Well, we have been busy since my last blog with two major three-star competitions and our attempts to qualify for the European Championships this August.
The lead up to Chiara’s (dark bay horse) first attempt at three-star had been going so well, with everything coming together nicely. The moment we left the yard, the planning and careful preparation unravelled. The journey was, as usual, slow and tedious and Chiara decided from the minute she stepped into the trailer that neither food nor water would pass her lips; even her favourite treats couldn’t tempt her. She arrived cool and calm but resolute in her decision to continue to be nil by mouth. Grazing in-hand resulted in little more than the odd snatch of cow parsley (a bit like the horse version of chocolate) and motion in all four limbs never seemed to cease.
We had a clear day before competition to in theory, unwind, eat and drink but this in fact exacerbated the problem as she was now becoming a little dehydrated and tucked up. She did manage a few mouthfuls of various random feed and a few delicate sips of water, but nothing of any significance.
We started the race and bowled merrily along with the temperature rising and the only breeze to be felt in the forest was from forward motion. The vetgate was a nightmare. Although Chiara drank well, she again refused food and wouldn’t calm down, resulting in us taking absolutely ages to get her pulse down. I decided to go out on the second loop taking it steadier, but to no avail — she still wouldn’t calm down or eat and it took us ages again to get her pulse down again, so after passing the stringent vetting, we retired. It just wasn’t worth the risk.
So the lessons we learnt here were: back to basics with vetgates, look at Regumate as she was in season and possibly even look at taking a friend with her. Lots to work on and, although a big disappointment, no harm done.
The plus side was that I felt no adverse effects of the heat as this has always been one of my weak points — indeed I felt as though I had barely done anything. It was good to see an Irishman win. As one of the ‘older’ endurance riders competing internationally, Tom McGuiness has given me hope: he was fit, determined and successful as he scooped the three-star at King’s.
Next was the Euston Park CEI3* with Fantom, which was one of those ‘almost’ occasions. Out of necessity, Fantom had to have a few days off while I was away at King’s Forest so on my return (luckily I wasn’t feeling stiff) he had a week of pretty intensive training followed by tapering before his competition and he really felt bang on.
My major concern was that, on looking at the start list, I was to be the only Brit in the three-star with only a couple of Europeans in it, the rest being Arab. The UAE horses tend to go far faster than I would consider at a qualifier, which meant that I would have the choice of linking up with the Europeans or riding alone all day. I think any horse would have difficulty keeping motivated all alone for 160km and Fantom, in particular, needs company so my choices were limited.
As it turned out, we rode together with a Norwegian horse and rider, but at a much faster pace than I would have liked (the Belgian and Irish rider had gone out even faster). It was what it was and I just went with the best option. Poor Fantom tried his best, presenting to the vet quickly and cantering endlessly over the beautiful countryside, plunging through deep rivers and even crossing little bridges. By the last vetgate he had had enough, so again we retired after passing two vettings, this time with only 20km to go. Gone also was my chance of qualifying a horse for the Europeans, but I am still very proud of my little horse who tried his very best and is now safely home mooching about in the field.
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We were warned at the rider briefing that there would be some filming during the race, but it was a bit disconcerting having a massive lens following me along the road, poking out of the window of a four by four while I cantered steadily along the wide verge or, even worse, lenses popping up out of the long grass as I sauntered past on the wonderful grassy tracks of the Shadwell Estate; it was amusing to give a brief interview while in one of the vet holds though! I have to say, however, that the event was beautifully organised by HPower as usual, and the new parts of the route rode superbly; the European Championships in August should be awesome.
The only thing I hadn’t factored in was luck. Could it be something to do with the solitary magpie that haunts me; walks steadily across the lawn towards my office window, maintaining eye contact and appears to roost above my dining room window? There will always be another time.
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