Three months and counting……….

I’m not quite sure where January has gone already! The weather has taken a turn for the worse with the hard frosts and although it’s nice to be dry, it makes it hard to stick to the fitness plans I had for Blue. I’m glad I brought her back into work slightly earlier than normal! I am lucky enough to be able to ride over the New Forest everyday, we are on the top of a hill, so we have some great valleys to ride up and down which is great for an overall fitness routine for myself and Blue. When it’s frosty though it not really rideable so it’s into the school for flat a bit of flat work and jumping. I keep saying to myself ” it’s alright we’ve got plenty of time!” But the Mitsubishi Cup is only 3 months away and our first BE event is in March!!!

Out riding on the New Forest on not such a bright day!

I had planned to go to Moreton Equestrian on Saturday, to do some combined training but it wasn’t to be. It was the weekend that we had the really hard frost and after having had a great lesson on Blue on the Friday, when I got back from picking the boys up from school, I washed her tail and cleaned her up, plaited and loaded the lorry with all my tack etc. My old dog Molly, who is the best veteran lorry dog ever in my opinion, had been a bit quiet and not herself all day and I was a bit worried about her. Then overnight my son Will wasn’t very well and came and woke me up at 2am, so when the alarm went off at 6am I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic! My husband was off to market with cattle and I thought it was probably best not to drag Will and Molly out in the cold, so we had to withdraw. Sometimes it just happens like that but there’s always another day!

I have had a couple of flat lessons with Nicola Buchanan already this year, she helped me so much last year to improve my dressage, which definitely helped me qualify for Badminton. She is always pushing me along to try new things and move on and I still feel slightly nervous when I hear her car pull up as I know I will have a proper workout for the next hour, I know I’ve had a good lesson if I’m stiff the next day. I’m quite a slow burner when learning new movements and getting the feel, but Nicola always has a way of explaining it so that I understand. It generally takes me another week till I finally have the light bulb moment of “Oh I get it!”

So after having a brush up on a few things I need to improve on, I headed to Crofton Equestrian centre for a morning of BD. It was the worst morning for fog and what should take me 40 mins took me 1 1/2hrs!!  I was attempting two Novice Tests, so had learnt the first one and briefly looked at the second one, thinking I would have plenty of time when I got there to go over it. The first test went ok, Blue decided that E needed to be spooked at everytime we passed it, to alert me to the fact that the board was slightly out of line with the other one! Luckily the judge couldn’t feel what I did and gave us 68.7% to win my section. Now to the next test, I had about 20 mins to properly learn it, I could feel myself starting to panic as I just couldn’t remember parts of it, I was nearly about to withdraw and quickly make my exit home. But I made myself stay and for once asked a lady,who was watching, if she would be kind enough to call the test for me. I’m deaf in my left ear, which is why I learn my tests, as half the time I can’t hear what the callers are saying especially if it’s windy. I was really glad she did as I would have definitely gone wrong! It again went ok overall with little mistakes here and there, we managed a 65.1% and won our section again. Very good although slightly stressful morning! 


BD at Crofton Equestrian 

This weekend I went to Sparsholt College and had another go at some long arena test and we went a lot better, after another go at Novice 39 we managed a 70.1% and I remembered the whole test without it being called, told you I’m a slow burner! We also did a prelim 15 and scored a 72%, I was really pleased with our progress. 

It’s funny, through the winter months there are quite a lot of Eventer out competing at dressage, You can generally pick out the Eventer in the warm up, compared to the more glamourous sparkly dressage professionals and one of the things I love about eventing is that, at events, riders chat away to each other whilst going to the show jumping arenas or the Xc warm up, so it didn’t take me long to strike up a conversation with a lady who like me was out trying to brush up on the dressage phase, but remarking how we would much rather be going cross country! 

As well as having a top class dressage instructor nearby I am also lucky enough to have Four star Eventer Kirsty Johnston from the Landford Common Stud, who are breeders of all the very talented Opposition horses, about 15 mins up the road from me. I’ve had a couple of jump lessons with her so far this year, which I have really enjoyed. As well as working on my crappy left leg, distances and keeping Blue in a forward rhythm all the way round the course, I have also been able to ask her lots of questions about what I should do and where I should maybe go before Badminton and Kirsty’s experience and knowledge of eventing has been invaluable. 

After an evening of learning the dance to “strip the willow” with the school mums at the annual Burns night, on Saturday, I was up Bright and early Sunday for a trip to Wellington Equestrian to compete in the BE arena eventing competition. It’s much like the JAS competition except that you don’t get judged on style and it’s timed from start to finish. After Kirsty lesson in the week Blue was feeling up for it and warmed up fab. She jumped a brilliant round and it felt good, we cut some corners and came inside fences and left everything up! Unlike the JAS competition a few weeks ago where we were too slow this time we were too fast!!! We ended up 8th out of 53 which I was pleased with. Me and the dogs had the tunes on in the lorry on the way home, needless to say I was in bed Sunday night shortly after putting the boys to bed!

