Burghley debutante Coral Keen will be blogging for H&H in the run up to and during this year's Burghley Horse Trials (4-7 September). Follow her journey with Wellshead Fare Opposition aka Derby here.
As I write this I am at Blair Castle Horse Trials in Perthshire, a 10-hour journey door-to-door from my Wiltshire base, where I am riding Zoe and Wiverna (Whisper) in the CIC3*.
It’s a beautiful event set against the backdrop of the castle. It’s been raining since I arrived, but the ground here can take quite a lot. I haven’t walked the course yet — that’s this afternoon’s job.
Last night’s drinks reception was such a treat and although I’ve been several times before, I always love it. This time I was able to take Charly Hudson, who is grooming for me, and Australian rider Ben Leahy, who has hitched a lift with us. Ben couldn’t quite believe the kilts, portraits and coats of armour.
Tuesday’s dressage lessons with Matt Hicks have paid off as Wiverna scored a personal best of 51.8, which I am delighted with. She’s quite a hot horse, and over tries, but I worked her in differently, which really seemed to help.
I also think my sessions with Charlie Unwin, an Olympic psychology coach, are really helping. I’ve been twice now as I want to ensure my head is in the right place to cope with the pressure of riding at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.
The first time we worked on visualisation techniques like riding a dressage test and feeling every movement. You almost have to imagine you are riding a horse like Totilas so that you have this amazing feeling as you ride the movements of the test, visualising it in real time.
He’s also taught me how to put things into a box. For example when I am riding, different thoughts tend to pop into my head, which can lead to stress. By putting aside 20min or so everyday, writing the thoughts down, and dealing with them methodically, you help reduce this.
I’ve been taught how to switch on and off, learning how long it takes me to switch back on again. Being confident that I can switch on if, say, I take some time out to wonder around the shopping village, is important, otherwise the pressure can mount.
We again worked on visualisation, getting to Burghley and walking the course for the first time, embedding more of a plan the second time, and the third time using breathing techniques and visualisation to train the brain to cement it in.
We worked on being mentally prepared to deliver the best performance while still being able to deal with interferences like social media, other riders, a fall, etc. Once again it’s about compartmentalising those things and dealing with them later.
As an athlete, the best thing is to focus on the here and now, rather than let the emotional side kick in. Riders are typically guilty of focusing on the negative, for example, a half pass being the horse’s weakest movement. Instead he said that if you believe that the half pass will be perfect, it would bring improve your performance.
Meanwhile Derby is as home in the capable hands of Emily Kelly who is lunging him and hacking him up the hills.
Emily is looking after the yard with Megan Lockyer, a working pupil who has had a terrific season on her own horse this year.
I can’t wait to sit on Derby on Sunday when we get back. Then on Monday we go to Wellington where he’ll do the dressage and showjumping, and perhaps five cross-country fences before I pull him up.