Firstly, can I say ‘phew’ – I have a saddle, although not without drama and cutting it tight to the wire time-wise, as the first one got lost in the post. Thankfully though the one my saddler sent fits like a glove, and even better she was able to do a swap for my old saddle so crisis was averted just in time for Larkhill.
Larkhill was great to be back out competing, we did what I thought was a nice test, but what I felt wasn’t what the judge saw and so I was disappointed with a 41. That is dressage though, and being on board you never have the same viewpoint. It would have been really good if I could have found someone to video my test for me, but as I often attend events on my own it wasn’t possible. Thankfully a great double clear put a smile firmly on my face and she felt great. Because of the dressage score we didn’t trouble the top 10 but it was a solid start to the season.
The weekend after it was role reversal time and I was an organiser, only for a Riding Club dressage show with 30 odd competitors though. As part of my RC’s committee I am constantly exposed to the real work that goes in to running an event, and I can tell you it’s far more than you can imagine. It’s enough work running a small dressage show never mind a full on BE event with hundreds of competitors competing in a day. My advice is never criticise the organisation of an event until you have done it yourself!
The next weekend saw my chance to finally compete at an event that has long been on my ‘must do’ events list, Hambleden. I have heard from friends what a fabulous event it is in terms of venue, courses and atmosphere, but I have never quite gotten there. Last year I was close but was forced to withdraw, however this year I actually made it – and what a great event it is. On the Friday and Saturday I was also on photo duty, so if you haven’t already, have a look in our Facebook galleries to see if I caught you! The bluebells were a photographic highlight for me, I must say, but the friendly atmosphere was rather contagious. Although I traveled on my own both days I was not short of fellow competitors (including our very own Badders blogger Brook), photographers and fence judges to chat to. I will admit Saturday though was somewhat amusing from my perspective as a photographer: Zara Phillips was making her return to competition following the birth of her daughter in January. The paparazzi are never far behind when Zara is competing but they were out in full force. Amusingly though for me some weren’t paying full attention and chatted to one another unaware of the fact Zara had just passed them in the opposite direction on the course so they missed her completely. I would be amused to hear what excuse they gave their editors!
My result on paper at Hambleden was fairly hideous by my standards but there were positives: namely don’t take your horse for granted, and that minus a ‘blip’ in both jumping rounds she actually felt great! Also randomly we had the same dressage judge as Larkhill so I was pleased that we scored a 5% improvement, gaining a 36, although my aim is for our next test to see another 5% improvement again!
In order to seek this 5% (and more!) improvement I have kicked myself into touch and organised actual dressage lessons. It has been a few years since I last had regular lessons as I struggle to find instructors who truly concentrate enough on the rider as well as the horse and who are also suitably local.
Thankfully a friend recommended a local very experienced instructor who she thought would fit the bill. Our first lesson was a notable success and it was great to hear I wasn’t quite as wonky as I thought I was. We worked predominately on Fleur’s straightness which I knew to be an issue as I have allowed her to overbend without controlling the shoulder, and I got homework to work on until our next lesson, but hopefully our dressage scores should soon be on the up!
Last week, just in case you have been in a bubble away from the world, was Badminton – and wow what a week! I was on site from the Tuesday until the Sunday. I must have watched over 100 dressage tests, 40 showjumping rounds and 150 horses start XC (but not finish!) across the Grassroots and 4* competition.
I can tell you now the weather was pretty hideous and so was the ground. It was at its worst on Saturday when the mud became hideously tacky due to the ground being clay and the wind was hideous gusting so high it even resulted in toppling portaloos and flying tents. I may possibly have ended up under one of the aforementioned portaloos which attacked me without fair reason but thankfully I walked away with a funny story – another person suffered a broken collarbone. I will though for further more be referred to in media centres at events as the photographer who was hit by a portaloo. Oh well, it could have been worse!
As Saturday’s competition went on I wondered what the reaction at the press conference would be to Giuseppe Della Chiesa’s course. Would it be positive or would it be scathing? There is no doubt the weather and ground conditions made a massive impact, but two fences were sensibly removed prior to the start of the competition and although the field was decimated, the result was a good one as no notable injuries were sustained and accurate riding on proper jumping horses won through to the top, which is what eventing should all be about. Who would have thought on Thursday that the person in 25th place after dressage would win? No one in the media tent, I can tell you that now, but how excited were we that Sam did.
It wasn’t just the XC that was interesting though, the SJ was as well. I had the opportunity to walk the course beforehand and although the oxers were built slightly below height and in almost all cases slightly ascending, and planks were not used as top rails, I thought it would cause issues. We were told to expect about 12 clears but I must say I always doubted this number as the ground was on the soft side and still had a feel of tackiness to it. However I really didn’t expect only one rider to leave all the poles standing.
I really do hope this is the start of a new era for Badminton, bringing it back to its rightful place as the biggest and best event in the world.