As preparations for Blenheim Horse Trials reach a fevered pitch, one spectator is getting a sneak preview of the proceedings. Edla, Duchess of Marlborough (pictured above with her husband, the Duke), is watching the course being built on the grounds of Blenheim Palace.
“It’s great to see it being put together,” she reveals. “It takes much longer to build up than you’d think and it’s really interesting to watch.”
The 2015 Blenheim Horse Trials are a first for the Duchess, whose husband, James, the 12th Duke of Marlborough, inherited Blenheim after the death of his father, the 11th Duke, last November.
“Living at Blenheim is still a learning curve but we have a fantastic team of people who are really supportive,” the Duchess explains. “If you have a question, there’s always someone to go to—it’s really a privilege.”
Hosting the horse trials, which are organised by Mandy Hervieu, Shelley Bacon and the BPIHT Steering Group, is proving a particularly enjoyable experience for her. “I feel very proud that we have it here at Blenheim. It’s a good family event. My children love to watch it, and lots of my friends really like it. It’s a really nice set of country people that come here to see it.”
She too is captivated by the skill of the eventing riders that battle it out at Blenheim. “I really enjoy watching horse trials, especially dressage: I’m fascinated by the mastery of movement these skilled riders have—which I never accomplished. And the cross-country fences…they are absolutely enormous and I’m always surprised that people manage to get over them in one piece. It’s thrilling and really gets your adrenaline going, but I’d never have the courage to do it myself!”
The Duchess rides but she is happiest hacking peacefully in the countryside. “Horses are beautiful creatures,” she says. “I just love being around them and enjoy low-key riding. There’s nothing like the pleasure of being out in the countryside—you realise how lucky we are in this country.”
Although her parents weren’t horsey, she learned to ride as a child. “I rode on our farm and at the Pony Club,” she recalls. “My friends and I loved to ride between our houses and would only come back when we were hungry. It was very safe were we grew up and very quiet. Everyone knew everyone—I’m not sure I’d be happy to let my daughter do that now.”
At the time, she had a pony that was something of a handful. “Treacle was a little Welsh pony, a bay. He was very naughty, but full of character. He was a bit of a bucker but I held on!”
Today, her ride is an altogether more sedate Connemara named Walter, who was bred by Henrietta Knight of Lockinge. “He’s lovely, a really good boy.”
Her children are into riding too, especially her daughter, and the Duchess rather likes hacking out together with her. “Both my children have ponies and both went to Pony Club camp in the summer, which they really loved. My daughter, who is eight, is very keen while my son, who is six, is getting a taste for it,” she says. “And my stepson, George Blandford, who will also be with us to watch the horse trials, is a keen horseman: he is a two-goal polo player and an ambassador for La Martina riding wear.”
“My daughter and I often ride into the park,” continues the Duchess. “We go early in the morning or, in the summer, early in the evening and it’s beautiful. It’s lovely to be out there, especially going into the oak forest, where some trees date from the times of the Domesday Book, and imagining who rode there before you. I’m still exploring the park—and I still get lost!”
Image: The Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, by Nick Harvey/Rex Shutterstock