A day in the life of …. Bain’s Babes
written by Sarah Nield
Ever wondered what it takes to work as part of the Start/Finishing team during a BE event? Here Bain’s Babes member, Sarah Nield, gives us the low down in this uplifting piece on how ‘The 5 Star International Start Team’ members spend their day consuming cakes, starting/finishing competitors and recording times.
“You’re not coming in unless those are cappuccino cupcakes!” …. These words greeted me as I stood on the steps into the start box, in the biting wind, on an unseasonably cold April day at Weston Park. They were cappuccino cupcakes, as it happened, and admission was granted to the inner sanctum of The Start Box. Old friends greet each other, some of us on the first outing of the season others still sporting frostbite from Stafford in March ….
Let me introduce you to the team – Bain’s Babes a.k.a. The 5 Star International Start Team. We have the longest name if nothing else. A formidable team of ladies of varying ages, backgrounds and swear word vocabularies. We all have a connection, in one way or another, to horses. We all love the glorious sport of Eventing and have a dubious acquaintance in the form of Mr Mike Bain, Cross Country Starter extraordinaire. The Babes were formed in 2013. That being the first time the name was applied. We travel around the country following Mr Bain and the “Mother Superior” Steph Freeman from event to event to form the start and finish timing team (and often collecting ring stewards) at a variety of events from grassroots to international level. Always cheerful and, most definitely, always up for banter.
2014 saw the truly international side of the team as Le Bain and La Maman Superior travelled to France to work at the World Equestrian Games. There, the babes or “Les Babes du Bain”, were all of the sexy French variety and it’s rumoured that there was some trouble persuading Mike away from the Gallic soil!
So, the day at an Event starts ….
The Cross Country Fence Judge briefing is a chance to bone up on any rule changes and see who our officials for the day are and, possibly, just possibly, have a little bit of fun with the TA at the same time.
Collect the timing clocks, crib sheets, orange pads, green pads, start lists, tea, coffee, sugar. Is there hot chocolate? Who’s brought cake? What is it? Shop bought? Oh dear! You’re outside first in that case!!! We gather the tools of our trade and traipse off in the direction of the start box to ready ourselves for the day. There are laughs to be had. Everyone gets to know one another over the years and it’s good to catch up from season to season.
First job – who’s doing what? Roles are soon allocated. Old hands know what to do and newbies get what they’re given! Green pads to be completed for each starter – rider colours, horse colours, hat colours and number – then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 “Good Luck” – first horse away! Start time on the pad and pass (or throw, with a cry of “it’s for yoo-hoo”) to the finish timing team.
The collecting ring starts to buzz. We remember the day at Kelsall Hill when it seemed that all of our early horses were either coloured or grey. Mike having banter with a newbie, that this was a class purely for ‘those’ colours of horse – “Really?”, “Oh yes, and there’s a special trophy and everything so I believe”
Second and third horses away. “Good Luck” calls the starter as they canter off and turns to tell the next rider from the collecting ring “Two minutes to go”. There’s discussion in the box about the optimum time. How long before we get the first horse back in? How many are on course at the same time?
Oh! Excitement! The first horse coming home! The finish team listen to the fence judge radio net to chart its progress. There’s a quick debate about the number of the last fence. The course map is consulted and there it is, past the finish post. Two sets of fingers press two time clocks and the time keepers confer to ensure a match. Finish time onto the green pad. Work out the overall time and any penalties then back to the radio operator to send the score through to the provisional scorer. And breathe. The day has started. New starters go off at two minute intervals, occasionally quicker, and sometimes with a short gap whilst we await “customers”. Time for a quick coffee and a piece of cake!
The TA comes to call to check that the start team is running smoothly, see if there are any issues with the times, the course or equipment.
When it’s an International Class we indulge in a bit of star spotting and the many multiple riders give the Collecting Ring Stewards a challenge. Some riders declaring their next horse as they finish on the previous one. Riders often don’t remember to change their number, as you yell it out across the collecting ring at their departing back. Those of us who event at the lower levels, find it inspirational to see the stars approach their job with customary professionalism and humour.
Bain’s Babes always try to be professional and are happy to work with the huge team required to run an Event to ensure the smooth running of the classes and the day overall. There are probably around 150 volunteers each day!
Lunch! Skipton undoubtedly do the best lunches (although I may be a tad biased) but beware if a certain lady is on duty in the Start Box. She knows who she is! Guard your lunch with your life! Somerford Park deserves a mention too. Especially for their strawberries and black pepper! Lunch is taken in shifts generally, unless we’re particularly lucky and a break for the course change matches a time when people are hungry. Someone will brew up and then we’re all back “in the game” and into the afternoon’s work, settling down into more cake …. MORE cake … really?
Getting busier now, on days with lots of multiple riders the cross country gets especially busy as they all complete dressage and showjumping on five or six horses and are now ready to take them all across country. On the instruction of the controller we change to one and a half minutes between each starter. We must keep a keen eye on how many horses are on course. The controller tells the maximum number they consider to be safe. We alert the starter when to hold a horse from starting whilst we wait for another horse to finish. Team work is the key now. It’s very busy in the Start Box and there’s a lot to concentrate on. The banter of the morning subsides as we all get our heads down and concentrate on each horse on the course.
A visit from the British Eventing Steward to see how we’re getting on as the afternoon progresses. The Stewards work tirelessly throughout the day ensuring that the event runs smoothly and everyone is happy and it’s great to get a visit from them to boost morale.
Mike is outside starting the horses when his rain sensor kicks in. He can sense a moving rain cloud at 5 miles. So when the suggestion comes from outside “Would anyone else like a turn out here?” we all exchange glances, then check the sky. Sure enough, it’s looking grey now when it had been brilliant sunshine that morning. “Who has full waterproofs?” we ask each other wearily. Struggling to get them on before Mike is back in the box, thrusting the start clock into your hands and saying, “I’ve told the next rider 30 seconds.”. We shoot him a withering look and frantically finish pulling on said waterproofs and rush outside to shout “20 seconds” as the first drops begin to fall.
Hysteria generally starts to set in at around 4.30pm, well over 200 horses completed and we’re starting to make up their colours … “What do you think about that one? Chocolate?”. “And this one?” “Beige?”. The next one is yet another bl**dy BAY! Oh a finisher (we gasp) It’s a possible overtaker! Which one? The finish is too far away to see the number! Check the green pad for colours – rider in pink on a bay horse. Well who’d have thought something so unusual! Who has she overtaken? Oh yes, another pink rider on a bay! All eyes follow them round the finish lane. What’s the number? Did we see the number? Despatch a runner to eyeball the bib. The dedication of this cake fuelled team knows no limits!
Finally, the last horse is out on course the controller announces to the fence judges over the radio. The start team follow their progress around the course and eventually the last rider is home safely. It’s been a great day. A few thrills and spills but nobody seriously hurt. Just a few bruised egos and bottoms to nurse on the way home.
We collect up our clocks and the general detritus of the day and make our way back up to the marquee to deposit our wares ready for tomorrow. Some of us are coming back for a second day. Others will be replaced by new Babes the following day. It’s been a long, tiring but very enjoyable day and it’s putting something back into the sport we all love with a passion and well, there’s the cake too!
Many thanks, in advance, to the Bain’s Babes members for all their hard work this season!