“Alice, the question I want to ask you is, why? “
I have been asked this question a lot over these past two months by family, friends, media and I even ask myself.
Why do I want to attempt to be the first person to complete all six four-star events around the world?
I’m one of these people that if I have a dream I will do everything in my power to try and make my dream achievable. In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take.
Is my dream possible? It’s getting closer and closer each day. In five days it’s Adelaide’s cross-country day. If all keeps going to plan I will be feeling a little bit like I want to be sick and lock myself away to the excitement of just wanting to leave the start box and giving the world famous Adelaide cross-country a seriously good craic.
My nerves seem to go once I’m sat on Hilly, but I’m not going to lie, it is not the nicest feeling in the world you have in the morning before going cross-country.
Can I eat? No. Do I like to be around people? Only certain people. My cousin Hattie Roger-Smith is the best. We have often competed abroad together and to forget our pre-competition nerves we just make fun out of each other while sat in the lorry. Normally we do this by making ourselves look fairly unattractive by doing silly hair dos then proceeding to take even more unattractive photos of ourselves.
Do I have a pre-prep routine? Yes. This normally means being by myself for the last half an hour. I get changed and run through the cross-country in my head step by step, fence by fence.
What’s the last thing I say to myself? Breathe. I am vocal towards Hilly on the cross-country, especially praising him and his efforts. He does not have to do this job for me and I try and reward him as much as I can while we’re going round. I’m not afraid to shout the odd “up” especially at skinny fences. I do this with horses as babies so they learn the command. I don’t have the longest legs in the world to wrap around my horses and I would rather the odd “up” than to have to use my whip. As long as we get to the other side in one piece that’s all I care about. Trust me I even use the word “up” out hunting!
Last season I was out with the Surrey Union and I was hunting my young rider team gold medallist horse Masti Taldi. That winter we had a lot of flash floods and there was still lots of water laying about on top of the ground. We hunted through one particular wood where there was so much water it was covering up the ditches. The five horses in front of me fell into the ditch as they couldn’t see where the edge of the ditch started and finished. Others attempted to jump the ditch but again not successfully. All horses and riders were unharmed it just wasn’t a pretty sight. My mother and I waited but hounds were in full cry and we weren’t going to miss out. My mother was hunting the famous hunter Rooey owned by best friend Nici Wilson and I knew Nici is also a fan of saying “up”.
With confidence in both horses that they would listen and trust us, I stepped as close as I dared to the edge of the water and said: “Up, up, up”.
Master Taldi sprung up in the air and leapt fowards clearing the water over the big ditch that lay beneath us. My mother and Rooey followed and away we went in pursuit of hounds with big grins on our faces.
Hilly and I have been practicing jumping skinnies this week at the Magic Millions complex in Adelaide. We’ve also jumped small, wide oxers (pictured top) to get him to open and stretch out before next week. He has not put a foot wrong and I am still very happy with him.
We have got to know the racecourse like the back of our hand. John Tonani the manger of Morphettville Racecourse has been so supportive of my training with Hilly allowing me to use the track at certain times of the day so as not to interfere with the other trainers using the track. There are around 200 racehorses in training around Morphettville and they use parts of the racecourse each day to exercise. A few of the trainers have seen Hilly and they look at him as though he’s part rhinoceros compared to their little deer-like Flat-bred horses. We are trying not to get a complex!
I have been over to see Victoria Park where the four-star competition will take place. It is truly in the heart of the city. Event organiser Gill Rolton showed me around. Marquees, stables and jumps were all being put up. The sprinklers were on around the park. As I stood by the grandstand my heart rate started to increase. I mustn’t let myself get too wound up now. I must stay relaxed. We still have two days until the competition starts on Wednesday 18 November.
My mother arrives today and I can’t wait to see her. I have felt a bit lost at times without her. She is a true horsewoman and I have so much respect for her knowledge and wisdom. I hope she’s proud of how Hilly looks.
Hilly has been away from our home in Surrey for the past eight weeks. It has been tough preparation to get him four-star fit. When you’re at home you very much get into a routine with getting your horses fit. You have gallop days, schooling days, hacking days. I have not had this routine. I have had to think very much outside the box with regards to getting him fit and keeping him fit.
Hilly is not full thoroughbred and it takes more work to get him fit than a full thoroughbred. Why? Imagine a thoroughbred as Paula Radcliffe and imagine Hilly as Ruby Wax. I think you get the picture! No offence Ms Wax if you ever find yourself reading Horse & Hound (you never know, Hugh Grant appears to be a fan!); I think you’re beautiful inside and out just like my horse! Wait… I mean, not like you look like a horse just my horse is also beautiful. I think I will just stop now…!
Every Saturday at Morphettville Racecourse where we are based there is a race meeting. Hilly can just about see the racehorses gallop by and I wonder if he misses seeing other horses. It’s been two weeks in isolation for Hilly due to quarantine restrictions. Hilly must not come within 10 meters of another horse or else this will require a further two week quarantine in Melbourne before we would be able to travel home. By keeping him isolated we won’t need to quarantine this side of our flight home.
The Melbourne Cup horses have arrived back in the UK safely and in a funny way I feel quite close to them. They flew out a week before me and they arrived home a week before. I can understand some of the ordeal they have been through and it gives me great confidence knowing they have all coped.
I need to go off and buy bags shavings for the stable at the competition, as over here they commonly use sawdust for their beds. I like shavings as they are a natural disinfectant and easy to muck out. I also like straw providing the horses don’t eat too much of it. However here in Australia we were advised not to use it as snakes like to hide in the straw beds. The look on Jenny’s face was priceless. Shavings it is then!
Until next time when we will be starting to pack up to and head the 10 minute trip down the road to Victoria Park where the competition shall commence!
Alice and Hilly xx