Now the final prep week has (rather quickly) ticked by, the second ‘Big B’ in the calendar year is imminent. As I spoke about last week, Malin Head Clover is fully prepared for the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, and I have done my best to match myself up to him.
I have been training in the gym with a personal trainer twice a week and she is progressively transforming me — a tough job! I feel a lot stronger than I was, although I still think I have a great deal of room to improve, specifically my core strength. Rider fitness and resilience is essential when competing at this level. I have naively dismissed this in the past and struggled on regardless with Ali the galloping storm trooper! While he’s still not easy, following a fitness programme has proved kinder to my back and arm muscles.
I have been doing plenty of exercises; from planking on wobbly surfaces, boxing, dead lifting, through to standing on a ball balance trainer (a platform with a blow-up ball underneath) while holding a 10kg weight at arm’s length and doing squats — it’s been tough, but so worth it.
I have only just upgraded to squats on the balance trainer, so I will most likely get the benefit of that gruelling exercise at the next CCI4* in Pau, France at the end of October where I plan to compete another of my horses, Hollyfield. However, if I was told I would be able to do that exercise two months ago I would’ve laughed, so thank you Libby for persevering!
Ali has also been at the ‘gym’ doing his ‘core training’ with Major Richard Waygood. We do a lot of pole work even if we aren’t jumping — this helps keep his hind end active and his stride even. In our last dressage lesson we were thrilled with Ali, both agreeing it was one of his best sessions. In reality, it is Ali’s decision as to how well we perform on Thursday. I could do no training or train every day — it all comes down to whether Ali is thinking about the cross-country or not…! Let’s hope we can bribe him with enough apples to keep his gorgeous but childlike exuberance under control for just a little while.
I was very ill at Badminton so I have also pulled out all the stops and I too had a blood test. It seems a little extreme but I really don’t want to tackle another four-star feeling like that again. My bloods were pretty good, although my iron level is low so a prescription supplement will hopefully bring it back up in to normal range.
For the last week I have been documenting Ali’s temperature every morning and afternoon. I do this with all the horses before a three-day and continue to do so throughout the competition. This way I have a good idea of his average temperature before the competition so I can keep a really close eye out for any abnormalities. I am strict about this because our horses all live out 24/7, so being stabled when away from home could create a stressful environment.
To minimise the risks as much as possible I double his dose of Succeed Equine (a digestive conditioning programme) to a tube morning and evening. Kirsty Eames, Ali’s very own four-star groom and his eight wonderful owners also have the job of hand grazing him almost all day. He carts everyone all over the place, head down and determined, a little like how he is on the cross-country!
He also isn’t shy about dragging us back to his stable when he wants a snooze… it must be wonderful being in his world — we are literally pawns in his game and with every move he wins. Let’s hope Ali has a good strategy for Burghley — but as long as he thinks he’s won in ‘Ali-land’, then that is all that I would ever wish for.