Annie Joppe’s endurance blog: on the edge of a nightmare

  • Fitness preparation continues for Fantom and we were lucky enough to enjoy a ‘guided’ interval training session on Dartmoor recently. The going was just right, not too wet, and not too dry and we completed six uphill sessions each of over a mile, interspersed with walking down and steadily progressing between each climb. This succeeded in raising heart rates far more efficiently than any work on the gallops possibly could and I was so pleased with Fantom’s performance and attitude. Unfortunately after that we had four days of driving rain, which meant work on the grass cross-country course ceased.

    I am now just back from a weekend in Norfolk. How very idyllic you might say, but our weekend was focussed on Chiara’s first FEI competition; indeed her first race and the biggest occasion in her young life.

    As usual the King’s Forest competition was a superbly organised event with an excellent venue and facilities and everything was in place to make things as easy as possible for the competitors.

    We had decided in advance to leave Cornwall on a Thursday to avoid the ridiculous gridlock of holiday traffic coming into and out of Cornwall on a Friday. This had the added advantage of giving us a day’s breathing space before the competition which was on the Saturday. We had a straightforward journey with a stop at Bristol Airport (nearly on the way) to collect stalwart crew member, Kiwi, who had flown in from Holland.

    There had been a fair amount of rain just prior to the ride, just after the organisers had marked the course which had the dire effect of removing most of the markers. But they were actually superheroes and, almost single-handedly, drove 350 stakes with coloured loop markers into the side of the forest tracks (six different loops of up to 20 miles long!) in time for the competition.

    Hold area between loops

    Once more, I had a plan: to successfully complete a one-star the speed only has to be over 12kph, which is relatively slow for such a flat course with good going, so I had decided to aim for 14kph which is the speed Chiara will need to travel at in the future to earn her championship qualification (over a distance of 160km though!). I had also decided, probably for the first time in my life, to start just after everyone else to avoid the excitement and close proximity to so many horses.

    OK, the start did actually go to plan but, rather unfortunately, we caught up with the back of the field within a few minutes, so the early part of the race was rather like riding a wild tiger that could see her prey just ahead!

    The first loop just wasn’t working for us, I had a stressed and frustrated Chiara and we both worked far harder than we should have needed to. Plans are great, but flexibility is the key.

    We endeavoured to make a little space so that Chiara (pictured top coming into one of the vet gates at King’s Forest) could get her nose in front and relax a little into her rhythm but, because we needed longer crew stops along the way to teach her to drink en-route, we were overtaken and the whole procedure had to be repeated.

    The first vet gate was not quite a nightmare, but rather challenging with an excited Chiara continually in motion who refused to drink or eat more than the odd snatch of some of her wide choice of food. Obviously the presentation to the vets took rather longer than it should have (about six minutes), as excitement caused her heart rate to elevate, but this had the advantage that we would be away from most of the others on the next loop.

    Fantom in training

    The second loop passed much more easily with less fighting, and in the company of two other horses which worked quite well for her as she could lead the group most of the time.

    In the next vet gate her heart rate came down so, so quickly, but we chose to give her some extra time just in case as this is still a steep learning curve for her.

    We went out on the last loop on our own and it was truly wonderful. I had a responsive horse and I could concentrate on the going and the markers: this was our fastest loop. All fine at the final vetting and Chiara had her one-star qualification and, at least, the speed was according to the master plan.

    Continued below…

    Previously I had thought about taking her up to Euston Park to do her first two-star in three weeks’ time, but I’ve now realised she needs a bit more time to become accustomed to the atmosphere of the ‘big occasion’, so I have decided to wait until September before attempting the two-star, and in the meantime, practice all the things we need to work on together.

    Next up is Dilmun at Cirencester Park in a weeks’ time.

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