Sophie Mathew’s team chasing blog: A step into the unknown

  • After the failure of getting an intermediate run last season, we have been itching to climb the ladder out of novices.

    We ran in the Belvoir novice rather than the fun class, where we got a bit of a taste for the step up. Then, after a fab clear at the kind novice at Meynell, we were confident the intermediate at the Pytchley wasn’t going to be much more of a question than the novice we sailed around last year.

    We pressed send (yay to online entries!) and our intermediate entry was in!

    Grabbing a lift with my instructor, Sarah Williamson, I arrived earlier than the rest of my team so I joined the open Dapper Dobbins team for their course walk.

    This was a bit of tactical move in the hope that by walking their ginormous open course, our intermediate track would look less ‘significant’.

    At this point I will say well done to you, Dapper Hedge Hoppers, what a fab run you had, and hope you heal well to Emma Fox who fell towards the end of the course, split her chin and was taken off to hospital for stitches.

    My team

    My team

    I was relieved that the tactic wasn’t required as the intermediate course walked really nicely. A mixture of the novice course with some of the open fences. It was so well presented that the hedges looked appealing rather than daunting. Yes, there was a line of hedges that we had to switch back over three times that had a sizeable question in the middle, but none of it worried us and we were all feeling quite content as we headed off to tack up.

    I got a surprise call from my dad who was staying with family locally and had headed over to watch us. Being ‘non-horsey’ he did a great job at holding Kitkat while I tacked up. He was utterly enchanted by the idea of putting studs in. He must have asked at least three times if I was done yet as each brushing boot went on, when each pad was placed and as the breastplate straps were done up. While waving my whip around he kindly offered to give me a leg up — I declined and borrowed a ramp!

    Warming up again after being on hold

    With a number one on our bibs we were down to go first in our class. Kerrie comically pointed out this meant there wouldn’t be any gaps in the hedges where earlier riders might have brushed through. I tried to be more confident and suggest it meant untouched going!

    As it happened, a team that was both bitless and bright pink ended up running before us having opted to not run in the open.

    We had a final canter around the warm up before the starter called us.

    Kelly on Bluey took the lead; I sat in my comforting spot of second with a new member to the team, Izzy, on her mother’s gorgeous big hunter behind me and Kerrie bringing up the rear.

    The first, and second were small, but as they were on a twisty line we took it steady. We got to the small hedge at three and Bluey in front snuck an extra stride in so I got a bit of an awkward jump.

    Heading to four, Kerrie was fast coming upsides Kelly, shouting at her that she was on her right. In the next stride I shouted I was on her left and we jumped it as a trio. At this point Kelly and Kerrie must have taken a check because to my absolute horror I found myself in front heading towards a sizeable hedge; the first of the three switch back hedges.

    I gave a gesture of confident riding and slapped (tickled) Kat down the shoulder and we sailed over it. On landing I spotted in the corner of my eye the fence judge waving a red flag. It took a moment to register, but then, OH NO, we were we being held. I screamed back to the others to stop and we swung around wide and pulled up by the fence judge’s car.

    We tried to keep our morals high by chattering about how the first part of the course had gone. We must have been held for a good 10 minutes (pictured above on hold and while warming-up at the end of our hold) and I was trying to not think about the fact that we had been stopped right in front of probably our biggest hedge on the course…

    The fence judge was a credit to the event. He kept us well informed of how long they expected us to be on hold and updated us to the point of a two minute warning.

    Kerrie leading me

    Kerrie leading me

    We cantered a few laps around his car, heard on the PA system that the course was green and the fence judge sent us on our way. Kerrie now in front, me again in second, we took a short approach to the hedge, flew it and knew all was going to be ok. A few more hedges and a sharp left-hand turn, I found myself taking over the lead again after the sloping gate and heading towards the next drop hedge.

    Kerrie and Harty

    Kerrie and Harty

    Now the next moment wasn’t my proudest, but Kerrie was just behind me and as we began our approach I couldn’t help myself, I looked across to her and said: “Kerrie, where are you? I need you!” It was more of a whimper than a shout and it was total nonsense. Kitkat flew it as if he knew the course and bowled on down the hill to the now hazardously small rail, which we again flew.

    I led over the small brush with Kerrie growling behind me at Harty. Kitkat pretty much tucked his tail between his legs like a scared whippet and hurtled away from the terrifying Kerrie. By the next Kerrie was upsides again and we jumped it together.

    Izzy Castle on her mother's hunter

    Izzy Castle on her mother’s hunter

    A change of hands from Kerrie and she was off. We had plenty in the tank and we stormed up the final hill together. Jumping the last well I finished in front and shot the commentator a look as he praised Kerrie for leading us home! Izzy and Kelly were right behind us and beaming.

    Me in the lead after our hold

    Me in the lead before our hold

    We’d done it! We had been slow, but we had completed our first intermediate team chase!


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