Well my last few months can be easily described as eventful. The last you heard from me I had been showjumping with reasonable success and was hoping to get out and about a bit more. I apologise now but this blog is going to be quite epic!
Well about a week or so later she felt slightly off/stiff, most probably wouldn’t notice the subtle difference but I can feel it in her left canter especially so put in my mind to give physio a call. We then though got an extremely late call up to fill a slot in our riding club’s intermediate showjumping team at nationals. Now although an exciting prospect it was a logistical nightmare as I was due to be at Burghley from the Thursday morning covering the event for e-Venting so couldn’t take Fleur up myself. At first it looked like I may ride another horse that could be more easily transported as its owner was already travelling up and I was happy to jump a strange horse round a 90cm-1m track but that fell through so Fleur was drafted in on the Tuesday. A plea to my wonderful physio Sarah and she was treated Wednesday evening. There was nothing major but she was out as I expected but there was no concerns about her competing but we were concerned how she would cope with the journey. Our fabulous team captain offered to drive Fleur up on the Friday and would drop her off again and I would meet the team at nationals Friday evening.
So Thursday I headed up to Burghley getting stuck in some obligatory traffic despite having left at 6am so missing the first dressage session of horses which was rather frustrating. I have only been to Burghley once previously as being from the Westcountry it is normally just a bit too far. The one time I did go though I did it in style as I won a design a fence competition run by Goodyear so attended as a VIP hospitality guest a very special day I still remember very fondly and ‘my’ fence was actually then used for another few years afterwards. Can you remember it? I didn’t see much of the event that year as well when plied with food and drink, being required for photoshoots and meeting famous people we only ultimately had chance to watch about 5 horses jump through the arena before the day was finished. This year though was access all well most areas (as far as media are allowed) and what a competition it was even if I did miss the cross country day. The beauty of Burghley is although a 4* event it has a much ‘closer’ feel then the likes of Badminton. The main arena is far smaller, as photographers we can get much closer to the dressage arena (as can other riders and owners) which makes it feel a lot more personal.
On the Thursday evening I was also lucky enough to tag along with Paul Tapner as he walked his course so to take some photos for the Event Riders Association. This wasn’t a group coursewalk organised for sponsors etc but literally him walking the course for his own benefit. For obvious reasons any questions were kept to an utter minimum but it was so educational just watching how he walked his course and lines. This was the 3rd time he had gone round and one of the main aims was to locate minute markers and take fence photos but at the more complex combinations he was still walking his lines 3 or 4 times so he knew the course inside out and back to front. Paul did though feel it would be fun to test out our fitness running or jogging long sections of the track. I will freely admit I was shattered by the end but quite impressed I on the whole at least kept up. My excuse (and I’m sticking to it!) if I got left behind was the several kilos of camera I was carrying and the unsuitable running shoes 😉 I can’t recommend enough though that If you ever get the chance to walk a course with a pro rider do it. I have had the luck to do so several times now and every time I can guarantee I will learn something new even on a walk like this where very little was said.
The roasting sun of Thursday was replaced with a dismal foggy and damp Friday but the standard of the dressage got higher. Jock’s test on Promise was by far the nicest of the day, yes it wasn’t perfect but no test ever is you only have to be consistently excellent for 100% after all and no one has ever reached that standard yet ;). The main thing in Jock’s test was a noise now it may have been tooth grinding although if it was it was the strangest teeth grinding I’ve ever heard or the other theory was it is the noise only a gelding can make which was much more plausible hearing it and I can only presume the judges had similar thoughts as it was very audible and not seemingly marked down.
I must say from the dressage though there were a few horses that perhaps shouldn’t have been there. One I thought was noticeably unlevel and it’s dressage score reflected this fact but seeing as it got through two trot ups and completed the event it most likely was tense causing bridle lameness. I know I more than trust the ground jury to spot a truly unlevel horse far more accurately than I can. Another that looked wrong though was withdrawn before the XC which suggests something more than tension was present in that case. Burghley being in the latter stages of the season and after a hot summer with hard ground means some horses in order to have had enough fitness work may have been worked harder than ideally wanted on firm ground.
