Was my planned two-star competition with Chiara in The King’s Forest going to happen? That was something I worried and stressed about during the few days before the competition. I had had a minor surgical procedure on the Tuesday before and, when Chiara came in to have her racing trainers fitted the following day, it became apparent that she had been indulging in ridiculous and extravagant behaviour in the field and had a cut and swollen leg just three days before the competition.
I had been preparing for this two-star competition since November and could not believe our bad luck. Humans just grit their teeth and get on with the job but horses have to be 100% perfect. I knew her leg had become infected so my amazing vet, Hannes, so, so kindly dropped off some FEI legal antibiotics for her and this absolutely did the trick with the swelling going down almost overnight.
With the decision to go right down to the wire, packing was an interesting job and completed without too much expectation. The final check was on the morning we were due to travel at 5am in the dark. Despite Fantom being as difficult as usual doing manic gallop pasts just to upset Chiara, I managed to make a quick assessment and we decided to go for it.
After an uneventful trip across England having picked up Katherine and Graham, our crew, we duly arrived after some seven hours and met up with Kiwi, our final crew member and her partner, Marco who had a massive camera lens! We were understandably nervous for the pre-ride vetting that afternoon but needn’t have worried as Chiara was totally sound, although the direction of her trot-up left something to be desired.
An early morning start with a dozen other riders was a fairly quiet affair and I managed to find a little space near the back of the field. But it wasn’t until I found a bigger space on my own later in the loop that I could stop battling with Chiara who was absolutely determined to pass every horse in sight and make sure that even the racing deer stayed behind her. I won though and we had a well-paced loop just slightly above my planned speed, but then it was time for the vet gate.
In vet gates Chiara turns into an undisciplined maniac and the first vet gate is always the worst as she still feels totally fresh and cannot understand why she has to stop. All credit here to her crew who managed to undress her and get her pulse down within about five minutes.
Subsequent loops came and went, sometimes we had company (Chiara always tried to be ahead), but most of it was on our own which was good for focusing on the pace, the markers and things like canter leads and balanced corners. The King’s Forest is vast with many tracks and paths leading off in all directions but the marking was superb and the going, being on sandy tracks and grass, was very kind to the horses.
It was cold in the vet gate; very, very cold with a nasty little wind whipping around the trees and under the horses’ rugs. When we (Chiara and I) were in the vet gate, then the feeling of warmth pervaded with a warm horse straight off the loop, a warm course crew zooming in to help with everything and even the vet gate crew warmed up with the activity-generating heat reaching even the far extremities. However horse and rider rapidly cooled and rugs and coats had to be applied (yes, I get crewed too!).
Our presentation time at the last vet gate was our best of the day but was still very slow allowing other horses to go past. However, we overtook a couple of them and came in taking third place. Reflecting on this, our speed over the ground for the whole race was the fastest but the presentation times let us down. We know what we have to work on!
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I am very proud of little Chiara and so happy with the way the crew all worked together for the result that they deserved. The back up team at home all played a part: Nina with the new saddle, Nicky with the detailed physio sessions and Jamie the farrier with the excellent ‘racing shoes’ not to forget our sponsors Feedmark, for providing a bespoke supplement for Chiara. We were not out to win, rather to finish with an even speed and improve our presentation times if possible: we are in it for the long game.
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