We’re home from a brilliant time at Bramham International Horse Trials and are back on the yard for a few weeks, with just a couple of one-day events in between before hitting the road for some more three-day action.

As I hadn’t competed at Bramham for quite a few years, I wanted to make sure I got there in plenty of time on the Wednesday to familiarise myself and remember where everything was.

DHI Paparazzi (Pom) settled in straight away and was well up for his pampering session to prepare him for the trot-up. I had even remembered to get my best suit dry cleaned beforehand! So off I marched — well, mountaineered (Bramham is very hilly) — down to the trot up in front of the main house, feeling rather dapper.

When we got down there I bumped into Ian Woodhead, who is not only a ‘dressage Yoda’ to many, but also one of Pom’s owners. I leant against a fence to talk to him and it wasn’t until our number was called up that I realised the whole of my back and backside was covered in what can only be described as dust and sh*t. Thank god for the Lemieux ProKit Backpack and baby wipes…not only can they clean your child, they give upholstery and clothing a damn good go too.

I quickly found the bar after walking the course shortly after this fence!

Dressage day arrived on Friday and I worked Pom a little in the morning before he needed to get ready for his test. This meant that I didn’t have to give him a long warm up down at the main arena in order to help try and keep him as relaxed as possible.

He wasn’t fazed at all though by the atmosphere and tried his heart out. I was just rather annoyed at myself while riding a canter serpentine. I let the canter get too strung out and lost the rhythm giving him nowhere to go, so we lost the balance and did a flying-change when we were supposed to stay in counter canter. I was peed off at myself for not helping him out more and just doing what I would have done at home, but nonetheless I was pleased to have scored a 32 with teething problems. I’m feeling positive that next time we can improve on the score, especially if I don’t have a ‘oh crap’ moment.

The cross-country course at Bramham caused it’s fair share of problems on the day — it was certainly a tough three-star track. So on the Saturday morning I definitely had a cocktail of adrenaline, nerves and anxiety running through my system.

When I got to the warm up, it was time for business and we both knew we had a job to do. I set off out on course quite quickly, with the intention being to try and get as close to the time as possible. Pom has always been quite strong in the past and I could feel him start to get stronger and stronger as we were going round. But nonetheless he turned when I wanted him to and was incredibly straight to everything. And knowing at that moment how genuine he was, I took my foot off the gas and tried to settle him back down into a rhythm. We ended up with lots of time penalties in the end, but I needed to look after his mind. It was his first three-star and I didn’t want to blow his brains. It was important he had a confidence-giving run. He will be a super horse in the future and will have learnt a lot from that. He came back through the finish with clean legs, not tired and recovered brilliantly.

On the final day he trotted up well having been pampered again. I however didn’t risk the suit for a second time. It was then onto the final phase, the showjumping. Pom is an exceptionally good jumper and likes to leave the fences up, so it was slightly uncharacteristic for him to have two down. But he was still quite strong and buzzed up from the day before and we weren’t our usual partnership, but in many respects we’ve learnt so much about each other and I can’t wait for the next one. Pom will have a short break with plenty of field time, and he’ll then have some steady away runs to settle him again before hopefully completing another CCI3*.

From left: DHI Paparazzi, Prince Mayo, The Corn Crake and OBOS Colombus sporting their new Shires Equestrian rugs

Exciting things have also been happening for us since we returned from our travels and I am literally bursting with pride to announce that Shires Equestrian are our new official rug sponsor for the remainder of the 2018 season.

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After working incredibly hard at their three-day events, thanks to Louise Ainge and the team at Shires Equestrian, the horses were treated to some new pyjamas. They were also so flattered to have a photo shoot wearing some of them, that it took minimum encouragement from Jenny and Clare (just a small bucket of feed) to get them to pose wearing them. The fit of all the rugs are incredible and they look seriously smart too. I have been very impressed by the coolers on the horses — they provide super ventilation and are perfect for after cross-country. I’m really looking forward to working with all the team and feel extremely lucky to have been accepted as part of it.

Next month some of the big boys will come back out to play at Aston-le-Walls before we head back across the Irish Sea to compete at Camphire.

Matt