So after the dressage I dashed up even further north to Lincoln and managed to arrive with enough time to ride Fleur. She hadn’t travelled well so I took her for a long walk to free her up. Frustratingly though the rules dictate you cannot use the warm ups or jump any fences prior to the competition and the ground was like concrete where not a competition arena/warm up so I couldn’t really test out how she was feeling. I tucked her away in her stable before an early start the next morning. Unfortunately as soon as I got on it became evident that she wasn’t right and had obviously stiffened up overnight from her journey up but I was hopeful as the course was ‘only’ 90cm which she can normally do in her sleep we might get away with it. I was wrong. Single fences she jumped fine but doubles she said no, she jumped both clear from a standstill on second attempt (good old RC rules allowing 2 stops!) so we got round and technically all the poles stayed up but the two stops and a bunch of time penalties meant we were most definitely the team discard score. There were several hours till the second round but I wasn’t sure whether I would be jumping. One of our team members Marion Watt who is a Bowen Therapist kindly agreed to have a feel and was able to release a large amount of the tension. The plan was to walk her in hand a fair amount to keep her moving and then get on and see what happened in the afternoon. I got on and went and warmed up and I was back sitting on my jumping power house but the damage to her confidence was done and despite balloning the first four fences as soon as we approached the first double she put the anchors on and I retired jumping fence 1 on the way out. There was no benefit in forcing the point and it wouldn’t help the team. What I really needed there and then was a teeny tiny clear round where I could let her realise jumping through a double wouldn’t hurt but there wasn’t one being nationals afterall. I won’t deny it I was really rather upset we have had a bit of a non starter year due to various things and Fleur isn’t a mare that stops unless there is an issue. So my head was now working 10 to the dozen as to whether it was just tightness from travelling badly or if there was something else under lying. She wasn’t lame but that morning she hadn’t been right ridden.
Thankfully the rest of our team was far more successful and even with my useless discard scores (I was the total opposite of a super sub!) the team came an impressive 6th with one member Ruth also jumping a fantastic triple clear to finish 9th individually. Our dressage riders also did extremely well with placings galore and even a superb national title in the pairs dressage for Marion and our team captain Susie. You couldn’t help but feel proud to be a member of the club when Susie and Marion were being presented with their rugs, sashes, rosettes and trophies. The highlight of my day though was winning a rosette for shouting, yes you heard it right shouting! I was drafted in to call for our team of 4 dressage test where all team members including the caller get a rosette if placed which we were which was brilliant! At the end of the day every one of the 7 riders from our club took home a placing rosette which we were thrilled with.
So after a second night in the club gazebo (thankfully it has sides!) it was a quick dash back down to Burghley with chance to catch up on what had gone on on XC day which was by all accounts a lot. The BBC were also screening footage in the press tent which allowed me to see some of the action. It was interesting to see at the dairy mound that Andrew Nicholson and several others had gone long which did not surprise me having walked the direct route which was just crying for a horse to run out. I caught a few of the lower placed riders showjump before starting my write up over the lunch break and then it was out into the main arena taking up my position to catch the action. It was immediately obviously clears if they were going to happen (which they didn’t) were going to be rare and poles were going to be expensive. There had been some clears within the lower ranked riders but those horses wouldn’t have generally been pushed as hard XC to try for the time so would have been naturally slightly fresher for the showjumping. The result we all know but with 2 fences in hand as Jock cleared the third fence from home some spectators cheered knowing he could have both the last two fences and still win. A few more cheered after the penultimate fence and everyone joined in even as the last fence fell as Jock had won. I feel this reaction somewhat unwise, yes Jock could have had both the last two fences down and won but that reaction from the crowd could have been enough to distract Clifton Promise causing him to stop. Horses at this level are good but not that good. William Fox Pitt was a prime example on Parklane Hawk as the 2nd part of the combination fell there was a groan around the arena and it was with no surprise the third part of the combination then also fell.
I was one of the last photographers left in the media centre after the event when Jock came back in with two cakes he had been given by the George of Stampford so a few of us took the opportunity to get some extra photos infront of the house with the cakes. Jock despite it already being past 6pm he was ever the gentleman and was happy to oblige. Now you will know by now jumping forward in this blogs time line that the result is now in dispute due to a positive test from Clifton Promise. Now I don’t know Jock well (he wouldn’t know me from Adam!) but from what I do know of him I would be truly shocked if he had intentionally allowed Promise to be under the influence of a prohibited substance. We will have to wait for the B test results and any resulting investigation but the for the good of the sport I can only hope Jock is proven ‘not guilty’ so to speak. Whether we will ever receive a true explanation of what happened who knows but the Clifton eventing team are keeping us up to date.
