Great Witchingham was the first event of the season for us, and what a start it was. It’s always nice to have a winner in the open intermediate first time back out, but I think what I was most happy about with this one, is the fact that seven weeks prior I actually broke two metatarsal bones in my foot. And the worst part about the whole foot saga was that it happened in a completely non-horse-related incident. It involved a John Deere gator that wouldn’t start, a man with an idea that wouldn’t work and a man that thought it would be a good idea to try it out regardless of the fact it wouldn’t work. A man’s recipe for disaster!
It didn’t completely stop me in my tracks, but it restricted the amount of horses I could ride each day, leaving me relying massively on the team on the yard. I couldn’t have done it without them, and to run at the first event of the season with the horses looking great, feeling great and exactly where they should be fitness-wise is great testament to them. They have all done an amazing job and I’m very lucky.
We had two trips to not-so-sunny Norfolk back-to-back to get all the horses out for the first time. Day one consisted of three open intermediate horses; Prince Mayo (Mayo), Rapide GII (Pele) and DHI Paparazzi (Pom).
Pele excelled himself and took the win, which was nice for his owners who have recently joined the yard and are extremely fond of their horses. I think this was also special for the team, as Pele has certainly become one of the firm favourites on the yard. Mayo was in as equally good form finishing sixth in a competitive section with a steady clear, followed not too far behind by Pom, who took 10th.
Day two was chance for The Corn Crake (Herbie) and OBOS Colombus (Obie) to have an easy run around an open novice to hopefully give them confidence for the rest of the season. I’m hoping I’ve had a bit of a ‘eureka’ moment with Obie, who I think last year I rode completely wrong for his way of going and was interfering way too much. I’m trying now to just leave him alone and let him get on with it in his own way, however unique his style may be. The problem I’ve always found is that when you’ve ridden a bad or un-genuine horse, you try and ride other horses in the same way that aren’t bad but more tricky than others. But by riding on survival the whole time, you interfere and hook way more than you should, rather than letting things happen naturally. I’m very lucky to have some lovely horses to ride now and I think when you’re in that position, you can’t afford to ride the ones that give you a mental block. My advice to anybody with a horse that makes you doubt yourself, lose confidence and ride for survival, is that it isn’t a healthy relationship to keep. It will only penalise your riding and mental frame of mind in the long run.
It was then onto Belton (pictured top on Prince Mayo) for another fact-finding mission and some steady clears for the horses’ fitness and mine. Burnham Market will be the next outing for all our campaigners and the first serious question before a short break and then heading off to some three days — Houghton, Bramham and Tattersalls are all on the agenda.
I can’t thank my sponsors enough these past few weeks building up to the season. They have all been on hand to make sure we have everything we need. It was great to have a visit from Down Under from all the team at Bates Saddles — they did an amazing job taking the time to make sure all the horses have a custom fitted saddle. This helps to ensure the best possible performance from the horses and that they are totally comfortable to carry out the job. They have even taken the time to make sure the kids’ ponies have the best saddles, considering the kids all managed to wangle their own personal pony saddle. I definitely draw the line at my daughter’s blingy brow bands though. Myself and Victoria went to visit the Shires Equestrian team in Herefordshire, who have some exciting plans for 2019. It was great to be able to visit their HQ and see what products and ideas they have moving forward — the rugs have certainly majorly advanced in the past few years and fit our horses brilliantly. Our last sponsors visit came from Lorna and Sarah at Baileys, who checked all the horses over and made sure that each of their individual diets were nutritionally balanced. I still don’t know why some people think that they need to have their event horse thin and streamline, or in other terms like a hat rack. They can still look great with good condition on them and to have something that can be turned into muscle. I’m not saying they need to look like nearly laminitic show ponies, but you certainly don’t want them looking like a run up greyhound.
We were supposed to be visiting TRM, who have already geared up our supplement collection ready for the season ahead. But this plan was scuppered after the chicken pox epidemic hit our house with mighty force. Not only just the children, but Victoria too, who never had chicken pox as a child. She looked like she’d contracted some kind of weird plague, so we couldn’t let her out in public for a while. We tried to brave the outdoors the week after she wasn’t contagious any more, but following dodgy looks at the petrol station, it was apparent the spots could still be mistaken for a dot to dot, so we felt that she still wasn’t quite ready for the world yet.
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The next plan for us is to prepare everything for Burnham Market this week, which will involve some canter work and schooling in preparation for the horses’ dressage tests. They will also have plenty of hacking with a jump around a course of showjumps a couple of days beforehand. I try not to jump my horses too much at home when they are eventing. Once in the swing of things, I think the horses only need to leave the floor once a week or with the older ones once every couple of weeks. I’ve always found you can maintain them for longer this way.
It’s nice to have fellow eventer Matt Heath stabled with us at present with his string of horses, while awaiting the development of his new yard that is under construction. Matt’s hoping to be Badminton-bound for the first time in a few weeks with his old five-star campaigner, The Lion. The kids have currently been helping desensitise Lion in preparation for the big Badminton crowds by riding ponies and their remote control tractors in the arena at the same time. It’s a theory I truly believe works, considering most of our horses are now well and truly child-proof.
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