So my most recent outing was to Euston Park in Suffolk (I thought it was Norfolk, but was pretty close!). This was an important event for Fantom, not the event in itself but as a test to see if he had got over his propensity to tying up.
Preparation for Euston was, of necessity, pretty exact. Every possible food alternative for Fantom had to be packed, I had to have spares of everything I might use on the day, I had to check that both Robert and I had our orange underwear and socks and I recited numerous ‘magpie rhymes’ whenever I saw one (and I think they were stalking me!). This is what is known as superstition overkill. Even then, I had a little wobble at the last minute, questioning why I was doing this as it was only a one-star and wouldn’t really benefit Fantom at this point in his fitness training.
However, we duly drove eight hours across England to arrive in good time for the pre-ride vetting. Fantom seemed quite bright and alert and I thought, yes we’ve cracked it. We duly vetted, put out some of our kit into the vet hold area, checked out a new crew point and had an early night.
I usually have more than one crew but this time it was just the husband, Robert — but he is pretty super-human and can do the work of many. However, the one time when everything needs to run like clockwork, when we went to the vet hold area the following morning to put some more things in our space, we found that someone had chucked all our kit out of our chosen area in the shade and moved theirs in. OK, so we were obviously not happy about this, but it was too late to move everything again so we just made the best of it.
Warming Fantom up was rather revealing; he just didn’t feel right but nothing you could put your finger on. We started steadily just after the leading pack and cantered gently for the first few kilometres before coming to a grinding halt. This was a real blow and shades of the Europeans passed in front of my eyes. However, on spotting another horse ahead Fantom shot off before I could dismount and felt much more like his usual self. It became apparent however that this was not to be, he clearly wasn’t right so I retired him at the first crew point and our race was over.
Fantom passed the vetting on return to the venue and was fit to travel. It was a long journey home with plenty to think about and plans to be made. Do I try again with Fantom? He is such a talented horse: amazing stamina, amazing presentation times in the vet gate (20 seconds recorded!) and smooth and speedy over the ground. If it all comes together, despite his quirky character, he is a horse to be reckoned with. However, it is so demoralising to train a horse to this level, travel eight hours, spend rather a lot of money to only go a few kilometres. Is it worth it? Is it right for him or should I give him another chance? Whatever I decide he will now have a good rest. With Fantom out of action, maybe Dilmun will have his turn after all.
The upside of a coming back a day early was that it was a day’s holiday for Robert and me and we made the most of the hot weather and took to the water — there’s always a silver lining.
I have ordered an FEI passport for Chiara as it is required at three-star level but I am still slightly uncertain about doing a three-star at King’s Forest in 10 days’ time. I haven’t put as much work into training her as I would have if it had been either Dilmun or Fantom, but then she is a rather different type of horse.
Chiara’s schooling in walk and trot is going quite well and I have got a strategy which is to go straight into the school for some walking on a fairly loose rein, both on a straight line and in circles followed by half an hour hacking, the last five minutes or so working more to a contact followed by another short session in the school incorporating walk, trot, walk transitions and leg yielding on a straight line and on a circle. This is coming on well and she is beginning to listen to me more, but every endurance competition sets back the schooling as her over-wired brain readjusts to rather more sedentary work.
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Following the non-training session in the daffodil field a couple of weeks ago, I have also developed a strategy to incorporate some steady canter work without unwanted acceleration. I put this strategy into practice a few days ago with a steady 45 minute hack down to the dunes from hell for three interval training uphill sessions which I then followed up by going onto the beach for a longer canter with a much more sensible horse where I could develop a rhythm and work on striking off on different legs at changes of direction.
The heat is now a bit of a challenge, so I am planning to get up at 4am to do a similar session using either the beach or the daffodil field for the canter session. Sometimes working in the heat is a good thing to accustom horses to working throughout the day in temperatures up to 30 degrees which we sometimes see on the eastern side of the country. However, Cornwall has now got a good quota of tourists lying around on the beach or wandering through the dunes, so I have to pick my time.
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