The point-to-point season begins this month and is a jolly day out for horse lovers, racing fans and anyone who's at home with country pursuits. By Julie Welch
Anyone who disapproves of hunting, look away now. Point-to-pointing is the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ set’s favourite sport, a world where the Ladies Open Championship is sponsored by Aga, and Country Life publishes the fixture list.
Your entry fee (a tenner or so) goes to raise funds for the hunt or hunt club staging the event. It buys you a bracing day out in – you hope – crisp winter weather or lovely spring sunshine, watching amateur riders throw brave, beautiful horses over a three-miles-or-so course of brush fences and ditches, usually built on open farmland miles away from nowhere.
You park in a muddy field, brave dreadful loos and find a convenient mound or hill from which to view the action (don’t forget your binoculars). As you bring out the picnic hamper that hasn’t seen action since school speech day or Glyndebourne, you are treated to up to seven races at 30- or 40-minute intervals and any children in your party can gambol around on bouncy castles or fairground rides. It’s absolutely brilliant.
It’s also where you might spot a future Grand National winner or champion jockey. Point-to-point horses have to have a certificate from a Master of Foxhounds confirming that they have hunted for at least four days before the season starts in December (it finishes in June), but these days most are thoroughbreds rather than farmers’ cobs. It’s a traditional production line for emerging talents, equine and human, to progress into professional jump racing.
Famed National Hunt trainers David Pipe and Evan Williams learned their skills on the point-to-point circuit, as did jockeys Sam Twiston-Davies and Richard Johnson, to say nothing of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner See More Business.
It’s also a place where older horses can still strut their stuff, like ageing footballers who can’t quite bring themselves to hang up their boots, going down the Divisions till they end up in non-League.
What to wear?
Wellies rather than Jimmy Choos, obviously, and at this time of year it’s essential to wrap up very warm. There’s no dress code as such but if you want to blend in, the look to aim for is one based on Ted and Ralph in The Fast Show. Those who want to cut a dash but still look authentic should consult Joules, couturiers to the trendy horsey set. And don’t forget the travelling rug, not just to sit on while you picnic but to spread over your knees when you retreat to the car for a swift nip of brandy as the afternoon dank and cold sets in. There are nice ones at Tartan Rugs.
Two great sites for information are Point to Point, which includes a definitive guide to fixtures, directions on how to get there, and up-to-date bulletins on the going and weather conditions – essential at this time of year – and the lively Jumping For Fun, popular among the point-to-pointing fraternity.
If you want to appear in the know about rising stars and current talking points, Horse & Hound has its own point-to-point columnist, Richard Woollacott, the 2009/10 national champion.
And if you want to get drunk, do remember to appoint a designated driver…