It’s Tuesday morning after the Easter weekend, not that makes any difference for us equestrians. It’s business as usual with the eventing season in full swing and there is no such thing as a weekend off — unless I plan it months/years in advance or a meteorite comes crashing down to earth which causes a huge dust cloud that prohibits riding. Then and only then would I maybe have the weekend off.
I’m sat on my sofa with my second cup of tea watching Good Morning Britain; the time says 7.37am.
“I’ll just wait until the the advert break comes on then we will go down to the yard,” I tell my two dogs, Raspberry a little seven-month-old Labrador bitch and Cosmic a nine-week-old Doberman puppy.
For those of you that followed my Adelaide blogs you will have read I lost my beloved dog Bertie through surgery complications while I was in Australia. This absolutely broke my heart as I see all my animals as family. There is not a day that goes past that I do not think of him. When Dave (my boyfriend) and I arrived home we decided to buy Bertie’s full brother to keep the family line and to keep a connection with him.
The two dogs looked at me with excitement in their eyes. I on the other hand am trying to muster up enthusiasm to put my boots and spurs on and leave the house. I won’t lie to you, finding out I was 22nd on the Badminton wait list really has taken the wind out of my sails. All the energy and excitement I had has seemed to disappear and there are moments when I struggle to stay positive.
“And coming up on Good Morning Britain we have Audley Harrison speaking about his thoughts on Nick Blackwell as he remains in an induced coma after a fight against Chris Eubank Jr. The sport has come under some scrutiny, with some even saying it should be banned.”
Susanna Reed’s voice suddenly comes out of the TV. “I wonder when the presenters wash their hair? The night before or do they shower in the morning? If they showered in the morning they would have to get up really, really early,” I thought and I was beginning to feel that now 7.41am was very late for me and though my girl grooms would have already fed and now be mucking out, I like to be on the yard to check all the horses over before we start exercise.
I take another sip of tea and watch the weather forecast come on with Laura Tobin. “How many coats can one woman own?” I ask myself, as she always has a different one on. Today weather girl Laura is wearing a bright orange number with big black buttons down the front. Maybe the producers are trying to brighten up our day after all the rain we have had.
Storm Katie battered the south over the weekend and Surrey was no exception. Our fields on the farm are sodden and at this time of year I would normally be cantering around the headlands but they are just too wet. Even our lane was like a mini river with water running off the hills and debris from the trees being washed away with it.
Yep, more rain forecasted, things aren’t looking up and Ms Tobin, you need a brighter jacket if you plan on brightening up my day. Maybe I should write in?
Dear Ms Tobin,
I am writing to in to express my gratitude of the choice of jackets you wear while presenting the weather each morning. Have you ever thought about a blue number? Especially turquoise which is my favourite colour. I would love to see you in a vibrant turquoise jacket especially if we are forecasted a lot of rain as I feel this would brighten up the day of Good Morning’s viewers.
Alice Dunsdon (a devoted, loyal Good Morning Britain viewer)
As my mind starts to wonder Audley Harrsion appears on the screen.
I’m watching the interview while playing tug of war with an old sock with two puppies attached to it when at the end I the interview my ears prick up.
“Live your dreams today as no one is promised tomorrow,” Audley Harrison says. I let go of the sock and Raspberry and Cosmic continue to play with it and I take another sip of my now luke warm tea with his words ringing in my ears. “Live your dreams today as no one is promised tomorrow”.
I put my tea down and started putting on my riding boots. No one is promised tomorrow, no one is promised anything, not even Badminton, not even those who are off the wait list. Anything can happen. Even if Hilly (Fernhill Present) was magically accepted or they invited me, I still have to keep him and myself fit and healthy to compete.
I opened the front door with the dogs at my heels and a spring in my step. I look up at the sky and the clouds are beginning to part. As I strolled down the path a part of me wants to sing:
“Hi ho, hi ho it’s off to, work we go,” but instead I just hum the tune as I turn to admire the daffodils in all their glory in the garden. Take each day as it comes and be happy and grateful we are here today.
I walk round the corner to see Hilly content in his stable munching away on his hay.
“Hello Hilly Billy, let’s go for an adventure hack today,” I say to him. An adventure hack (pictured top) is when I wander around the Surrey Hills exploring hidden tracks and trying not to get lost. This is what I love doing when I have the time; it helps me relax and unwind. Call me a happy hacker but the horses love it too.
