In my last blog, I was looking forward to the start of my 2017 eventing season with an entry in the BE100+ at Goring. My season didn’t start, well it didn’t start at Goring, anyway. The nasty flu bug struck (human, not equine, thank goodness!) and I had to withdraw at the last minute.
A quick re-route and we found ourselves at Horseheath for the BE100 open. Horseheath is one of the closest courses to us and a fairly recent addition. This was only their second BE event and I’d say it was another great success. The show-jumping seemed straight forward but proved influential with not very many clear rounds. However, given Bubbles owner was in the arena party, we were very careful not to knock any poles … can you imagine the stick I would have got at home? The cross-country course rode beautifully and we came home double clear with a little time penalty, for 9th place.
Fast forward two days and we were back at Horseheath, this time with young horses and inexperienced riders. The organisers had opened the flagged and dressed course for training, an opportunity that one simply can’t miss. Bubbles’ owner in particular was delighted about getting some start-box practise and a clear round in on her “sticky” mare. Start-box issues are not uncommon and there is no “cure all” solution but for this particular horse the use of many transitions and – if need be - trotting to the first few fences seems to work best so far.
And before we knew it Badminton was upon us. Sadly, I am not eligible to compete at the Grassroots Championships anymore, a fact I was reminded of many times on the way up. Apparently, I’ve “messed up our Badminton visits” by picking up a point at Firle Place Novice last year.
Not wanting to miss out altogether we went to watch the 4* cross country on Saturday. My theory was that if I’d watch the professionals tackle what looked like a big (no, a massive) 4* course, it would make the Novice I was entered for on the following Monday look tiny.
Let’s just say my theory didn’t work. The Novice at Keysoe still looked quite big and quite long. All of a sudden I felt a little under-prepared. Should I have done more galloping and fitness work?
We didn’t post our best dressage score courtesy to some left over horse eating felt material stored by the judge’s box. Never mind. Show-jumping on the other hand … Bubbles was an absolute cracker. The little mare just loves to jump and absolutely knows her job, helping me out big time when I messed up the first part of a double. I’ve finally learnt to interfere less and let her sort herself out – it works! We took it steady cross country. I wanted to give her a confident round and not push her (fitness – mine and hers – at the back of my mind) and decided to leave the watch in the lorry to just concentrate on the ride. It was beautiful. We collected a few time penalties, coming home 14th with an overall score of 48.10 and – yes, you guessed it – another point to our name.Did I mention I love this little mare?
Next stop is Little Downham for our second Novice this year. Hopefully a lot fitter by then.
Like most sports people eventers are very keen to get going after the off season and March events seem to get booked up and over-subscribed at an alarming rate. Traditionally, I take a more leisurely approach to the start of the season, usually missing out on the first events altogether. This is for a variety of reasons, our facilities aren’t ideal for winter training and we need the weather a little more “helpful” to get jumping and fitness levels up, and competing a mare at the onset of spring can be challenging at times.
My personal perfect March is peppered with great training opportunities, and ideally a camp or two. So off we went to Somerford Park for three days of farm rides, show jumping and cross country training with the Active Rider crew. Once again Somerford Park did not disappoint, opening the cross-country course just in time for our camp! I cannot stress enough how much thought and care the team there take to make sure everything is of top quality, from 7am surface harrowing to 7pm schooling field rolling, with hundreds of repairs and erection of a new “small” schooling field in-between. Bubbles loved being out on grass again and we had a jolly great time trying out some of the combinations guided by our knowledgeable and lovely trainer Mary Thelwell. Combined with Lester Miller’s sound advice in the show-jumping arena I think it is safe to say: we were up in the air again! Whoop whoop. Jane Walker (Active Rider) always pulls out all the stops and makes these weekends hugely educational and a lot of fun. I am hoping to take Bubbles back up to Somerford Park later in the year, albeit not for a camp. Watch this space.
No sooner had we arrived back home and it was time to pack the lorry again for the Nick Gauntlett Eventing Boot Camp at the Unicorn Centre. I took Aliano and Bubbles this time – hard work but well worth it! Nick was joined by Australian Olympic reserve, Sammi Birch, who proved a firm and knowledgeable dressage coach. Unicorn is a top-class training centre and the weekend was jam packed with a total of 5 mounted training sessions (or 10 if you were foolish enough to bring two horses), video analysis, Pilates, equine show pampering, a lecture demo and optional extras such as Sports Psychology and Sports Massage sessions.
With two such different horses there were quite a few different things for me to work on over the weekend, and very little time to do anything else.
Three very, very important messages were reaffirmed and shall be in my ears all season:
1.) “Get a great canter and then ride it.” Need I say more?
2.) “Concentrate on rhythm and straightness.” Two elements featuring prominently in the scales of dressage training … and key ingredients of a good test.
3.) “Make it happen.” The importance of rider confidence and attitude.
Needless to say, I feel prepared for our start of the season at Goring this weekend.
