At last! Our first international stay away event of the year, Hartpury CIC***. Barbury does not count for us, as it is so local we drive there every day, so don’t get the full atmosphere of staying on site with everyone for the three-plus days of competition.

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of work with fitness trainer Jon Pitts, who helped me a lot last year, making sure I was fit and hydrated enough for the Hong Kong climate. This year we have been discussing and targeting my weaknesses, plus making goals to improve and be as competitive as possible. For such a traditional sport to start having opportunities to take some new approaches is only a good thing, in my opinion. Riders invest so much time and money into the performance and fitness of their horses without giving their own a second thought.

We had a very interesting talk from Sir Clive Woodward while I was school. He said that what makes champions is the edge they have over their opposition and his training philosophy has definitely stuck in my head. Jon pinpointed that after my winter working heavily on my dressage with Jane Gregory, that it was probably my strongest phase and that my cross-country time was definitely something that needs work.

So with all this in mind, we decided that a good goal to aim for was top 10 with Chico and top 20 with Maggie (Magenta). I had a couple of lessons with both Lucinda Fredericks and Jane just before we left to sharpen me up and have a go through my test. Maggie jumped beautifully and gave me a very confident feel, however Chico felt quite flat and it took a lot of jumping for him to make a sufficient effort for us to be happy.

Also after Chico’s little antics during his dressage test at Aston-le-Walls a couple of weekends ago, I realised that I needed a very different approach to his warm-up at Hartpury. So the morning we left I took him for a hills session to try and knock some steam off him.

’I knew we’d nailed it’

When we arrived on Thursday, most of the other competitors had already been there for at least a day — most had one- and two-star horses that had to trot up and consequently someone had snuck into the parking space reserved for us. No other than Mark Todd himself! So once he’d kindly vacated our spot, we parked up and unloaded Maggie and Chico and got them settled in their smart stables in the courtyard.

I then got on to Chico to join in the familiarisation of the Hartpury’s remarkable new indoor arena where the three star dressage was held. I decided that I wouldn’t take Maggie in the hope that a bit of excited brightness would prove helpful in the test itself!

On Friday, I had Maggie’s dressage first. She warmed up beautifully, and really showed everyone what an incredible horse she is. Unfortunately, as usual, she realised that I have to drop my whip on entering my test and so she closed down completely on me and dropped off my leg — very frustrating when just moments beforehand she could have been right up in the top few.

Chico, as always was the complete opposite to Maggie. He is always a different horse when he’s been plaited up and I’ve got my top hat and tails on. He really didn’t give me an easy time at all in the warm-up and Elodie said after the test that she’d never seen me look so stroppy!

However, even though he entered the indoor arena with his eyes’ on stalks, he really let me ride him and once we were done I absolutely knew that we’d nailed it (see video below of the last two minutes of my test)!

Surely enough we went into the lead by 3.8 penalties on a score of 43.2 penalties. By the end of the two days of dressage we were still holding on to the top spot, but Emily Baldwin was very close, breathing down the back of my neck by 0.2 of a penalty.

Show jumping dramas

The following afternoon was the show jumping and having walked the course I was a little tiny bit nervous — it was the first time I’ve lead the dressage at a three-star. It was the most technical and square show jumping track I’ve come across in a CIC*** and the distances were very forward, something that suits Maggie but not Chico. Fortunately I had a bit of time to watch a few go before I had to get on, and although there were very few clears, the distances seemed to be riding fine.

Maggie jumped the best round I’ve ever had on her. As I thought, the course suited her and she really rose to the challenge. Also, I think I’ve finally cracked (in my head) the rhythm, stride and canter she needs as she’s so different to all the other horses I’ve ridden (ie lazy and stuffy!).

Chico on the other hand warmed up nicely, but went in to have three fences down. The first two he simple dragged his hind legs through and the third I slightly over pressed.

I was very disappointed and my excited bubble from the last two days was well and truly popped! As everyone will say who knows Chico, he isn’t just a good jumper but an absolutely special one, so for him to just drag his back legs through a jump is completely out of character. Everything came together (flat show jumping with Lucinda, relaxed dressage test, flat as a pancake show jumping round) and I realised that something wasn’t quite right with him.

Chico confirmed all this to me the following morning when I took both horses for a canter to open up their lungs and stretch their limbs before the afternoon’s exertions. Maggie felt fresh as a daisy and dragged me around the canter strip whereas Chico just jollied along happily. Normally I can’t hold one side of him galloping and so after a quick chat with Lucinda, who said that I should withdraw him if I had any doubt, I pulled him out of the competition.

So it was all left to Maggie who was lying in 18th before the cross-country. Warming up and visualising the course, I realised that the last time I’d been three-star with her was Saumur the previous year, 15 months before and after her shock at Hickstead last month I decided to take it a bit easy on her, taking our time at the start to let her build some confidence.

We had a lovely round where she really looked after me at fence four, a tricky combination of hedge and two houses on an awkward angle. I didn’t quite get the line I had planned going in and she had to superman jump over the last house to save the day. By two-thirds of the course I let her rip and we galloped through the finish with a half qualification for the World Games next year (picture of Maggie on course at Hartpury, left)!

As a result we had quite a few time-penalties and so ended up 37th out of a 116 starters, so not too bad. However, Coral Keen, in whose yard I keep my horses, had a fantastic weekend winning the two-star on Diesel (Chain Reaction III) her lovely chestnut warmblood so congratulations to her and to Hartpury for running another well organised and efficient event (about 300 horses in three classes).


Full report of Hartpury in tomorrow’s Horse & Hound (20 August).

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