Oliver’s Burghley triumph

Oliver Townend, winner at last week’s Burghley Horse Trials, on Ballaghmor Class, is seen here riding ODT Secret Spy at Somerley nine years ago.

ANOTHER of Britain’s top three-day eventers has further distinguished himself. Oliver Townend and his new horse, Ballaghmor Class, have clinched the championship title at Burghley Horse Trials.

Not to be outdone, The Happy Moonraker was pleased to be able to trawl through the archive and find this photo of Oliver taken at Somerley Horse Trials back in 2008.

Interestingly, Oliver’s Burghley mount, a grey, is only ten years old which is comparatively young to have had such a good win. They always used to say that a grey horse was either very good or very bad and this one is obviously one of the former.

Before the championships at Burghley, Oliver was quoted as saying that Ballaghmor Class was the best horse he had ever ridden so that says a lot about his judgement. He has previously had great success on two other outstanding greys, Flint Curtis (Badminton winner in 2009) and Carousel Quest (Burghley also in 2009).


A golden prize for hard work

Kristina Cook (on Star Witness) is pictured at Somerley Horse Trials five years ago. She was a member of the gold-medal winning British team at the European Championships at the weekend when riding Billy the Red.

IT was great to read that the British eventing team won gold at the European championships in Strzegom, Poland, at the weekend. The last time a British team managed to do this was in 2009 when the competition was held in France. British rider Nicola Wilson and her horse Bulana also took individual bronze this time.

The Happy Moonraker is a fan of eventing, the ultimate test of horse and rider, and it is heartening to see all that hard work paying off. So many things have to go right on the day that to clinch team gold is a huge tribute to the dedication of all those involved, not just the talented horses and riders that we see competing.


Ever thought of getting married?

ANOTHER windy, soggy Saturday passed and I felt sorry for people who were getting married in such terrible conditions. Ruined shoes, mud-spattered dresses and everyone scurrying for shelter. I was reminded of something I had written years ago. It was not about wet Saturdays but it was about weddings.

Tilly the terrier seems a little overwhelmed by this lovely wedding dress at Brides By Victoria in Salisbury.

RUN away to Gretna Green and there is very little to plan.

Or go to your travel agent and get married somewhere exotic. The hotel will even lend you a wedding dress.

The more usual option, though, is to indulge every fantasy you have ever had and marry at home.

Choosing the dress, the venue, the flowers, the colour theme, deciding on caterers, how much to spend on gifts for bridesmaids, favours for guests, working out who should sit where, whether to be married in church or have a civil ceremony, are all questions calculated to test your tact and diplomacy.

Opt for a big wedding and your guests will love you for the trouble you have taken to ensure their day goes as smoothly as yours. From making sure there is enough parking for everyone, to ensuring there is access to loos for those who have driven hundreds of miles to be with you on your big day, your careful planning makes all the difference between “another wretched wedding we had to go to” and “that fantastic wedding we enjoyed so much.”

A friend was a guest at five weddings last year. “All my friends’ children seemed to be taking the plunge,” she says. “But by the third wedding my husband had had enough and I practically had to drag him to the last two.

“He objected to all the hanging around and the cheap sherry, and I found myself criticising examples of bad planning, like nowhere to put our coats at the reception, and no escape from the deafening disco. I feel like quite an expert now, but unfortunately neither of my daughters is even thinking about getting married.”

Like her, we’ve all experienced the trials of being a wedding guest. Whether we’ve suffered from having to sit for three hours at the reception next to someone who has no small-talk skill (and believe me, it is a skill) or we’ve suffered because we chose the wrong clothes, the feelings of disappointment are the same. We can only blame ourselves if we choose to wear tight clothes and uncomfortable shoes, but it is hardly the guests’ fault when photography sessions last for hours while they have to wait around, either in a howling gale or in blazing sunshine with no shade available. It’s not our fault that the best man loses his speech and has succumbed to temptation and had too much champagne too early in the proceedings.

Draughty churches, walking a mile-and-a-half along a muddy lane from the car to the reception, not enough food to go round, and other examples of poor planning stick in the memory. There’s a lot of truth in the old adage: “Cut your coat according to your cloth.” It serves as a gentle reminder not to be over ambitious. A modest wedding organised within your budget can be just as enjoyable as a huge affair. It all boils down to paying attention to the details.

Goodwill is there in bucket-loads, in the hearts of the happy couple’s old school-friends, colleagues, feuding family members who’ve buried the hatchet for the occasion, among the sedentary and slightly confused grandmas and hyper-active and uninhibited small children.

