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Well what a wonderful weekend away at the Indoor Carriage Driving Championships at Keysoe! I am very proud of my pony as all the hard work we put in at uni in the 3 weeks before the championship really paid off — especially in the dressage and cones.

It was a long and twisty drive across Wales before we hit the motorways. After setting off early in the morning from Aberystwyth we finally arrived on the Thursday afternoon — along with the majority of open and multiples drivers, since our classes began early on the Friday.

Straight away I was busy walking Jack in-hand after the journey, settling him in his stable and getting the lorry set up as base camp, all the time distracted by meeting up with old friends and catching up with their news! I also spent over an hour grooming Mr J in the evening.

To prepare properly there was course-walking (lots of course-walking) — first the big 20x50m dressage ring, so as to avoid throwing away marks for inaccurate sizes and shapes for the movements. Precision for driven dressage indoors is 50% of the total score and movements begin when the pony’s nose reaches the marker, not the driver. Although I had been able to use the arenas at uni to drive the test, neither were marked at the driving arena dimensions so it was very important for me to take the time to get my bearings.

Then the cones course had to be walked as once the class started at 8.30am in the morning the course would be closed. Cones course-walking was by torch and lamp light as it was dark by the time I could get out to do it. There was an innovative new feature as part of the course like a long taped L section to drive through and no bridge — which was a shame as my pony is very good at driving bridges, not at all phased by the jolt up onto it, the clattering and jolt down.

Usually the bridge has cones set to test you are in full control of your steering and the pony isn’t rushing off, but there were plenty of angles and turns to figure out so as to get good lines through the whole course. I remembered the good advice James Broome gave us at the club training session on cones driving after our last event, and it paid off handsomely as we got a clear round! I only trotted but we were 5sec too fast so did get 5 penalties, but double clears were so rare at the event I was very pleased.

Driving people are really friendly and supportive, my backstepper for the dressage and cones was fellow competitor Alice Pritchard, who went first in the class and came to help me as I was last on. There aren’t many sports where people are so willing to help their rivals!

We have known each other for many years as we used to compete in BDS showing classes against each other and then when Alice took up trials we went to the World Trophies and Channel Cup representing the British Young Drivers (BYD). The BYD training at camps and for these international events really does set us up well as Young Drivers (anyone under 25 years old). Alice and I both compete outdoors as well as at indoor trials and have worked our way up the levels.

We were really pleased with our dressage scores: Alice was 2nd on 24pen and I was 4th, just 2 marks behind her on 26pen (74%) with 2 scores of 9 for paces in the extended trot movements. The good cones round brought me right up to 2nd place after the first 2 phases, which was such a great result I was over the moon!

Emily Ham at the Indoor Carriage Driving Championships 2014With 2 arenas on the go all morning, the first 2 obstacles were set up over lunch time and it was time to course-walk again! As the class runs in reverse order there would be no time for Alice to swap over to groom for me, but Simon Willis who was backstepping for another open pony and going in early very kindly came to the rescue as my obstacle backstepper for the rest of the event. To help me warm up, another kind person that I could beg or borrow jumped on until Simon was available each day.

The obstacles were tight so I tried to choose the most flowing routes I could so Mr J could keep moving forward and walked them very carefully. It’s very easy to overshoot a turn and miss a gate or knock the obstacles with a wheel bringing down a ball, in both cases getting hefty penalties.

I really wanted to fly these obstacles and put pressure on the leader but as soon as we started I could sense that the obstacle phase — usually our strongest — was going to present challenges. Mr J seemed rather sluggish and lacked his usual keenness to canter the turns, which was disheartening with the class being filled with speed demons! All I could do was drive as smoothly and accurately as I could so as not to waste those valuable seconds which were racing by.

At the end of the afternoon Chris Ainscough had stormed ahead of the field into 2nd place, but there was still everything to play for — it was nailbitingly close with just 6sec (penalties) separating the first 4 and others not far behind. A ball down at 5 penalties would be so costly in the 2 new final obstacles on Friday afternoon.

Emily Ham and Mr JFriday afternoon was frustrating. My pony was definitely not fired up with his usual enthusiasm. I had checked carefully to ensure he didn’t have a temperature, but he just wasn’t himself. He made all the turns accurately with good lead changes but the turbo boost was at half throttle. Those two obstacles seemed to last forever!

We managed to hang on in the top 6 and come home with a 5th place in a very competitive class of 16. In the end the supreme champion was 9.16sec ahead. I think my pony is amazing, he really is a little superstar. He is now on a short holiday before turning his hoof to private driving in May and then scurry and trials (I’m certain he will be supercharged once again by then)!

Emily

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Report on the Indoor Carriage Driving Championships in the issue out next Thursday, 17 April.