumn 2012 it all came together and the campaign started in earnest. After a fabulous starter run round the Belvoir Fun, we stepped up to Novice at the Atherstone, and then Intermediate at the Pytchley. My horse was proving bold, careful and honest, the training was kicking in, and the enthusiasm and commitment was finally paying off. I could barely believe I was out there, sailing over these hedges and fences and was having the time of my life.

When planning the run at the Cotswolds, for various reasons we decided to opt for the Novice; a great plan until we realised we couldn't get there in time and the only option was Open or nothing. Despite serious heart failure on my part, I decided to give it a go, and Sunday 28th October saw me lining up for my first ever Open, as white as a sheet and about ready to fall off Boo with nerves. The starter's flag dropped and we were off; any misgivings I had had started to unravel as my amazing horse took on solid stone walls, huge tiger traps, socking great hedges, stream crossings and drops, the course unfolding beneath us as I had dreamed it would, four years previously. The elation and joy I felt bounding over the final rails and coming home will be a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life.

I am not naive enough to think that I have made it as an Open rider yet - most of the guys out on the circuit have years of experience that I could never hope to catch up with overnight, and I know there will be falls, mishaps and moments of despair to come, but for now I am going to give in to the sheer joy and pleasure of having achieved what was once unimaginable - to complete a proper Open team chase. Huge thank you's to the people who have helped and most of all to Emma Burton and Tony Woodward who have put up with me coming down every weekend during the season, coached me tirelessly and put up with my inane questions and serious nerves. You've made it possible for me to achieve a dream, and there's not many people out there who are lucky enough to be able to say that. And as for the future - kick on I say!

What An Experience - By Claire Slater.

Eighteen months ago I hadn't even heard of Team Chasing, it wasn't until I returned to riding after a ten year break that I met Claire and Chris Lees who needed an extra pair of hands with their thoroughbreds and whom happened to be Team Chasers.

I bought my own horse and commented one day that Team Chasing looks like 'fun' it was then that Claire said "you should have ago", "yes" I replied thinking I'm not that brave but I agreed that this coming season I would give it a bash (This season seemed so far away!). Christmas came and went, "February 17th is our first event, it would be perfect for your first go" they said.

All of a sudden February was here, entries were sent off and I was committed. I increased Kennys (my horse) work, he still doesn't look as fit and ready as their horses but what the heck. The week before the Team Chase I didn't sleep, I kept waking up thinking about big scary hedges and bottomless ditches. By Saturday when it was time to walk the course I nearly dropped out cowardly, "Its normal to feel nervous" came the reply.

I walked the course in robot mode; I just nodded and smiled at Chris when he gave his advice. Saturday night after a bottle of red and a packet of cigarettes I slept on and off dreaming about falling off at the practice fence!

At the event everyone was so organized, I just copied what everyone was doing, we started to warm up "I can't talk right now" I whispered to Pauline our other team member, "You will be fine" she said, I just smiled pathetically.

I can't even remember the start except the man shouting when you're ready and off we went. Over the first fence just 20 more to go I said to myself, Kenny my normally placid and easy going horse thought he was racing again! Steady now I shrieked at Kenny as we cantered down a steep hill to the third fence, over the 4th and 5th now over a hedge with a drop "sit up over this fence" I remember Chris saying to me when we walked the course, "OH MY GOD" I shouted fumbling for the reins and stirrups. Kenny now definitely in racehorse mode was getting faster, we came right beside Pauline "sorry" I shouted "I can't stop him!" Back up another hill now, Claire was in front of me. Oh no we're going to crash if I carry on at this speed, what do I do now? With quick thinking and strength I didn't know I had, I pulled Kenny round and circled to let Claire jump. Kenny then carried on but after realising he was left on his own he went up another gear, over a ch air jump and then down another hill overtaking Claire on the way "Sorry" I shouted for about the 50th time that day. A few more fences then home I thought to myself, just hold on to him and we'll be fine. The last fence came in sight Kenny flew over and galloped through the finish, I screamed with delight. We did it.

I can't compare this with anything I have ever experienced, it was brilliant and when we found out that we were placed 4th it was just the icing on the cake and when asked if I want to do it again "YOU BLOODY TRY AND STOP ME" came my reply.

Special thanks to Claire and Chris Lees and Pauline Goodman.

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