I’ve done it — I’ve done my first grand prix!

Now that I’m writing to you all as a grand prix rider, I want to say a massive thank you to my home team who make everything happen. I’d be lost without the help and guidance and of super mum Diane and big sister Sam.

After the success of Keysoe, Apollo and I were gearing up for Addington premier league. It’s one of my favourite premier leagues — last year I won the prix st georges class here on over 72%. He’s been to Addington many, many times, so he’s not spooky in the arenas… or so I thought.

Friday was the inter 2 class and I was very lucky that my super owner Susan Armstrong could take me as unfortunately my mum had to go to a funeral. Poor Susan had to be my mother, driver, groom and trainer and she did a fantastic job.

Apollo warmed up well but when we went into the ring there was a new judge’s hut that had been erected at B. Apollo was totally not expecting it to be there so he had one ear concentrated on it the whole way round. Because of this, he was also hyper-aware of every flower pot around the arena! We had a few mistakes and a few rather speedy corners trying to get past said flower pots, but I was still pleased with it, our 66% score and 10th place in a huge class.

Apollo and I in our first grand prix

The next day was time for the big one — the grand prix. I completely dropped Apollo and I in at the deep end, doing our first one at a premier league. But it was fantastic and was so much fun. I hadn’t even been through the whole test at home before, so I was just thankful that I didn’t go wrong. I so nearly got my one-time flying-changes too — I got 15! Finally I think I might have cracked this whole counting thing. But the first change was together behind so a thumbs down from the judges. We’re getting closer though. On the final centre line, Apollo was like “phew this is hard work, I’m just gonna have a little walk now” just after our last piaffe, so marks were lost there too. Overall, everything can still be improved upon — obviously! We achieved 65% though and finished in 10th which meant Apollo claimed his first ever grand prix rosette. Now I can’t wait to go out and do more.

Credit: Sophie Lefevre

Back home, it was time for a photo shoot. Now I love doing photo shoots, I’ve done several in the past for equestrian photographers and some of you may have spotted me and Sam in the Dublin clothing catalogues. This time it was with Sophie Lefevre, who is just fantastic. She’s such a lovely person who just loves horses and the relationship between horse and rider, which is clear in the photos she captures. I love the photos as they show the special bond we have with our horses, something to treasure for a lifetime. I’ve got numerous photos of me riding at shows, but there is something really magical about having photographic memories of the way you kiss and cuddle your horse.

Sprout and Tommy Credit: Sophie Lefevre

Of course, the puppies had to get in on the shoot, as they are the real bosses of the yard! How beautiful do they look though?! The are so grown up now at seven months. They love to ‘help’ us muck out, by doing super useful things like jump in the wheelbarrows, dig up the banks, sit on the shavings fork and chase the broom. They also love to meet everyone who comes onto the yard in a very friendly manner, Sprout in fact was kind enough to hop in our vet, Rob Oulton’s car, sit in the passenger seat and wait for Rob to take him on an adventure! Generally, they are pure trouble and complete mischief makers, but also little angels who just want a cuddle after a long day. They will be coming with me to Somerford premier league next week so that will be exciting.

With my gorgeous puppies Credit: Sophie Lefevre

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On a rather sad note, I’m finally ready to talk about my lovely horse, Nova. He is a huge 18.3hh part dinosaur, who I had hoped to bring out at PSG level this year, but unfortunately he injured himself in the field over the winter, which has resulted in him needing time out. He is currently loving life at Froxfield Stud out in their retirement herd. While I miss him terribly every day that I can’t give him a cuddle and kiss, I know that he gets plenty from the girls there. Having horses is an emotional rollercoaster — I had so many dreams to fulfil with Nova and his owner Susan Armstrong. He is easily the most talented horse I have had the pleasure of riding — he made me smile every time I rode him. He is also the naughtiest horse I have ever met, and the list of things he has destroyed include a telegraph pole and my riding hat. I’m not sure what the future holds for him, but for now he can enjoy a summer of sun and fun out with his field buddies.

Thank you again for being with me through the ups and downs of this sport.

Joanna xx

For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday

This week’s edition (17 May) features a full report from Royal Windsor Horse Show, including all the showing, showjumping and dressage action. We go behind the scenes with the Household Cavalry as they prepare for the royal wedding, plus check out our interview with Irish eventer Padraig McCarthy.