After the disappointment at the Berks and Bucks team chase, when the intermediate class was abandoned, our final trek across the counties from East Anglia to the rolling hills of Heythrop country was a poignant one.

The sun was forecast and the views were spectacular. The event was holding the open championship and there was a really great atmosphere in the air. The marquee was up in preparation for the post-event dinner dance. The bar was prepped with a big screen for the Grand National and the car park was heaving with more than 107 teams entered — that’s at least 320 horses going through the start!

We walked the course in great spirit. After an anxious intermediate course walk the week before, the Heythrop novice was a perfect end to our season. All the fences were really inviting, a couple that would take a bit of riding and lots of turns that would keep you thinking.

It came as a bit of a shock when we realised that at fence 16, we had got to the end of our course. The week before we’d have run over 32 fences — really highlighting the step-up in fitness that the intermediate course demands compared to the novice tracks.

Time for a new tactic

While walking the course, we came up with a new tactic. We have always jumped off from the start with Kerrie on the speedy Harty in the lead. The speed they leave the starter takes me and my half-bred Irish draught by shock! It has meant that I’ve always been playing catch up, resulting in the team finishing fairly well strung out and off the time. So the plan was for me to jump off in the lead, jump fence one in front at a fair pace, then for Kerrie to join me over the second and pick the pace up from there.

Well, it went to plan for the first fence! Kerrie (pictured below) came upsides for the steep climb to the second, which we jumped together, and then the plan was aborted. With screeching sound effects, we made the (unnecessarily sharp) left-hand turn back down the hill to the fourth. At this moment, we all suffered severe brake failure.

It always makes me giggle how polite us horse folk can be, when struggling, in what is potentially, a pretty scary situation. Hurtling down a steep hill for about a furlong, with our horses’ noses on the ground, shouting apologies to one another. Thankfully, after another sharp turn and a pleasing hedge, we regained some control and headed over a painted log and back away from the lorry park.

 

heythrop kerrie

Finding myself (pictured below) again in front, we went at a pace that felt like the proverbial off a shovel — we were on fire. I didn’t have a clue who was still with me. I could hear Kerrie on my girth as we stormed across the ridge and furrow, towards a really trappy upright rail. With the take-off looking a bit sticky, I asked Kitkat for a long one, but I had asked too late. We clattered the rail with a left front leg and I seriously thought I was a goner. I’ve never been as close to coming off, without actually eating dirt.

heythrop sophie

Somehow I regained balance and with a slight detour around the trees, we kicked on for the final fence — which we gave some serious air space to and flew over the finish. I looked behind me to see three truly ecstatic faces. We’d all got round and had a whale of a time.

After a few quiet moments to myself (below) — I was seriously out of puff — we concluded it was the best run we’d had all season. Much credit to the team and landowners at Heythrop. The best news of all — we were too fast to be placed! That never happens to us, but with the intention of running in intermediates in the autumn season, it is a good thing.

heythrop extra

Kitkat, Harty and Alice are all on a two-week holiday, before they pretend to be horses of other disciplines over the summer. Kitkat will be polishing his dressage shoes, Harty is heading to the Retraining of Racehorses (ROR) shows and Alice is donning her eventing hat. The next run and indeed the next blog for Team Forelock and Fully Loaded will be at the end of August — I am counting away the days!

Sophie