I really loved this event. It was our first time at the Norfolk venue. I got chatting to a lovely steward and they described Houghton as a real hidden gem and as the weekend went on, this really became apparent.
We arrived with Continuity on the Thursday ready for our dressage on Friday afternoon. After some time spent settling into the stable, Brad and I went for a hack to give him a leg stretch after the 4-hour trip. The majesty of the venue became apparent pretty quickly as we rode near the very impressive Houghton Hall itself. As if that wasn’t enough the Damion Hurst statues towering above the dressage arenas added a slightly strange visual as they had exposed muscles and guts, but the horses didn’t pay any attention!!
Friday morning and time for coffee and croissants (after Brad has had his breakfast of course). Dressage mid-afternoon and I am so glad I exercised him well in the morning as he was certainly up for it! Richard Waygood gave me some great tips before the test which I used to get a mark of 34.1. An unscheduled simple change mid counter canter and not so perfectly square halts lost a few marks, but clean flying changes and a super difference in the mediums and extensions gained marks back. It was our second test of the year, and I was pleased with our marks. And there is still plenty of room to improve the cadence and fluency! Then it was time for a quick tack change and off to the practice area for a jump before tomorrow. We used a place pole to encourage a careful jump during a session like this and Brad was on fire!
Heavy rain took us through to Saturday, but all it did was to make the ground conditions even better. Brad was due to Show Jump mid-afternoon, so after some exercise and grazing, I met Richard at the cross-country start for a course walk. He explains the combinations in a simple way which really gives you the confidence to execute them well! (which we certainly did!) As well as giving us tips on how to save time. After walking the cross-country, I went to walk the Show Jumping and then watch it ride for a while, and before I knew it, it was time to tack up and go tackle the coloured poles. Brad was really pulling in the warm-up. So we jumped no more than 6/7 fences starting with our cross pole in trot as always. Brad jumped a Fabulous round, and he was sharp, careful, eager, rideable and strong which made the course feel great! Mum was rather emotional, and I was too as that was our first clear at 3* (very happy indeed). I took Brad for a long stretch to make sure he was loose and limber for the following day. After sorting Brad and a celebratory cider Mum and I went to walk the cross-country course together. I am quite used to her being quiet at certain fences (this generally means she is glad I’m jumping them and not her). While walking the course we were surrounded by hundreds of white deer which were majestic and then four beautiful Stags came along and just added to the amazing scenery: a superb parkland indeed! After grazing Brad we got a good nights sleep ready for the big day!!!
Cross-country Day and again we were on, so I was able to cycle around the course and watch it ride which was useful it gives you the chance to rethink how to ride a combination if it is causing trouble etc.…
With Bradberry (https://www.willberrywonderpony.org/) attached I give Brad a good stretch before heading to the cross-country warm-up where he immediately switches into hyper gear. He became so excited and just wanted to go, so I had to jump him over 3 or 4 fences and then spend the last few mins just doing lots of serpentine loops or small circles to prevent too much tension building up. Then into the start box, I stroked both of Brad’s ears, and out we went….!!
Pretty soon we were into the course. I realised that the Stubben Freedom Bridle I was riding in is perfect for the Dressage and Show Jumping but was giving Brad far too much freedom across the country. Within the first third of the course I had to work harder than usual to control him, usually one-half halt is plenty to prepare the canter for the fences but I was having to give 3 or 4 and this extra time setting up for the fences. I was wasting time and also making it harder to be smooth and accurate, so we did have a moment at a 3 stride curving combination where Brad did a great job of keeping himself inside the flags!! So we incurred 4.4 time faults, but I was super pleased with him and will definitely be returning to a normal flash bridle from now on!
Brad finished 31st in the Nations Cup CIC3* out of 120 starters which was just incredible: it was a very happy drive home!
I hope everyone is having a good season. All the best and crack on guys!!
This blog comes courtesy of tweed fashion brand Timothy Foxx www.timothyfoxx.co.uk