As successful weeks go, Nathalie Kayal’s trip to Hartpury for the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships has to be up there.
But for all the ribbons and prizes she will take home for her own performances, it is the success of her groom and main rider, Charlotte Tuckwell, that she says means the most.
“I’m just so proud of her,” she said. “She’s been here competing in the Petplan Equine Area Festival, and she was third in the PSG yesterday but finally today she won that sash in the inter I.
“I [ride] full time, but I’m also a full time carer to my mum, who is quite severely disabled. So what Charlotte does for me at home is absolutely incredible because she often has to take over from me on the yard, if my mum needs me.
“She has that amazing ability to multitask. She’s only 22 and he has been with me for about five or six years. I go from one minute feeling like her sister and the next feeling like a mother. It’s just lovely. Today it’s been a real team effort between me and Charlotte because trying to get four horses to peak on the same week at home and keeping the other horses going and having a normal life [is a juggle]. She’s got her life, I’ve got mine… trying to get that right balance is always really hard.
“Sometimes in the past we’ve managed to get one horse feeling great and the other one, not so much. So the fact that she’s managed to get DHI Alligator feeling on top form here and peaking on her last day here, while we’ve also managed to get the other three feeling happy as well is wonderful.”
She added: “You do need a really great team behind you. My family is immensely supportive, but they don’t really help me on the yard and my mum needs my help, so I really do rely on Charlotte a lot to pick up various different pieces in order to get here. So I’m just over the moon for her, more so than anything I’ve achieved here, because she works very hard and she deserves it.
“Anyone with horses knows there are far more lows than there are highs, and when you hit those rocks in the road on the way to a big championship, it’s really about pulling together and finding out how you’re going to make it and not giving up. It’s really not over until the fat lady sings.
“For us this last week we’ve had a few problems with various different things. Charlotte and I always have this little chuckle to each other when things are going wrong and say, ‘We’ve just got to pick ourselves up and keep going’.
“We sat on that bench yesterday [on the hill overlooking the outdoor arena] while she was waiting for her prize giving and we were exhausted and tired. Then we looked at each other and said ‘you know how many people would just give anything to be in our position now and to be waiting for top three placings?’ it’s why we do it.”
The team have had top 10 placings with all horses competed so far, with an inter I with DHI Cleverboy to come as well as the Nupafeed advanced medium gold freestyle on Friday with Helianthus VD Fuikstill.
“What’s been really nice is that we’ve had four horses here in total from the yard – we’ve got eight horses at home, so we’ve had half the yard here at the nationals, which is fantastic,” said Nathalie.
“Coming down the centerline and doing the test is the icing on the cake of a very long run up of managing these horses –making sure that they’re feeling well, that all the tack and equipment is absolutely at its best when they come, and that you’re either not training too hard, or too little. “
Power of rider mindset
Nathalie’s results so far this week include third in the Magic PSG gold championship on Monday, with DHI Cleverboy and Woodcroft St Emillion respectively, followed by a third and seventh in the freestyle with the same pair.
“They are two very different horses. Both of them did well in their own right to be there,” she said.
“Cleverboy, who was third in the freestyle today, he is more of a showman. He loves his job, he loves coming to competitions and he is actually quite a laid-back horse at home. We always say he would be happiest on a beach with a pina colada if he was allowed! Fortunately when he does come to the shows, he picks up and he goes into another gear.
“Woodcroft St Emillion is a completely different kettle of fish. He’s an immensely talented horse, but very sensitive. He finds coming away from home and shows quite an ordeal. Even now at his age, he’s never really got that real confidence kick that the other horse has.”
She added: “Yesterday I rode Clever Boy first and it was quite interesting as it actually maybe went in my favour. It gave me that confidence that I then took into the less confident horse.
“Today, I had them the other way around and maybe that affect the way I rode the less confident horse. It’s very interesting, I think, what goes on psychologically with riders. There’s a huge push at the moment with rider psychology and any kind of sports psychology at the moment. Mentally, if you’re thinking positively, it normally happens. Whereas if you allow those negative thoughts to come in, unfortunately that happens as well! It’s learning to train your brain to ride these different horses and give them the confidence they need to do the best job they can.”
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