Finally, the start of the season!

For me, Tweseldown is always the perfect start; the ground is always faultless whatever the weather, the courses are fair for the time of year and everyone who’s anyone is there. That is unless you went on the sunshine tour to Portugal, where this year, it rained…a lot!

Thursday was intermediate day with Maggie (Magenta), Chico and Jeans. We arrived early so I could quickly jog around the course, grab my numbers and pay my start fees (which have just got more expensive!). I thought the course was actually more flowing than before, but with some pretty strong combinations dotted throughout.

Maggie was first up in the dressage. She did a nice enough test, however, the same old problem of being dead lazy cropped up. I had to compromise one movement to shake her up and get her back off my leg and she was fine after that.

Chico, as always, performed a beautiful and very accurate test to lead his section. Unfortunately, when I got on him to trot over to the showjumping, he wasn’t quite right. Frustrating when he was 100% sound the next day!

Finally Jeans was the complete and total opposite to Maggie. He was absolutely wild in the warm-up, spending his whole time in extended trot or spinning. A tricky situation when there was no warning of the transition between the two. By the time I trotted over to the white boards, he had calmed sufficiently to do an accurate but tense and overexcited test.

Both Maggie and Jeans jumped lovely clears in the showjumping. I got Maggie totally wrong to the second fence and buried her, but she had me covered. I was just a little rusty and out of practice, however, luckily I didn’t make the same mistake twice. Jeans jumped like a machine and nearly jumped me off over the triple bar.

At last, the first cross-country round of the year! Maggie, as ever, was perfection (left). She gave me a super feel over the fences and felt as fit as she’s ever felt at the beginning of the season.

Jeans, however, was an absolute bomb (below right). He turned everyone’s head in the warm-up when he jumped 7ft over the 2ft warm up fence with me clinging on with all my might! He then came tearing out of the start box and tore up the turf (sand at Tweseldown). I think I may try him in a different bit before Burnham Market or I’ll have to start doing a hundred press-ups every day!

I was really pleased with the day’s work; one super dressage and two double clears! Still, I didn’t go quickly across the country and so didn’t get a placing. The name of the game was to give the horses the confidence they need to then take it up a level when we tackle the three-star at Burnham Market in three weeks time.

Unexpected success

The next day was novice day, and so Fiddle’s turn. It has been over 18 months since his last run and so we had absolutely no idea what to expect from him — as it turned out, we did not expect this! As the regular readers will know, Fiddle makes Maggie look positively sprightly and has a bit of a bad attitude when it comes to working. Jumping has always been his forte but he is such a long horse, he’s always struggled to hold himself together on the flat.

So when he performed a perfectly presentable test and received a score of 29 penalties, Mark and I nearly fainted in shock! He jumped an excitable showjumping round, clear. Then he absolutely threw himself at the cross-country fences. I think he must have really been quite unwell when he turned up from Australia via the USA, weak and unfit, this time two years ago as I have never felt him gallop so fast.

I definitely didn’t plan to run a competitive round as I didn’t know what on earth to expect from him, however, I let him drag me around and we came back home clear and with only 1.6 time- penalties. Enough for second place, unbelievable!

So all in all, a successful week that hopefully augurs well for the rest of the season! I’d like to finish by thanking all the jump judges, stewards and volunteers for all of their time and dedication. Especially Bill and Anne Allen and Peter and Jill Lamont; it’s people like them who keep our sport running and we will be at a complete loss without them.

Alex

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