Annie Joppe’s endurance blog: triumph and disaster

  • Euston Park — well, wow what can I say? It was amazing. This must have been the biggest and best-organised endurance competition I have ever seen. The facilities were extensive and the course almost perfect and, after some rain, the going was good.

    We arrived at a transformed Euston Park a couple of days before to allow Chiara to gradually absorb the atmosphere, rather than being plunged in at the deep end. I am glad to say that our new vent in the trailer roof made a huge difference and Chiara arrived cool and calm.

    Leaving the stables

    Before I left, 26 degrees and sun was forecast which is not great for a little dark brown horse and a ‘delicate’ rider. However we had 22 degrees and cloud with a nice little breeze; how lucky were we?

    The start at 7.15am with 130 horses all raring to go was potentially hair-raising, but in actual fact it turned out to be rather a doddle for us. As the mass start crossed the line behind a pace car, we left the hold area and trotted the 150m to the start line, neatly finding a space.

    Walking in the vetgate

    The first loop was quite stressful for me as I had decided to ride at around 14kph so that the first vetgate wouldn’t be so busy when we arrived. However, although I went a little faster than this, I generally kept to the speed but at a cost to my back with Chiara pulling all the way. It was another adrenaline-fuelled vetting, but the only casualty this time was one of our beautiful new orange bins which did not fare too well. Excitement was oozing from every pore of Chiara and one of the bins disintegrated into a multitude of pieces beneath her ever-moving feet.

    Trotting back

    I found that I had a couple of ‘temporary’ crew out on course (actually crewing for my friend riding the first loop with me), who were obviously used to crewing a right-handed person. But I am a member of the magical 10% of the population who are lefties and had to adjust quickly to taking running sloshes with my right hand. Luckily, while training for the last WEG (World Equestrian Games), David Marlin our performance manager, made us practice taking sloshes from either hand while in canter.

    For the second loop, I made the decision to let Chiara find her own natural pace which, although a bit faster, was far easier on us both and again we vetted through in about eight minutes which is terribly slow, but for now the best we can manage.

    The third loop, which was much shorter, passed uneventfully with Chi again taking quite a hold and again going a little quicker overtaking some horses and gliding back to the vetgate.

    Chi and I at Euston

    Then disaster struck — Chiara failed the trot-up. We couldn’t see anything irregular in her gait and I certainly had no indication something was wrong, but that was the end of the race for us with just 20km to go. The vets, however, are usually right and there was some tenderness felt by the team vet the following morning so a scan is required.

    There were positives to be taken from this. I was really pleased to find that I was riding straighter from side to side since my operation, but it was apparent that I need to work on my core to be able to hold myself slightly out of the saddle in canter for long periods of time. Trotting was the best pace although changing diagonals was still quite challenging, but again this will improve with the return of my muscle strength. Also, I am pleased to say that my revised numnah and girth combinations worked on Chiara’s delicate skin and there were no scuff marks there whatsoever. However, with the change of girth to a straight one with a wool girth sleeve, the breastplate had to sit slightly higher and we managed to get a rub there. Vaseline was the key, enabling free movement over the skin without any abrasions — I just love the stuff!

    Continues below…

    Our British team did well in the nations cup at Euston, finishing fourth out of 12. There were up to five in a team, with the best three times to count, and I have the consolation of knowing that even if I had got round it would have made no difference to the team placing. Carri-Ann, Nicki and Bella had great results and Annette, like me, went out at the last vegate.

    The following day was, among other things, the Pony Club endurance championships and it was so nice to hear from some of the mums how the children loved the experience and how friendly we endurance people are. I must say, I never saw one of the stereotypical ‘pony club mums’! Who knows, we may have endurance champions of the future here!

    The day after returning the planning starts again. Initially I thought I would start on Dilmun’s preparation for his 32km ride in a few week’s time, but the thought of what riding a horse who spooks if every blade of grass isn’t neatly lined up in an orderly fashion or if a leaf is upside down, would do to my still-sore back muscles persuaded me to start the day after.

    We might now be on plan D, but that’s endurance, in fact horses; you have to take the rough with the smooth and anyway there’s always next year or even the possibility of a revised plan D. Scan day tomorrow for Chi so nervous times…


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