Coming back home it was time to make a decision about Fleur. She was still feeling good but I got Sarah up again to see her and she was happy so the plan was jump her through some doubles at home and if happy enter the RF at Larkhill if not get her booked in for a work up. Well she jumped through a basic double happily and was still feeling good so the entry went in. The next few weeks I did my best paranoid owner impression but she continued to feel good. I therefore put in a very last minute entry into the hunter trial at Larkhill run by the Tedworth hunt as the RAF being the RAF were delayed meaning my Husband would be returning late. We entered the open class which was the April BE100 with a few of the novice fences thrown in run at novice speed, I was running nicely late having been working in the morning so everything was going to pot but she flew round catching up with two horses infront despite me not pushing for time unfortunately things then went wrong again. She is a clever mare and we have had loading issues on the way to events so I have resorted to using food which had been working well, I hadn’t brought any more food with me as she is normally fine loading on the way home but not that day. 2.5 hours later every trick under the sun and eventually with the help of the very very VERY kind secretary and several others who stayed over an hour past the last competitor leaving we got her in. I still have a bottle of wine to say thank you in my car but haven’t had chance to deliver it yet. Sally if you read this I will do so and I also will stand up to my promise of volunteering next year if still in the area and not working! My day was though brightened slightly again to hear we had finished 2nd in good company and had we not been held up by the riders infront would have been the closest to the optimum time and then massively so when picking up my Husband in the early hours as he returned from 7 months in Afghan.
In the middle somewhere I also spent several days at glorious Blenheim snapping away. I can’t tell you how much I love this event, hey I camped there for my hen do a few years previous! This year did not disappoint, well other than the high jump being cancelled due to the weather, and Aoife was a fantastic winner of the CCI3*
Fleur decided she could load again with food so it was all systems go for the regional final at Larkhill. I got Sarah to give her another once over the week before and she was happy nothing of any significance. I had a slight wibble the few days before when other than the combinations at the HT I put her through a decent double again for the first time. i.e. starting at competition height with fillers etc and she initially said no but then built in confidence and realised it wasn’t a problem. On the day I wasn’t sure what was going to happen though as the showjumping is always notoriously tough at Larkhill but I was suitably motivated by my Osteopath friend Sandra who kicked me into gear. We started of course with our dressage and considering I had been concentrating on her muscle strength and fitness our specific dressage schooling had been lacking a bit the test was overall nice and safe (story of our life this year!) with the only real errors being her curling up on me in the first canter and the trot near the end so I was happy with 34.5 having guessed at 35. On to the dressage and this was going to be the test, I won’t lie I walked the course and wasn’t liking our chances but I was determined and decided to ride her like I stole her 😉 the first double was at fence 3 after a sharp turn, she slipped a few strides out but regained her feet and I pushed on and she jumped WOOHOO, I then in my resultant joy threw her at the stile fence and unsurprisingly it fell, before I knew it (we were never in danger of time penalties) only the last double was in front of us I saw a good stride pushed on and again she jumped without question we were round she felt happy and I couldn’t care less that we had 4 faults. So on to the XC, the course had a fair few changed from the the HT including some new combinations and more skinnies than you could throw a stick at. We flew round and I won’t lie I saw a few ‘forward’ strides but she was flying, she did have a few thoughts about the open ditch brush fence near the end but went off my leg and flew the last few we were clear and she felt on form, I won’t lie I was grinning ear to ear. The section although small was tight especially with the dressage scores. My pole (it was very much my fault after all) was very expensive and dropped us from 4th to 7th but nevertheless we finished 7th in the regional final and I was thrilled, even more so because only the top 3 qualified for Badminton so the pole didn’t cost us a qualifying spot 😉 Next best thing she loaded straight away without a second thought (yes with food) AND we missed the rain.
So that brings us up to now, the season is over and my horse is bouncing like a loony wanting to run again, I’m not sure I have the heart to tell her she has to wait 5 months for next season to start!