The Melton Hunt Club Ride is an unusual event. There is a prescribed starting gate and a matching set of flags at the finish. In between there are markers, some of which must be left to the left, some to the right. Besides these restrictions it is up to the riders to choose their route to finish as quickly as possible.
Problems for the photographer
When choosing obstacles to photograph at any event, it helps to know which ones the competitors will be jumping.
The Melton Hunt Club Ride makes that harder. The only fences they have to jump are the ones which have markers next to them, and even then you don’t know where horses might choose to jump it.
Then, in addition to this I am (of course) only allowed to go where the fence judges or stewards allow me, because of the variety of route possible.
So, what did I photograph and why?
My first choice is always based on the obstacle itself. Which is the most impressive fence? What will a rider most like to see themselves jumping?
On this course the fence everybody was talking about was fence 9. Downhill with a wide and fairly deep ditch in front, decent hedge behind. It’s a rider frightener.
Unfortunately, it presented its problems too, not least that it did not have to be jumped. It could be jumped in a variety of places, and the view to opposite ends was obstructed. To me, though, it was too good a fence to ignore, if I could afford the manpower.
As luck would have it I had two very capable volunteers who were prepared to help me out, Steph Reynolds and Will Turner. Steph is an excellent equestrian event photographer and wanted to add this event to her experience. Will is a local friend who loves any opportunities I can give him.
Steph and I agreed a plan for fence 9. Having decided the sun made one end slightly better to photograph than the other we agreed that she would take that end, I would set a remote up at the other end, in case competitors headed that way.
The ditch in front of fence 9 was not clear, so when I positioned the remote camera and its tripod in the ditch, in order to provide a “wow” angle, there were weeds and twigs obscuring the shot. Instead I decided to add more height and placed the tripod on the take-off side of the ditch where there was less in the way. I put a wide zoom on the remote, and set the focal length to about 16mm. If horses jumped near that end it would still be wide enough to capture them, and if not then Steph would get a good view from her end, from a similar position. As I would be miles away I gave the transmitter to her, so that when she captured images from her end I would also get the mirror image from the other side.
Two cameras placed, two to go.
The other fence which impressed me when I walked the course for my previous post was the second last. It has a nice ditch in front and was pretty thick to boot. Again the problem was going to be the multitude of different places the fence could be jumped in, with the direct route being one end, the easier options spread out along the hedge. In the middle was a closed metal gate, where I would stand, safe in the knowledge it wouldn’t be an option.
Because of the range of places where the fence might be jumped, I opted to keep a 70-200 on my body. I considered adding a teleconverter but I felt that I needed the 70mm end for two crossing points. I decision I ended up regretting a little. Sadly Nikkor don’t make a pro-level 70-300mm; it would have been perfect.
Will was happy to shoot from the finish area, which suited me well. I gave him my 300mm to give him the range to shoot the last fence from a safe position; it didn’t quite work out like that. The route taken by about half of the finishers was much more direct than anticipated and by-passed the last cut hedge altogether. In fact it nearly caught out a large number of spectators who had to rather run for cover. The result was that 300mm slightly too long to be ideal. Will coped admirable but had little in the way of flexibility. He really needed a 200-400mm but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The full set of images are here: Melton Hunt Club Ride 2019.
Finally here is Bruce trundling round on his ID Stallion Carrigfada Diamond. They went the long way around fence 9!