What's What on the Sunshine Tour
One of the best things about being a show jumper is being able to travel the horses to some amazing venues all around Europe. Spain has been our most recent destination and what a venue to get the year kick started with the horses. I see on social media a lot of amateur show jumpers like myself asking whether it is worth the trip and wondering what it is like. So here it is – The Sunshine Tour according to an amateur – I hope you find it useful, or at the very least entertaining.
First up a little bit about the show. It goes without saying that the journey to and from anywhere in Europe is a whole event in itself. For this trip, here a Puttenham Place we drafted in a professional driver as a to help me with the journey. We use Cameron Campbell, who was incredibly helpful with the horses and highly qualified to get us there safely. That’s my opinion of our driver – his of me may be slightly different after my (very impressive) rendition of Lady Marmalade, complete with full choreography. Personally, I think it was one of my best performances to date, but I will leave him to be the judge of that. One of the big decisions when travelling your horses to the tour is whether to use a transporter or your own lorry. Taking a transporter does mean you can take as many horses as you want and use remaining spaces for equipment, hay and bedding. It’s worth doing the sums to see how much you think you’ll need and checking the costs of everything in Spain versus taking it out with you…. but you will have the added costs of accommodation rather than sleeping in your lorry. We decided to take our own and hire a driver (read on to find out why I’m slightly regretting that decision!), but then again, I am self-confessed slightly too attached to my truck, we’ve been through a lot together…
We reached our destination on Monday afternoon, which gave us the whole of Tuesday to relax the horses after their long journey and get reacquainted with the show ground, which I can tell you is nothing short of show jumper heaven. Complete with two stabling areas, a massive number of arenas, beautiful hacking and various equestrian service areas, the organisers of The Sunshine Tour do a fantastic job of making sure you want for nothing.
The impact of the sheer size of the showground hits you the minute you arrive, which makes you feel (a tiny bit!) better about the rather large amounts that have come out of your bank account before you have even got there. There is no hiding that it is an expensive place to go, the cost of haylage and bedding etc. is a tough pill to swallow, and you do half expect your horse to be lying in a bed of roses, but once you get beyond this niggling thought in the back of your head, it isn’t hard to get into the swing of things.
There is a total of 19 rings for you and your horses to choose from, half grass and half sand which gives you a wide variety. A clear round goes up every day, so when you are not competing at the weekend you have plenty of time to get your training in. For anyone who feels their competition rounds didn’t quite go to plan, the organisers often leave fences out so you can use them for your own training; pole work, grid work, and other such stomach aching exercises.
Alongside having all the rings to work and train in, there is an immense amount of hacking all around the woods, complete with sand tracks and loads of different paths to take, which provides wonderful downtime for both horse and rider when you feel you need some time away from the showground.
This year the event added in a water spa, available for any competing horses to stand in, and you are never far from the willing help from the farrier area or large onsite veterinary centre.
The crazy variety of classes means that there really is an option for anyone thinking they would like to make the drive over. You don’t have to be training your Grand Prix horse to make the most of your trip. The tour is broken down into three sections: small, medium and big. If you are in the big tour you can only be in the big tour (you pros have got to give everyone else a shot at the title!), however you are able to switch between the other two as you would like. This means that between the small and medium tour you have the opportunity to jump classes from 1.05 to 1.45, anything over and above this you may want to congratulate yourself and stick to the big tour which ranges from 1.30 to 1.60. This flexibility with the classes means that many riders bring a variety of older and young horses as the schedule can completely accommodate anything from a green 5-year-old, to a seasoned campaigner.
The actual competitions run from Thursday to Sunday, with young horse classes taking place Tuesday to Thursday. For some the in-between time gives you and your horse a nice break to enjoy the hacking and the surroundings. For me, it gave me the chance to get training with Trevor Breen ready to take on the ring the following weekend.
One of the best additions to the tour this year was the development of their own app. You can download this app to your phone and have the ability to declare for your classes on the go, see results and, best of all, they film every single round and post it straight away onto the app. The app tells you the results of vet checks, creates your personal schedule and keeps track of your spending (although sometimes it’s nice not to be reminded of this all the time!).
Not to be sniffed at are the facilities available for the riders (and not the horses!), complete with 3 restaurants, shops, a laundrette, a mini supermarket they really have thought of everything (including a drink at the bar in the evening…). If this isn’t enough for you (!) there are also loads of lovely restaurants in Vejer just 10 minutes away from the showground, an area that many riders choose to have their accommodation.