With the 2018 eventing season drawing to a close, Little Downham turned out to be the last event for me. I had two rides, an intermediate and an advanced, who both went well and gave me a great end to the year. I was especially delighted for Keith and Joan Jones, who will have a three-star horse in The Artist Almost Famous next year.
The plan to end the year had changed somewhat, as we never intended to finish the season after Downham. Prince Mayo was supposed to run at Boekelo in the second week of October, giving me another spin around a three-star before the year was out. However on the Sunday of Osberton he appeared sore in his stable like he’d pulled something. We presumed he’d been cast in the night and needed to give him a few days rest. It was great news it wasn’t anything serious, but it meant that he would have missed out on crucial fitness work. Not prepared to risk anything, we decided to withdraw and save him for next year. Needless to say he’s 100% now, galloping around the field giving me the middle finger on a daily basis while he’s on holiday.
Most of the younger horses had already had their last runs by this point too as I’d always rather leave the more inexperienced horses on a good note and try and finish them at the end of September. They’ve usually stepped up a level before the end of the season anyway, and if something goes wrong at that point you still have chance to drop them back down a level and end it on a good one. It mentally does the horse and rider no good to end after a bad run.
On reflection, although there’s plenty I would like to have changed and improved on this year, I don’t think I can be too disheartened. Going into 2019, I’ve got horses qualified for four-star, have completed four three-stars clear, celebrated another international win at Tattersalls, giving me a total of 18 to date, and I’ve also had a good few wins this year, giving me enough British Eventing points to put me back into the top rider rankings. All this has also helped me to raise near on £3,000 for the charities Orchid and Mind. Although I always think what could have been, I’m actually quite happy with how the comeback has gone.
I think I learnt the most about myself at Osberton this year. The old me wouldn’t have just walked away smiling and shrugging it off congratulating Izzy Taylor after losing what could have been a second international win of this season. I’d have spent a month getting over it before over-analysing everything I did wrong and what I could have done differently. Now after knocking jumps down and realising we weren’t winning anything, all that was going through my head was that I had two hours to spare before jumping my two-star horse to take the kids on the bouncy castle. It’s not that I’m not competitive any more, as I still want to win as much as the rest of them, but you have to be able to put things into perspective to be able to cope with the amount of pressure, that you mainly put on yourself.
In a joint-decision some of my owners and I had to move on a couple of the older horses that we purchased in 2017. Realising that all your geese aren’t swans, nor are they suitable for you, is a bitter pill to swallow. But a couple of the horses were talented as schoolmasters for people wanting to jump bigger tracks. So instead of being pushed beyond their capabilities by me, it was the right thing to do to let them go and be superstars for someone else. There is always a purpose for any kind of horse. I think when anybody is trying to build up a string of horses, not all of them will turn out to be exactly as you expected. Some will go on beyond the expectations you had for them and the mega stars you thought you had will turn out to be middling ones. You have to be able to be honest about this with their owners and in your own head so you can also give the horse the best chance in the future, even if they just turn out to be a hunter or a BE90 horse. They can still be a horse of a lifetime for somebody else.
I’m feeling very lucky going into next year. It’s nice to actually be excited with the horses I’ve got for next season. I’m looking forward to jumping some big tracks with the ones I’ve built up a relationship with this year and to see the younger horses we’ve produced move up a gear and progress on through the levels.
I don’t think you can make an exact plan when it comes to horses, as they are always so unpredictable, but I have some goals that I hope are achievable for the future. I’d like to tick the box with riding round another Badminton and Burghley, and if I could add Kentucky and Pau to the bucket list, that would be great. If I had the opportunity to ride on a team again, it would be amazing, but I know that comes with consistent results and being on top form, so I have to just hope the horses and I can step it up a gear over the next few years.
I honestly don’t think coming back to the sport this year at top level would have been possible without the support of some amazing people. Firstly my friends and family for giving me the confidence to get back up there again and keeping me grounded. My parents have always been there for me and I wouldn’t have achieved anything without the time, help and foundations that they have instilled in me. There really are too many people to thank, but a special mention must go to Charlotte Cole and Sir John Peace. They have supported me as owners for 15 years now, and have remained throughout all the ups and downs. I have some great owners who I love working with. It’s been a pleasure to ride lovely horses for some great people this year. As for sponsors, the support I’ve had has made everything possible. TRM have been with me for nearly 15 years now and have become great friends along the way. And I hope to build an equally great relationship with Baileys Horse Feeds, Bates Saddles, Shires Equestrian, Venn Healthcare and LeMieux products. Their support has been amazing and I feel very lucky to have them behind me and the horses. The products are top drawer and really help us achieve every day.
A large amount of credit must go to my team at the yard, who have worked tirelessly throughout the year. I think it is hugely important on any yard to have good people on it. Unless you have a team keeping the show on the road, it makes the job nearly impossible.
I’d also like to thank Horse & Hound for allowing me to do this blog. I hope it’s helped some people along the way and I look forward to continuing.
For now the horses will all enjoy a holiday in the field before coming back into work after Boxing Day, which takes us back to the get fit cycle from when I started my blog in January this year.
September has been a month of ‘nearly’ moments for Matt
I’m currently enjoying some family time and giving the yard its annual tidy up and paint job right now. During the winter months we also bring the youngsters in for backing and breaking ready for the following year. Hopefully we’ll have some good ones!
Thanks for all the support so far this year from the readers, it is much appreciated!
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