Going through social media I am overwhelmed by the support of people wanting me to get into Badminton. Some people have commented saying that perhaps a wild card should be introduced into the sport. Being the geek I am I Googled the meaning of the term wild card. The Oxford English states:
An opportunity to enter a sports competition without having to take part in qualifying matches or be ranked at a particular level.
A lot of people have asked me why we are on waitlist for Badminton. The simple answer is I do not have a lot of FEI points.
Badminton accepts first the horses with the most FEI points which you can only accumulate at international events at three- and four-star level over the two years previous. The number of starters affects how many points you receive for your final placing. For example if only 10 competitors started in a four-star competition you would not receive many points for being placed fourth, but if there were 100 competitors started and you were placed fourth you would receive, well, loads of FEI points! I personally find trying to work out the FEI point system fairly challenging but they have their system and that is that.
I have been very careful with Hilly’s competition programme and I have purposefully only competed in one four-star event each year. I have done this mainly to ensure I have the best possible chance to keep him fit and sound. Hilly did Pau four-star as a nine-year-old. When he was 10-years-old he completed Burghley. He did Luhmuhlen as an 11-year-old, Kentucky as a 12-year-old and Adelaide as a 13-year-old. He is now 14 and obviously our dream is to complete Badminton.
He is a horse that doesn’t need many runs and in preparation for a four-star event; I would be happy only run him a couple of national runs before the four-star competition as he is now so experienced.
After the international competition I always give him a holiday break. Last year the aim was Adelaide and with such a marathon trip ahead of him I didn’t compete him very much. The year before that when he did Kentucky he had a lot of the season off afterwards so he didn’t compete much to accumulate more FEI points. As they only take your FEI points for the past two years, all of our other runs do not count. I understand that Badminton has this ruling and I understand they want the best horses in the world to be competing there, but a part of me feels slightly hard done by. A horse can be accepted into Badminton that has not completed a four-star but has been well placed in a three-star. The fact that Hilly has completed five out of the six possible four-stars around the world has absolutely no influence whatsoever.
Yes you could argue that if I had been better placed in Kentucky or Adelaide that I would have picked up more points and I did try and do my very best at these competitions, but my main aim was to complete. Our dressage will unfortunately never be a winning mark no matter how many sports psychologists tell me to think positively about “stressage”. And with regards to cross-country if I rode to make the time I think would break him. Hilly has never been a Ferrari and I describe him as more of a trusty old Land Rover. I have never taken him out of his comfort zone cross-country to get within the time and I truly believe this is one of the main reasons I have kept him sound (I’m touching wood as I write this!).
“So do you think you will get into Badminton?” a lady asks me out hunting. It’s the Surrey Union’s last day of the season and I have already been asked this question six times since we left the meet. I take a breath and turn and smile at her. “I don’t know, I hope so.”
“It’s such a shame,” she continues “Why are you so far down? Don’t they realise you’re trying to break a record? Why couldn’t they have invited you? Is there anything we can do? Have you rung Badminton? There must be something you can do?” As she takes a breath I hear hounds beginning to speak ahead. “It’s all to do with the point system,” I calmly say to her as I turn looking for my 11-year-old cousin Isabelle on her little bay pony Parsley. Isabelle is my cousin’s Tina Cook’s daughter so to be correct Isabelle is really my first cousin once removed. I can see Isabelle and she has clearly heard hounds too and is looking at me eagerly. I give her the nod and she begins to push her way through making her way to the front.
“Come on, come up front with me,” I say seeing Parsley’s face looking straight in the direction of hounds.
“But do you think you will get in?” The lady carries on. “I would like to book tickets but I will not be going if you’re not competing and I will need to know soon as all the hotels will be booked up and the caravan park will be fully booked and…”
I interrupt her mid-sentence. “I’m really sorry but I don’t know, when I do I will let you know”.
“Master please!” Isabelle shouts from behind me as we make pur way through the field and out into the open. I can see hounds just ahead and we make our own path to catch up with them jumping fallen down trees left behind by Storm Katie.
As we pull up Isabelle produces her little pink hip flask.
“Drink?” she asks.
I look at her amused as she hands me the flask.
“Mummy made it quite strong; she put too much Ribena in it and not enough water.”
I smile. “Makes it taste poor then!” I say taking a swig and beginning to relax. For the rest of the day’s hunting Isabelle and I stay up front with hounds and I forget about the worry of Badminton.
Alice and Hilly xx