SATURDAY’S cross-country competition is when the horse trials peak in excitement and thousands of people are milling around the course all day long.
Keeping them safe is an army of marshals – 475 of them last year and all volunteers.
Their main task is to man numerous crossing points along the course to stop walkers from colliding with speeding horseflesh. As riders race around between jumps an old-fashioned but time-honoured control system of whistles and ropes prevents any nasty accidents.
The man in charge of getting the marshals to the right place at the right time – something that requires logistical precision – is Martin Fern.
Martin, 50, belongs to Stamford XT, a group of ex-Round Tablers aligned to the 41 Clubs of Round Table members who retire at 45.
They run the marshalling and at the same time have raised £100,000 in 21 years for local charities and community projects. The Round Table began helping at the horse trials 25 years ago until the XT team took over.
“We find people, security brief them and place them,” said Martin.
Starting with a list of 30 or 40 volunteers 21 years ago, Martin now has hundreds. Contacts have made contacts as time has gone on and the trials have got bigger.
Every year Martin begins his Burghley campaign by sending out an e-mail.
“Last year we filled all the places in three days – almost all of them are regulars who come back year after year,” he said.
“We know we can trust them, they tend to be polite, mature people with an interest in horses – you have to be confident to have them flying past you.”
Volunteers meet at the marshalling control centre at Burghley park behind the shopping mall. They check in at different times, are given maps, tabards and whistles, an individual briefing and mobile phone numbers are collated.
Most are stationed at Saturday’s cross-country but some provide security at the arenas for the dressage and showjumping competitions and at car parks. Two computer systems with three lots of backup power are used by the team, as are radios,
“Burghley recognises that we provide good security – it’s a system that has always worked,” said Martin.
He can remember only one incident ever that caused a problem – when one horse caught up with another unseen by the marshals. They opened a crossing but immediately had to close it again.
“But no-one has ever been hurt.” he said.
A post-event meeting and another one in the middle of the year iron out any problems.
“They listen to what we say and make changes if necessary,” he said.
“We’re very health and safety conscious, after all we’re keeping people from ending up underneath horses and cars.”
David Burgin does the pre-organisation, spending hundreds of hours collecting names, producing spreadsheets and distributing passes.
Martin organises signposts and banners. On the Saturday 12 XT marshal controllers are on site from 7am to 7pm. It’s Martin’s job to monitor problems and rearrange things as the day pans out, liaising with competition secretary Anne Whitton.
“Every year it’s the most stressful day of my life,” said Martin. “Two years ago rain caused delays and problems can develop if a crossing point becomes chaotic and a new one has to be made.”
The team is provided with four Land Rovers by the sponsors so they can ferry people around and travel to hotspots quickly.
On the Sunday morning Stamford XT is involved with the sponsored ride which also raises money for charity.
“The whole thing is very stressful but very rewarding,” said Martin.
“Nothing can compare with it in terms of excitement on the day and a sense of satisfaction when it finishes.”
Aside from Burghley, Martin, of Howard’s Meadow, King’s Cliffe, is a busy man. He runs his own engineering business, Avus Consulting, is a school governor, a motorsports fanatic and a qualified fireworks display controller.
His family also help at Burghley. Wife Andrea is in charge of briefings and daughter Sarah, 23, was 10 when she was roped in. A recent Cambridge graduate, she has delayed starting a new job in order to attend the trials. Her boyfriend, Adam Southgate, mans the computer systems.
At the end of the event is a huge clearing-up exercise.
“We used to try to have a party,” said Martin, “but people were just too tired!”