As I write this column I am on my way to Hagen in Germany, to compete at a big four-star show called Horses and Dreams. It is my first major competition since having my third baby and it comes off the back of a very frustrating season last year.
My stallion, Duval’s Capri Sonne Jr (Cas), suffered very bad allergies and lost a lot of confidence in the ring. He broke out in hives every time he came off cortisone for an international, and I’m hoping we can avoid that this year.
The vets have come up with a potential solution, which involves giving him a series of regular allergy vaccines over a period of time to try to make him resistant. The problem is pin-pointing what he was allergic to. Last summer the pollen count was off the charts; many people and horses alike, who had never suffered before, were suddenly susceptible. I am hoping for a lovely warm summer again, but minus the pollen and allergy triggers!
Meanwhile, my homework with Cas has been on building his confidence again so he doesn’t associate the ring with how awful he felt last year.
Up against the best
Hagen is one of my favourite competitions — a controversial view as it is in the lion’s den, the heart of German horse country. It is at the Kasselmanns’ place and is run by them in the most friendly, hospitable manner, with total German efficiency. The atmosphere is always great and you tend to have a knowledgeable crowd there.
I always enjoyed going to the big foreign shows when riding Mistral Højris and Andretti because I knew that if I did well, I really was at the top of my game and ready for the big championships. I enjoy the challenge of beating the top competitors on their home turf.
I am still a way off posing that threat this time around, but if you measure yourself against the best you get a realistic picture.
All in the details
Over the past few years we have seen a growth in UK internationals, such as Royal Windsor and Bolesworth, which now offer a more comparable setting and atmosphere to the big shows abroad. But attracting the top foreign names is still a problem.
Olympia has managed this, but in the summer season it is hard to replicate, despite the best efforts of organisers. Maybe if there was a successful summer tour like the showjumpers’ Global Champions Tour, this would change, but at the moment it is still worth travelling abroad if you want a real test.
If I’m to feel championship-ready again, I have to know that my horse and I have coped at the big shows. I also aim to have the judge’s full attention when we enter the ring because they expect something good having seen me already that season, rather than seeing me for the first time at the championship.
I also like my horses to have travelled a few times so it’s normal for them, and so I know exactly how to manage my horse on a big journey.
These are all details that you only get to know by doing it. The more you know about yourself and your horse in high pressure environments, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with the biggest moments, such as an Olympics.
Ref Horse & Hound; 2 May 2019