I’m sure everybody is still recovering from the excitement of Badminton. I can’t wait until I have something to compete there again, which will hopefully be next year.

After deciding I had two weeks easy to recover from my foot injury before Richmond and Keysoe Horse Trials, with a kid’s sleepover when my daughter’s friend came to stay, school runs in the morning and afternoon, followed by numerous Dad taxi runs and playing the tooth fairy, I soon felt that two weeks was a bit excessive and I was very happy to return to the saddle much sooner than I had originally planned.

As I explained in my previous blog, I’d become a bit depressive of late with things not quite going to plan and was feeling extremely sorry for myself. After a much needed and very large kick up the arse from the wife and a few home truths rammed down my throat, it was time to get my head into gear again.

With three-day events coming up at Houghton, Tattersalls and Bramham, I’ve had to make a clear plan of runs for the horses leading up to them. This, combined with plenty of canter work and trips to the gallops. We tend to do as much of the long slow canter work with the horses at home as we can using the natural grass verges around the fields and on the sand tracks that were very lucky to have surrounding us. We are located right next to a nature reserve which gives us a huge variety of bridle paths and plenty of places to canter safely, which makes the job pretty easy. We also have a few lakes on the hack back to the yard, so after cantering we sometimes go and stand the horses in the shallow parts of them.

For the fast canter work we have the Northern Racing College just a 15 minute hack up the road. I always tend to trot the horses to the gallops as a warm-up and give them a steady canter down to the start. I then either take them up the five furlong straight which also pulls up a hill five times or three times each way around the round gallop. At the end they always get their legs iced when they get back to the lorry. I think it’s important to get to know a gallops well when getting horses fit. This way you can really guage how fit your horses are, and also how much canter work needs to be done for each individual one. Obviously the three-star horses will need to go more than those running over a shorter distance round a one-star, but that’s also where the rider should know there horse well to determine how much needs to be done.

Prince Mayo on the gallops

It was nice to get The Artist Almost Famous (Artie) our for his first run of the season at Richmond. He jumped a class double clear for his first outing and feels on top form. Obie (OBOS Columbus) also jumped a great double clear, showing he’s growing in confidence with me and we finally seem to be on the same wave length. It was a shame Keysoe couldn’t run on the Monday as all the young ones really needed a run out. But we found a suitable plan B and took them all cross-country schooling over the Bank Holiday weekend instead.

The week leading up to Floors was pretty manic. It consisted of trips to the gallops, 10 horses to cross-country school, fields to top and grass around the yard to mow and tidy up, combined with three kids all under the age of six to run around after.

On the Thursday afternoon we set off to travel four-and-a-half hours up to Floors with the Friday five to stable overnight ready for an early start the following morning. This didn’t get off to the best of starts when I decided to play diesel roulette and risk getting to the next service station which would be significantly cheaper up North I thought. As the lorry spluttered into the services, I wasn’t surprised after filling her up to find that she wouldn’t start. I’d run her that low (yes, my lorry’s a woman) that an air lock had chance to get in the pipe and needed bleeding through. Two hours later after being sat in the services, we were underway again. I said to Victoria, “Do you think something’s telling me not to go?” “No! Something’s telling you to not be so cheap!” was the answer I got, so I just at that point thought best to shut up and carry on.

You really couldn’t write it though, as the following day, owner Peter Laidlaw drove up with the three horses competing on the Saturday and broke down in exactly the same place. He also got underway again though after an impromptu two-hour coffee break at Barnsdale Barr.

DHI Paparazzi at Floors

It was well worth the journey on all counts. Prince Mayo (Prince, pictured top kitted out by sponsors LeMieux products) won the open intermediate on his super dressage score of 28 for my two longest standing and loyal owners Sir John Peace and Charlotte Cole. I couldn’t have been happier. I was also delighted for Sir John and Ian and Heidi Woodhead whose DHI Paparazzi (Pom) finished closely behind in fourth place. I was pleased with all the intermediate horses to be honest. Obie and Carl (Wanskjaers Carlsson) jumped class clears cross-country and I’m learning more about them all the time.

The novices certainly didn’t disgrace themselves either, all finishing inside the top 10. Peter Laidlaw’s River Warrior (Beau) jumped well for 10th place and will be heading to Houghton CCI* next. As will Jane Duncan and William Buick’s Monbeg Maximus (Mumbles) who was a winner in the novice section on his first run of the season. Dakotah VII finished just behind for Charlotte Cole in sixth place and was class cross-country. It’s amazing when you get off the negative track again how your luck changes.

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The horses have one final run now before there three days at the Fairfax and Favour Rockingham Horse Trials. It’s really exciting for me to have horses back up at top level again, but I’m not going to lie, I’m also a little nervous having not ridden around a decent track for a while. And not because I’m worried about what we’ll have to face out there, but because of the huge amount of pressure I put on myself not to let my owners, sponsors and team down. But I’ve come to the conclusion that what will, be will be — this is as much a learning curve for me as it is for them. As long as I can bring the horses back safe and sound, feeling like they are Billy big boll**ks for what they’ve just achieved, I’ll have done my job!

Matt

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 (10 May) features our full report from Badminton, including in-depth analysis, expert comment, pictures and more. Plus, read our feature on the options for retiring your horse and in this week’s vet clinic we look into the challenges of equine surgery