But that’s not the only reason why I’d say this camp was a great success. Once again, I was humbled by the calm, reassuring and welcoming manner in which Nick and his team have run this camp. And by the friendliness and encouragement of my fellow campers, who made this a very special weekend, indeed.
Thank you all!
We had a busy few weekends following our qualification for the JT100 finals, with two starts in the Baileys sponsored BE winter series JAS (Jumping and Style) and a training clinic with Nick Gauntlett.
Then it was all systems go for our preparation for the JT100 finals. Entry made, stable and hook-up booked, lorry tidied … we were sure to truck up to Hartpury, whoop whoop!
Bubbles settled in well and immediately chatted up the lovely chestnut gelding next door. We left her enjoying some haylage (a rare indulgence) and headed for the café in the big indoor arena. The Baileys winter series’ finals weekend at Hartpury is always good fun and jam-packed with interesting stuff. We got there just in time for the Kings’ (Mary and Emily) demo on Friday night, a real treat. Our start time wasn’t until late afternoon on Saturday and I spent most of the day watching the JT80 and the JT90. It was particularly interesting to follow the trainer’s comments between the rounds, which were constructive and encouraging. They seemed very keen on a forward rhythm, straight lines and proper corners. I took note.
Jonathan Chapman led the guided course walk, which was very informative. He paid particular attention to the double, and I decided to do the same in my round. I also noticed that one of the fences – an inconspicuous upright – was a lot smaller than the rest of the course. Little uprights often catch me out.
Before long it was time to get Bubbles ready. And ready she was! We’d been to Hartpury before a couple of years ago and I am sure she remembered. The ginger ninja immediately got down to business and rode like an absolute dream in the pre-warm-up. I on the other hand got a little nervous. My dad, my sister and Bubbles’ owner had made the trip from Essex and I did not want to disappoint. So I entered the jumping warm-up with slightly sweaty palms.
I was greeted by a rather cheerful Nick Gauntlett and before I knew it, he had us popping over some fairly decent warm-up fences in – you guessed it – a forward, rhythmical canter and with properly ridden corners. We were ready for our round.
Bubbles was an absolute little star. Okay, there may have been a cheerful little buck and perhaps the odd attempt to snatch the rein but she composed herself and we produced a lovely first round. Jonathan Chapman also seemed pleased. He suggested not to override the inconspicuous upright and sent us on our second round.
By the time I had settled Bubbles back into her stable and returned to the arena, my entourage had already started biting their nails. We had scored a 12.5 for style and gone into the lead! Round after round passed and although there was some pretty fine riding, we remained in the lead. With about three combinations to go it dawned on me: “We better get some tack on Bubbles, we’ll be attending a prize giving!”
I still wasn’t sure who had won when we returned to the arena, and the final scores were pretty tight, with only 2 points between the first and the third, only 0.5 points between the first and the second!
The ginger ninja, Bubbles, Gold Rush IV has pulled it off:
We had become JT100 champions 2017.
My first sash! My first winner’s rug! And a fist full of feed and training vouchers!
BE Novice season, here we come.
2017 has been an absolute whirlwind so far! We started the BE indoor season with a trip to Merrist Wood for their JAS (Jumping and Style) Event, where we competed in the BE 100 open class. It was Bubbles’ first time out since the end of the Eventing season and she was ON FIRE. And bold. And she was going to jump everything! At once! That’s not quite how the course was built or the “style” judged so we had a few fences down and not the most elegant marks but we had a great time none the less.
"… Mud, mud, glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood …”
Judging by the state she was in when arriving at Houghton Hall for Jump Training a week later, you would be forgiven for thinking Bubbles was indeed the “fair hippopotamime”and not the ginger ninja we are familiar with. Luckily, I had a few hours spare to groom and show-prep her, whilst her owner was participating in the earlier classes with her other horse.
I cannot stress enough how brilliant the Jump Training is. The chance of competing and training at the same time and under the watchful eyes of very encouraging and highly qualified trainers is something you don’t find anywhere else. Bubbles’ owner had brought her other mare just to get her to jump indoors, which she finds very scary, usually running around spooking and stopping at every jump. With the help and encouragement of the two trainers they managed to get around the JT80 course – albeit with an elimination for stopping – and went double clear in the JT90 round with a respectable style mark. Big smiles all around!
Then it was Bubbles’ and my turn in the JT100. What can I say, she was an absolute star! The mud-bathing really seemed to have cooled her blood and she allowed me to cruise her around the course like a Harley Davidson on Route 66. I gathered the trainers must have liked the round when I was advised to ride it “just like that again” but I was quite surprised when I picked up my score sheet afterwards:
11.5, 1st place, prize giving … and we are going to the finals! Weehee!
A big Thank you to the series organiser, the trainers and Baileys for sponsoring the series. We look forward to updating you in 4 weeks’ time after the championships at Hartpury College.