I’m trying to stay organised and get things in place so I don’t have to think about it and with the BE calendar now open and in full swing and I made my first entry into Aston Le Walls in March, so I had a date to work towards. But since then Aston has been oversubscribed and I have been Balloted, so it’s back to the drawing board for plan B. I have a Xc booked up at Tweseldown in February hopefully the weather will be kind to us. Me and Davina have been seeing a lot of each other while I jump and thump around on the lounge floor trying to get fitter doing her DVD, much to my boys amusement and the spare blowup bed has been ordered in the January sales so we can accommodate everyone in the lorry in May. With all the posts popping up on social media about the Mitsubishi cup and Badminton its all becoming quite real! 

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The celebrations have come to an end……….

Well Christmas has come and gone and we have welcomed in the New Year. The Celebration tin is nearly finished with only the last few stragglers left rattling around in the bottom, mainly bounty’s! My mind has turned to booking in training, competition’s and getting us both fit after the festivities! 

January is already full of dates in the diary and we have already been out competing at Merrist Wood College, taking part in the BE Jump & Style (JAS) BE90 class. I’ve never done this competition before so was slightly unsure on how to go about it. Basically you jump 7 show jumps and then carry on into arena Xc fences which are timed, whilst being marked on style at the same time. 

Its really hard to leave home, in the lorry, when it’s dark and cold but I was looking forward to being out competing again. I left at 6am, so that I could walk the course before the class which started at 8.30, my time was 9.05 so I had to get a move on! I arrived at Merrist Wood just after 8, I quickly walked the course looking at the turns I thought I could make without looking too scrappy, grabbed my numbers and headed back to the lorry via the obligatory loo visit to get Blue ready. 

Luckily for me she is not the sort of horse that needs to be warmed up for ages before competing, I did how ever warm up thinking about what Eric Smilley had taught us, in our recent lesson, with regards to getting the horse really concentrating and listening to aids in the warm up. I did this and she warmed up really well. It was my turn, although this was really only training, I’m quite competitive and like to do my best at every competition. The bell went and we were off, again I was thinking of really trying to keep my canter rhythm and let the fences come to us, she did a beauty of a round and was double clear. I however obviously hadn’t taken a breath the whole round and couldn’t speak for the need of oxygen, something I need to work on! 

JAS BE90 Merrist Wood

We recieved a style mark of 13, which I was pretty pleased with and 9 time faults. So ended up on a final score of 22 and a 13th place out of 50. After watching the rest of the class I realised I needed to go a tad faster in Xc section and risk looking not so pretty to get the time. But I was really pleased with her for just getting on with the job and not looking at anything in the arena.

About three days before the JAS competition, whilst out in the field, Blue managed to get herself bitten on the side of her face by one of her field mates! She had removed some of the hair and scratched the skin, so I gave it a clean up and went to apply some “cracked nipple cream” which I have found works really well on minor scratches and sores. The tube I had in the tack room had gone hard and was of no use, so I popped down to our local village to the chemist to buy some more. 

In the chemist I couldn’t find it out on the shelves so I quietly asked the lady behind the counter if she had any “crack nipple cream”?  She promptly shouted back across the room to the pharmacist my request! They found some in the back of the chemist and asked if it was for me, to which I replied “no its actually for my horse” She quickly withdrew it and said that she couldn’t let me have any product that was for the treatment of animals not humans. So I quickly left thinking I’ll go to the other chemist and this time I’ll tell them it’s for me! 

Whilst walking to the chemist I was trying to think of explanations as to why I wanted “cracked nipple cream” incase they asked me. When I entered the chemist to my horror there was a very young man behind the counter and two men sat on the chairs waiting for prescriptions! I managed to find a tube of it on the shelve and headed for the counter, waiting for the question of “Is this for you?” I’m not sure if he was too embarrassed or could see that I was looking rather awkward, but he quickly put the tube in a brown bag and asked me for £5.20. The thing we do for horses!!!!

Thankfully her scratch is all healed up now and back to normal and after a visit from my farrier Ben to fit Blue with a new set of shoes, complete with stud holes, in preparation for some XC training I have booked in it was onto preparing for British Dressage later in the week at West Wilts Equestrian. I had two tests to learn a Prelim & Novice, I prefer to learn my tests as it distracts me having them called. Having said that, in the past, I have really struggled to remember two tests on the same day but after persevering and repition i am now a lot better (90% of the time!) However since I started doing BD alot more last year I am still getting to grips with the extra letters in the long arenas, I think it’s my age!!!!!!

 

BD West Wilts – Photo Credit: Charles Teton

It was awful weather, with the threat of heavy showers and snow! Thankfully for me I had finished before the weather arrived. Both tests went well and we were accurate, in places we lacked suppleness and consistency. But we came away with two 1st place rosettes 70% in the prelim and 65.7 % in the Novice. On reflection I don’t think I warmed up long enough, partly because it was so cold and I perhaps needed an outing at Dressage to get back into a routine. Plenty to work on and with a flat lesson booked in with Nicola Buchanan next week, I’m sure we can improve on those marks.



Blue sporting her legendary rope halter with her Rosettes

So whilst clearing up the last bounty celebrations, it’s back to the calendar to work out which BE Events we will enter in the build up to Badminton and more training to look forward too. 

