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Seeing the adverts for the E-venting grassroots blogger has brought back many fond memories and made me think about how amazing my whole Badminton experience was and how it kick-started a fantastic year. My completion rosette sat atop my Christmas tree as testament to and celebration of one of the highlights of 2014 and I have a great collection of photos thanks to Katie and E-venting. Thinking others might be interested to hear about life post-Badders, I’ve written another little blog. Perhaps this will help everyone gearing up for Badminton to get even more excited, though I doubt many of you are thinking much beyond May 6th right now!!
So, this time last year I’d just returned from honeymoon to find Mum and my friend Tyler Cassells had done a fantastic job getting Corey’s road work started to strengthen his legs. We spent extra time and care to get him strong after his winter break in those early weeks because we didn’t want to take any chances. If there was a way to wrap him in cotton wool and still prepare him for what was going to be the toughest competition of his life, I would have done it. I can still remember the worry of him getting injured and I feel for all of you who are, as I type, probably already facing that same worry. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for all of you.
We planned our pre-Badminton runs carefully to give us the best experience – we travelled far and wide to new courses and worked long and hard on our show jumping, our weakest of the three phases. We were also looking beyond Badminton with some of our planning, as we knew we wanted to step up to novice afterwards and that was going to require yet more mental and physical preparation. It was a careful balance between pushing ourselves to improve and not breaking what we already had achieved. Having just re-read all my blogs from last year I’m reminded too of how much it meant to be going to Badminton – realising what it had taken to qualify and how much I wanted to enjoy it. (I’m also reminded how much that excitement affected my ability to write coherently at times, for which I can only apologise). I could offer lots of tips about preparing a horse for the grassroots but anyone who has qualified clearly has the horsemanship skills required and it will be a different journey for every partnership. The far more important message I think is to consider how you can make the most of the opportunity, both in terms of how it will boost your training and in enjoying the experience itself. Everything I previously advised along these lines still stands, so I’ll not repeat myself but move on to say what lay beyond Badminton for Team Supercobs.
Avid readers of my blog from last year may recall that Corey was originally bought with the long term aim of competing at Blair CCI*, with Badminton being a very enjoyable detour along the way. We had felt ready for novice cross country since about halfway through the previous season, but knew our show jumping was fragile and so refrained from tackling any bigger tracks in case it broke our confidence. I don’t regret that decision, even though I would have been far better prepared for the technicality of Badminton’s cross country if Corey and I had been round a few novices together. There were questions on the course at Badminton that I rode as if I was on my old novice stalwart and we nearly came unstuck as a result; lacking experience as a partnership was our downfall.
However, after a short post-Badders break, Corey and I got out to some British Showjumping, tackled the bigger classes with few problems (bar a few misunderstandings on my part about the class distinctions, which resulted in me finding the tracks a little bigger than expected) and so began our campaign at novice in earnest. Despite having competed at novice for several years previously, and having driven up and down the country looking for the toughest BE100 tracks before Badminton, and having sought out the best ‘first-timer’ novices locally, I discovered that these days going from 100 to novice is a BIG step up. Not an impossible one for grassroots riders, but certainly one not to be underestimated.
I found that stepping up to the challenge of Badminton had been great preparation for making the step up to novice. It helped me tackle my nerves and it helped me put in lots of preparation so I wasn’t rushing myself. There were a few fences at Badminton that I would have happily bypassed, given the choice, but steeling myself to take them on was again good preparation for the novice tracks. Still, just before my first novice I discovered whilst schooling that Corey and I had a lot to learn when jumping skinnies at novice height. I was quite happy trusting Corey to take me over a BE100 skinny with only minor steering from me, but once they got bigger I lost my faith and began interfering so much I ended up causing Corey to run out and dump me on the floor. My prior experience at novice was limited to one horse, who had a particular (and somewhat unorthodox) jumping style, so despite having completed a CCI* on him and completing the grassroots on Corey I found myself seriously doubting whether I was capable of more than 100 with the latter. But we were entered for our first novice so we gritted our teeth and got on with it.
In the end we managed three novices. Ironically, having sought lots of opinion on the best events for first timers, we discovered that the cross country is pretty much the same wherever you go (discounting the renowned really tough tracks), although the show jumping can vary massively. At our first novice we had no problem at the skinnies, but missed the line out of the water after jumping in too enthusiastically and losing our knitting (note to self, Corey does not need any encouragement to jump into water, even when the drop is bigger than previously encountered…). At our second novice we were nearly home when I over worried at the corner, over rode it and Corey threw his toys out the pram – quite rightly refusing to jump when the numpty on top was making it extra hard for him. At our third novice however, we cracked it. I put my brave pants on, remembered that with an already blotted copybook I needn’t worry about coming home with a clean sheet and tested Corey’s ability to stay on a line if I just left him to it. I could feel the relief through his body as he realised I was not interfering but letting him do what he does best. He soared over huge brush arrowheads and corners and felt amazing. Thank you Supercobs!
That novice was to mark the end of my grassroots career – we came away with a double clear and therefore a point, taking away any chance of another run at Badminton. It was always a risk, but a calculated one based on where we hoped Corey was ultimately headed. I am jealous of all those returning this year and will be cheering on those friends I met last year who have re-qualified. But for Team Supercobs a new challenge lies ahead. Just as you will be getting your first runs of the season I will be giving birth to the next (eventing?!) generation of Howells (though right now I think I’d rather be in the start box of Big Badminton than facing labour…). I completed my last novice knowing I was going to be a mother and crossed the finish line wondering if it would be my last run at that level. I hope I will, in time, have the confidence/fitness again to go round novice courses but in the meantime I look forward to watching everyone campaigning for Badminton, be it from the sidelines as a spectator or as I compete alongside in the open classes. Good luck everyone and enjoy!
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