Badminton Horse Trials diary: Gaby Cooke survives Tweseldown

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Wow…. what a week it has been. Before I get started I have to thank Mum, my head girl Sara and part-time girl Steph for putting up with how manic it has been and with me dashing around, back and forth to London for a reason I’m about to explain. Even Daddy Cooke was spotted with a shavings fork on the odd morning in the attempt to get the work done quicker.

Not only have I been busy getting the ponies prepped for their first event of the season but also saying goodbye to the boyfriend, Jeremy, as he’s off to Afghanistan for six months. We’ve both been travelling the country trying to catch every possible hour together we could, all while I had 10 horses in full work.

I kept saying to myself “nothing is impossible” and somehow I got through the work and just about managed to stay awake past 10pm in order to go out with him in the evenings to say goodbye to all his friends.

As hard as it was and will be, it couldn’t be better timing in the scale of things. I’ve got a big season ahead of me in which I need to get some good results for myself and to try and attract owners and more sponsors, so this is a good chance to get my head down. So by the time Jeremy is back in October I’ll be pretty much finished with the horses. Lucky him missing the whole season being dragged around events!

I finally heard from him a couple of days ago with an email (yes he forgot to take my phone numbers out with him!) starting: “Well I must say I think you would love it out here…” Hmmmmmmm… I have to say Camp Bastion is not my ideal holiday destination, no matter how hot it is! Bless him, such a boy! So far it’s all good news and he seems very happy…

Off to Tweseldown

Anyway, back to my four-legged friends. First stop was Tweseldown with the one and only Sir Roscoe, my Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials ride, and Broadway Star. Roscoe was first up and as always out to show off… in all the wrong ways!

He squealed and bucked the whole way to his dressage arena, where he tried to perform his whole test in his two favourite paces – extended trot and gallop – with plenty of his favorite movement, flying changes, thrown in there for good measure.

However, there were flashes of brilliance and I could see his toes popping up in front of me when I finally let him do his medium trot. Everything was working well underneath me despite the slight brain default! And there was no show of Roscoe’s signature move of walking on his back legs, thank goodness.

On to the dreaded showjumping. As always, I feel rather a fool and highly embarrassed when it comes to jumping him in public – he’s near impossible to ride to a jump in the warm-up and I dread to think what other riders and onlookers must think of both of us. However, there’s only one thing to do and that’s to try and get the best out of him and pretend no-one is there.

Although he had four down, I was surprisingly pleased with him. He was much more fluent and manageable when he was in the ring and allowed me to ride the correct distances between the fences, as opposed to constantly adding strides. I’m hoping if I can keep this up he’ll learn to become a little more relaxed and careful on a more open stride.

Cross-country (picture above right) – thankfully I don’t have anything bad to say about this phase. Yes, he was strong as always but he was so focused and really concentrating. He was textbook through all the combinations and for once came home with the round I had hoped for and imagined.

Broadway Star (left and below right) also gave me a nice ride all day, despite wanting to join the fence judges at every obstacle – he thought they had all put on rather splendid picnics and would have preferred to join them. It was a little tricky to get him to concentrate.

So all in all a productive day that wasn’t a disaster, I just wish Roscoe would understand that 100% is plenty, I don’t need any more energy!

And on to Oasby

Oasby was next on Saturday with my two six-year-olds, who were doing their first ever novice. They both exceeded all expectations and gave me super rides, proving that they were ready for the step up. I’m very excited about the future with these two.

It was back to Oasby on Monday to cross-country school the babies; I had two five-year-olds who were having their first cross-country outing and a six-year-old who’s getting prepped for his first event. I have to say I think I was the one squealing with excitement… I absolutely adore starting the babies off. It really is one of the greatest pleasures getting to know a young horse and understanding it as you introduce it to new things.

The only concern was it was EXTREMELY foggy, so much so that Mum and I seriously considered putting labels on the horses with a number and an address in case I got bucked off, and we couldn’t see them grazing all of 10m away from the lorry! They were all stars and surprisingly there were no bucks.

The Badminton entry is in

With the Badminton ballot date looming, I popped my entry in after Tweseldown. It’s so terribly hard not to get excited about it, but at the same time you have to be realistic. There’s a hell of a lot of water under the bridge until now and then, not only with getting in, but also keeping Roscoe and myself on the road. We all know this sport is highly unpredictable.

Despite trying to keep focused and realistic I can’t help but get carried away with the thought of what it would/will be like. I have never ever been to Badminton as a spectator, let alone to ride. We thought about going last year, but decided to put our feet up and watch every horse through on the red button instead.

This is completely unlike Burghley, which is the most local horse trials to home and an event I’ve been to every year of my life. My father has fenced judged there on cross-country day for the past 38 years or so. So I know my way round pretty well, having been there for four days in a row for 21 years.

Badminton is going to be a huge adventure, Roscoe and I are certainly going to feel rather like explorers!

No time to rest as the horses are all out doing exactly the same at Lincoln this weekend, two novices and two intermediates, and of course the babies are out to play again on Monday. Keep your fingers and toes crossed I manage to keep Roscoe in the dressage arena and that the brakes don’t fail!

Gaby

Full report from Tweseldown in H&H out tomorrow, 15 March

Read Gaby’s first diary for H&H

Visit Gaby’s website