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And so it begins…………

I have been going to Badminton as a spectator (& shopper) for many, many years. I can remember going with my mum when I was in pony club and that was over 30 years ago!! After a few years walking the Mitsubishi cup course, I set myself a goal to try and qualify for it.

So to have my goal realised and qualify in 2016 was unbelievable! Now begins the build up to getting my horse fit, trained and ready to go and try to do our best around the famous and magnificent grounds at Badminton in 2017.

I will start with a quick introduction to myself and my Horse Hollyhatch Highflyer (Aka Blue). I live and work on our farm with my husband and two sons in the New Forest. We mainly have cattle but also breed New Forest ponies and more lately part breds (The New Forest is such a good breed to cross with a TB) I fit riding in around working on the farm, paperwork and the school runs. We turn ponies and cattle out on the New Forest so Blue, along with others, is sometimes used for rounding them up and generally riding round and checking them when I’m not competing her.

Blue is an 8 year old homebred New Forest x TB mare. She’s by a prolific show winning New Forest stallion called Farriers Fingerprint and her dam was an ex hunt horse, a good national hunt type TB. I did try and sell her a few times when she was unbroken (thankfully she didn’t sell!)  I backed her at 4 but she was quite immature so went back out in the field to mature.

She started eventing when she was 6 and had a reasonable first season visiting many new venues and taking it all in. Towards the end of the first year we were getting quite consistent with our show jumping and Xc (apart from being a bit slow!) but I thought I really needed to improve our dressage, if we were going to be competitive, so i asked Nicola Buchanan if she would help me. I use to dread the dressage part of eventing, my legs would turn to jelly and I wouldn’t breathe the whole test and be so glad it was over!! Nicola has helped me improve and taught me so much that i now quite enjoy the dressage and look forward to it. (I can’t believe I said that!) I’ve even joined BD and had many outings this year in between eventing dates.


Out for a hack on the New Forest our training grounds.

So at the beginning of this year my aim was to try and get at least one regional ticket, luckily that came, in April, at my local BE Larkhill where we were second! The best BE result I had ever had. It then took me till June to get another one and that also was another milestone in that I Won my first BE90 at WestWilts with a dressage of 22!!!! I couldn’t believe it, finally everything we had trained for had all come together on the same day. In true eventing style (one day your up next your down) in my next event at Rackham, despite getting another great dressage score, I had one down SJ and went the wrong way not once but twice in the Xc! (I was so cross with myself) however it was a good lesson learnt and in our next outing at Treborough (after walking the Xc twice!) we managed another double clear for a 2nd place finish. That was it job done 3 regional tickets that gave me three bites at the cherry to try and qualify for the Mitsubishi Cup.

I decided to go to an early Regional final qualifier at Firle International for my first go.  Although I had never been there before and was a bit unsure what it was like, I just wanted to get on with it. I generally always go on my own to competitions as I find I can concentrate a lot better that way, I can remember setting off at stupid o’clock incase I got caught in traffic and feeling so sick with nerves. It was very windy and cold when I arrived at Firle, I went and walked the SJ and then the Xc, then I went back and walked the Xc again! The dressage went ok under the circumstance (nerves) I don’t go and get my dressage score until I’ve finished everything generally, as I don’t feel it helps me in either way. I went clear SJ and then it started raining and we had Xc still to do but I didn’t need to worry she steamed round all the fences within the time. I hadn’t a clue how I was going in the placing as I had stayed away from the secretary tent all day. After I washed, cleaned and tucked her up in the lorry I made myself go take a look at the score boards. I got a 27.8 for my dressage and was lying in 2nd place and unbelievably that’s where I stayed!

I rang my husband Alan, (who bless him had been putting up with me twittering on about my regional and whether or not I thought she was fit enough or my dressage was good enough blah blah blah…) WEVE DONE IT!!!! I did shed a few tears of relief and joy! I went and gave Blue a big kiss and gave her another carrot! I had also avoided my phone all day and all my friends were following on the various web eventing pages and sending me messages and calling, it was really lovely to have so much support. The lorry trip home, even on my own, was a good one with me Singing very loudly to my dogs!!

After qualifying for the Mitsubishi Cup this winter’s training with Blue through the cold, wet and dreary days has a different feel about it. Great excitement along with twinges of nerves and worry. Lots of planning, training and competition dates are being written in the diary. I have even started going to Pilates, as blaming my lack of core strength on childbirth from 9 years ago quite frankly isn’t a valid excuse anymore!

So Blue has been back into work after having her holiday of 6 weeks. I have got a bit of fitness work into her already and we’ve been hunting a couple of times with our local packs the New Forest and the Wilton. I love lessons and training with different people, I have a done our first bit of training at the end of December with a flat/show jumping lesson with Eric Smiley, through the BE training, which I really enjoyed and has got me motivated for next year.


Show Jumping training with Eric Smilley

Blue is such a special mare to me having bred her and now we’re going to Badminton Horse Trials together! Just qualifying for the Mitsubishi Cup is unbelievable for me. I’m looking forward to sharing the build up and our experience at Badminton with you over next few months

Kate & Blue

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