Our amateur turning pro blogger Becky Woolven updates us as the season comes to a close
I set off for Little Downham Horse Trials on the Sunday evening with two horses: LB The Phantom (Otto) who was to make his debut at Advanced level and Charlton Down Riverdance (Socks) who was entered for the Intermediate. It turns out Ely is much further away from Gloucestershire than I had quite appreciated and going the wrong way down the M1 for several junctions didn’t help the already painfully long journey with only Evie, my seemingly un-amused black lab, for company. Thankfully I was meeting some friends at Little Downham for the event the next day but I regretted not dragging along some poor, un-suspecting friend for the five hour journey there and the, what can only be described as, complete kerfuffle of settling two horses into temporary stabling. It’s incredible how much ‘stuff’ is required for horsey sleepovers – the lorry was packed so full you’d have thought I was planning a trip round the world with the poor things.
Anyway so we arrived at our stabling destination, squeezed into the 5 metre wide gateway in my 4.99 metre wide lorry and unloaded two very patient horses into their hotel rooms. I then performed at least a 12-point-turn in the miniature driveway, squeezed back out through the miniature gateway and sped off to Little Downham to attempt to walk two courses with only an hour and a bit’s worth of daylight left.
Thankfully I managed to jog round the courses and ponder over the more technical fences just in time so that the head torch wasn’t necessary.
As it was Otto’s first Advanced, like most people probably do when they step a horse up a level, I was just hoping he would feel happy and confident and not make the step up feel like a big effort as I felt I’d prepared him well. I was also hoping we’d manage to pull off the flying changes in the dressage so as not to look like total muppets by having to do a quick canter-trot-canter transition! Thankfully Otto granted both of these wishes and much more. He did one of the best tests he’s ever done (he has a history of getting a little tense) and pulled off a 33 which I was absolutely delighted with. He jumped brilliantly in the show jumping but just breathed over one fence to have it down. There were a couple of tricky accuracy questions on the cross country which I was conscious of needing to ride very positively at but otherwise I liked the course and was hoping he would too. He did – and stormed round pretty quickly with one of the fastest times of the day. He felt fantastic and did everything I asked at the tricky combinations. I was totally chuffed; once again Otto had tried his very best for me and I was hugely appreciative of his effort. It was lucky I wasn’t still onboard when the commentator announced we were 2nd otherwise I think I’d have fallen straight off. The only person to beat Otto was ironically the man whose cross country skills I had been idolising over in my last blog; Lord Nicholson himself. He was the only one quicker than Otto in our section and so beat us to first place – can’t be too disappointed I suppose. Even more ironically, Nicholson was also the only one to stand in the way of Socks and a first prize in the Intermediate earlier that morning.
I was thrilled that Socks did so well as he is a cross country dream and normally does a dressage test somewhere between mediocre and good but his tendency to feel his way around the show jumps often lets him down. He did at good test at Little Downham, only knocked one show jump down (a PB for him at that level) and performed his usual, remarkably fast round across country to finish 2nd. As I talked about in my last blog, Socks is pretty quick across country without even trying. When I set off this time I was conscious of not going too quick but at the same time, I wanted to ride positively. When I got half way round the course I heard the commentator say that people were struggling to get inside the time, so I thought perhaps I should crack on a bit. When I crossed the finish I still had 13 seconds left on my watch; how did he do that?!
I couldn’t have been more delighted with Socks and Otto – what a great day it had been and how lucky I felt to have the ride on two crackers! They both started their winter break the next day and they couldn’t have deserved it more. I was so proud of them and I’m still slipping the odd carrot into their feeds to thank them very much. However I have told them that we have some catching up to do next season as I don’t want to keep finishing second to Nicholson (haha). I’ve promised them a whole bag of carrots each if they ever manage to beat him!