Last weekend I completed my 10th CCI-S4* (was CIC3*) at a beautiful, sunny Belton International. On reflection, I see the event rather as a road tune on a sports car as opposed to tuning the car on a dyno in a controlled environment. In other words, the improved way of going I have recently come to expect of Continuity (partly as a result of lessons with Richard Waygood) could only really be tested in the heat of competition. My horse may be 15, but we are still finding ways to gain more sit and expression from his long hind-legs. The trick, of course, is to peak in the arena, and not in the warm-up…
Unfortunately our dressage test on Saturday lacked our usual flow and relaxation. This is understandable as I was asking for more engagement which created a shorter and tighter frame in places (I must remember Carl Hester’s micro-gives), which resulted a bucked flying-change and a huge loss of balance in the medium trot. After that, I was then so concerned that ‘Brad’ might have hurt himself that I forgot to halt at A — the two resulting penalty mark deductions from both judges for an error of course were expensive!
Usually I feel like I have time during the test so I can really plan the next movement and enjoy it. However, this time I felt flustered and therefore not in the zone. I very rarely feel like this and since I know the cause, I can get back in our own bubble of concentration next time.
Our mark of 37.5 left us in 53th place out of 99 starters after the second day.
After debriefing with mum and Kylie Roddy (my mentor since Pony Club days), I went to look at the cross-country for Sunday’s adrenaline fuelled trip. Following the same direction as 2017 when we ran in the advanced, the combinations were very different and required a lot of respect. I remembered mum’s words in 2017: “It’s a demolition derby out there!” and laughed when she said the same as we listened to the commentators the next day.
Fence 5AB was the one I walked the most until I made up my mind to jump the table on the right and put a curve in to reach the influential corner on six strides.
Our showjumping course walk at 9.30am on Sunday revealed an up-to-height but fair track with really good distances and the very best ground. With our improved canter now able to stay at 12ft the whole way round a course without becoming fragile, I no longer need to push to get to the fences as all the distances come up easily. Unfortunately my brain has not caught up with the new state of affairs yet so the five strides to the double came up too quickly. Then after the treble, instead of just taking a breath and letting my canter get me to fence 10, I pushed like I used to and jumped off six strides, not seven, so we rubbed the pole with a flat jump. Brad was great though!
Re-walking the cross-country while the advanced was running helped to show up issues and what was riding well. There was quite a crowd around fence five! Fence 5B was catching people out on five and six strides. The B element was a thin sliver of a table made into a corner with a time wasting alternative. It seemed like every other horse was glancing off on the straight five stride route so it made me very much hold to my initial plan.
With a bootlace attaching my neckstrap (I have chosen to give Brad the freedom to run without a breastplate this season, but a new FEI rule requires the neckstrap to be attached to something somehow), I went out to “ATTAAAAAACK” (mum’s start box war cry to me since I started riding!) on the course. After a great start, Brad was super responsive as usual at fence 5AB so we aced it, the only casualty was the flag (the jump judges there got quite a physical work out and two sets of 15 penalties were given for an incomplete jump to others.) Fence 6ABC, some brush skinnies, felt like we were on train tracks (pictured top), then I caught my stirrup on the edge of the tight owl hole at fence eight. Erk! Brad cautiously avoided the sheep and hurdles at nine, the angled brush, and held his line beautifully where others had spooked. The treasure chests at 12AB had a real roller coaster feeling taking me back to my mountain biking days!
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We came in ‘hot’ to the bounce into the water but as Brad is always so good to my voice, I was able to let him use his head and neck really well there. We angled the gate at 14 then rail ditch rail 15ABC felt just like canter poles at home. Fence 20 looked very much like the 90 degree corners of silver birch at Badminton with a sunken road thrown in for fun (see video). Some had tried to bounce it but Brad read it well.
We came home with just 2.8 time-faults, a massive grin on both our faces and I was very pleased with his fitness and recovery. You always want to finish with a rosette but 26th (from 116 starters) at Belton 2019 was a terrific stepping stone to Badminton!
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