Coral Keen’s eventing blog: a nightmare journey and an exciting call-up

  • We had a great trip out to The Netherlands for Renswoude Horse Trials recently. It was fantastic to have Wellshead Fare Opposition (Derby) on board and I then had Total Equestrian Construction’s two home-breds, Total Darkness (Ted) and Total Belief (April). Both horses were contesting their first three-day events and having their debut trip abroad in the CCI* and CCI2* respectively.

    Our journey out there was… interesting. It was an all-girls lorry with Maddie Longstaff and Izzy Kirk making up the travelling team. All went well to the port; the girls had their first trucker’s café breakfast on the ferry and everything was on target as we disembarked.

    Izzy, Ted and Maddy

    We were merrily travelling along the Antwerp ring road in Belgium before being slowed down by crawling traffic. Suddenly, there was a massive bang! Our awesome sing along at the time was abruptly stopped as we tried to figure out what was going on. At first, we thought it might be a blow out from the truck next to us but on studying the very calm expression on the driver’s face, we thought perhaps not and turned our attention to the Team Keen wagon.

    I got Maddie to have a look out of the window and it wasn’t tyre related. I then started to lose air pressure in my breaks and it was highlighted on the dash. Not ideal, we were stuck out in the middle lane in Belgium, in a huge truck, with no signs of a hard shoulder to pull safely into. What to do?!

    We managed to creep a bit further and luckily found a spot to pull safely into. On further investigation we discovered the pipe had burst. Although it would have still been safe to drive, we decided to look in to it a bit more.

    Girl power kicked in as we tried to do a fix it job ourselves, but it was like trying to put a hosepipe back on when the water is flowing, only this time with air. The blinking two pipes would just not connect (not helped by losing a part). Cue a call to Mercedes who said a mechanic would be with us in 90 minutes.

    The weather then of course turned against us and we sat in a fairly epic thunder and lightning storm while we waited for the mechanic, who then never appeared! Having endured a long journey with the horses, and with everyone agreeing that the vehicle would be safe to drive, we took the decision to carry on, albeit very steadily, and get to the event.

    Time at this point was totally against us, and when we finally got to Renswoude, the gates had been closed. Someone kindly came to our rescue, but due to the amount of rain they’d had in the storm, they didn’t want to park us in the field where all the other lorries were. My last manoeuvre of the night was doing some fairly tight shimmies in a yard to park up there for the evening.

    The next hurdle was to try and explain, with my very limited Dutch vocab, that if I turned the truck’s engine off, we were very unlikely to be able to move due to our mechanical issue. However, it was a classic foreign exchange and I am not sure I really got this situation across to them. This wasn’t helped by the fact all of us were feeling fairly frazzled by this point at 10.30pm, in the pouring rain and desperate to get the horses settled and sorted.

    Ted and I

    Sure enough, when we woke up our trusty truck was unable to move. Luckily, the organising team were super friendly, found us a mechanic and we finally made it to our correct spot later on that morning. What a trip already, and I hadn’t even sat on a horse!

    I am the type of rider that really benefits from having a good set up and nest at away events — I am quite a homey person, I like to have horses settled and everything where it should be before I can then chill and focus. So, this situation was not ideal for me at the time. We can laugh now as no-one was hurt, it was all fine, but it was definitely a character building 24hrs.

    Now onto the important stuff of the horses. It was one of those events where we had to handle lots of different situations that often come up with eventing. It further highlighted to me how awesome my team is — they kept the show so smoothly on the road, whatever the circumstance.

    Dressage for all three was fine. April was in touch in 16th place. Ted put in a grown-up performance to sit mid div (he did completely split the judges with nearly 20 marks difference between them). Derby made me work for it — at 14-years-old flower pots are still extremely scary, but he got a great score of 29.8 for fifth in the CIC3*. He followed this up on Friday with an epic clear round in the showjumping to move up to fourth.

    Onto cross-country day and again, there was no shortage of drama!

    Ted’s three-day sadly ended here. It was a tough one-star track, especially for a spooky young horse. He got a bit of a fright at the first water going underneath a bridge and so I wasn’t surprised when he jumped very greenly into the next water that came up quickly afterwards. We had no real chance at the skinny B element and he ran straight past it. I popped him over it on the second time of asking, jumped another for confidence levels, then pulled him up to be saved for another day.

    April at the prize giving

    Derby felt truly awesome around the intense, twisty CIC3* track and being in a competitive position, we really went for it and he answered every question incredibly well. Therefore, I was fairly gutted when we finished to learn we had picked up 20 penalties out on course. I found out that this had be awarded at fence 17 where he had slightly pecked on landing at the A element and I had to do an S type bend to get back to 17B. I was pretty adamant I had not crossed my tracks, but sadly the fence judges could not be persuaded otherwise, so we picked up penalties on this technicality and dropped from fourth to 14th. It was disappointing results-wise, but in reality it took nothing away from the round we had and Derby knew no different — he was just awesome.

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    Onto April, and at this point I was really longing for an incident-free round. The mare must have picked up on this as she was just insane, cruising round the two-star track to finish 11 seconds under the optimum time. The following day was the final showjumping phase and because it was her first three-day, I was unsure as to how she would perform. I need not have worried — she felt brilliant and jumped her socks off for another epic clear round and to top it off, she finished second. We all know with horses that anything, I mean anything, can happen. So it was fantastic that our home-bred mare could finish the week on a great high for all of Team Keen. It makes all the trials and tribulations for us all totally worth it.

    April in the prize giving

    Now, I must come to the end of this mammoth blog. But before I do, I just have to share one final bit of news. I’m thrilled to say that Derby and I have been selected to represent Great Britain in a Nations Cup team. This is taking place later this month at Strzegom Horse Trials in Poland. I am so excited to be back up there at top level with this awesome horse and will make sure I keep you all updated on our preparations and how we get on.


    For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.

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