But don’t push your luck. If you want your wedding to be remembered as the happiest and most smooth-running of the year, it takes effort and planning and dozens of lists. On one of your lists must be a detail like warning everyone living nearby if you are planning a long, loud, late post-wedding shindig. It may seem a small matter when compared to whether you’ve chosen the right shade of eye-shadow, but it pays to keep the neighbours on side if they can’t all be invited.

Of course there will be disagreements in the run-up to the big day, and tempers will fray when estimated costs start to escalate and Dad says “no more”, but smooth over the cracks and everything will be fine.

Bossy mothers, sulking bridesmaids, and printers who don’t know the meaning of words like “design” and “deadline” are all part of the fun.

There are wedding magazines, wedding fairs and advice columns, and they will provide you with ideas that you can adopt or reject. The mental image of wedding photographs taken outside a beautiful stately home may be tempting, or a country club setting may be more your style. If you have a garden big enough for a marquee all the better.

The best weddings are often achieved with the aid of professionals. Wedding planners can remove an awful lot of the time-consuming, stressful, nail-biting anxiety from the whole process. They’ve done it all before, they are aware of the pitfalls, they are good at calming last-minute nerves and they know which way to turn if there is a problem.

And no matter how much sympathy you feel for the poor beleaguered bridegroom who just thought he and his beloved would tie the knot quietly in a low-key civil ceremony, spare a thought for the bride who has dreamed of a big white wedding since she was a bridesmaid at the age of six.

It’s probably not worth arguing about it. For better or worse.


Time for a snooze

Tilly the terrier shows her exhaustion after a car journey.

MUCH as she loves a car trip, Tilly finds the whole business of navigating extremely tiring.

There are all those pedestrians and motorcyclists to be warned away, as well as a couple of long walks when she reaches her destination.

A 60-mile journey combined with interesting walks with dozens of new smells to investigate mean that she has to concentrate on recovering when she reaches home.

She is not interested in birdsong, whereas the Happy Moonraker is enjoying the sound of swallows and martins since their return from Africa for the summer months.

While she was dozing, Tilly completely missed the fox as it strolled through the bluebells outside the kitchen. This is another through-the-glass photo.

Doodlebone an all-round winner

Tilly, hard at work where she shouldn’t be, demonstrates comfort and ease of movement in her Doodlebone padded dog harness.

TILLY the terrier and the Happy Moonraker are always happy to endorse a product if it’s any good.

Tilly’s new collar/harness is one such product. Made by Doodlebone, it has all the features that any self-respecting dog would specify if able to do so.

It has soft padding where it is needed, it is washable, the stitching is strong so that it hasn’t fallen apart in the first few weeks, and it is made from a breathable mesh fabric.

Robustly made, it also boasts reflective edges, so if we are out at twilight, drivers can see both of us because the Happy Moonraker also wears a highly reflective waistcoat.

Then we come to the best bit for humans: it’s the D ring which is big enough to clip the lead on by using just one hand. A fiddly little D ring is an absolute menace when your hands are full and you end up having to put everything down in order to use both hands just to clip on the lead. So Doodlebone definitely win the trophy for both design and construction.

Feathered friends come calling

At the start of winter I decided to buy a box of 140 fat balls because it would be better value than buying them in smaller quantities. It has worked well, although of course they are loose in the box, rather than in nets, so it has been necessary to keep topping up feeders dotted around the place. Peanuts and seeds have also proved popular.

A friend who knows about these things says that wild birds should not be fed after the end of April, so I’ve somehow got to advise all our feathered customers that there will be no more cafeteria service until late autumn.

It’s been fun looking for more of my bird photos, all taken through glass.

This robin was tugging away at the worm and must have thought several times that he (or was it she?) had bitten off more than he could chew. He did win in the end.

Pheasants, both male and female, are often to be seen outside. It’s just a question of making sure that they can’t see The Happy Moonraker as the camera is lifted.

Great spotted woodpeckers are fairly common, as demonstrated by this one as it pecks away at the peanuts in the feeder. The smaller, lesser spotted woodpecker is seldom seen in the garden, unfortunately.

The last time we had snow I managed to capture this party of long-tailed tits enjoying the buffet put out for them.

Birds of a feather

Photographed through glass: a pair of goldfinches through the car windscreen . . .

WHEN it comes to taking photos of Tilly the terrier, there is no need for complicated equipment. Trying to photograph wild birds, though, is altogether different.

I’ve never used a hide or a posh camera with different lenses, so I think some of my efforts aren’t too bad. Most of them I take through the glass of the kitchen window so I often have to crop away the glare. There is a definite incentive to keep the windows clean.

and, seen through the kitchen window, a hen pheasant who has timidly taken up residence in the garden . . .

and an equally nervous-looking green woodpecker

Tilly appears deep in thought as she guards the Happy Moonraker’s Mother’s Day flowers. No secrecy or special lens needed for this photo.