My first 4* was a bit of a ‘last minute.com’ adventure!
After completing Blenheim CCI3*, which had been a goal ever since competing in the Pony Club Eventer Challenges there, we gave Continuity (AKA Brad) a quiet week and thought about what Sarah Holmes and her team had said about going to Pau in the south of France. We made tentative enquires and agreed to go with Nicky Hill and her own MGH Bingo Boy as long as everything else fell into place, most importantly making sure Brad recovered from Blenheim well.
Once Brad had seen the Physio and we were happy he was feeling on top form, we entered Pau and confirmed travel arrangements with the Hills. Roughly 4 weeks later and Nicky arrived on the Sunday ready to depart early Monday (22nd Oct) morning. One ferry crossing, one overnight stay at Boulerie Jump (an enormous competition and livery facility that makes any in Great Britain seem very small) near Le mans and roughly 800 miles later we arrived at Pau late afternoon Tuesday. The most traumatic part of all this for our horse was the ferry trip when he got in a muck sweat. Thankfully he was much more relaxed on the ferry back. We took the boys for a long walk/graze in hand, settled them into their stables, set up camp, did late night checks then SLEPT!
I was really pleased with how Brad felt during Wednesdays ridden leg stretch and later schooling session. This came round incredibly quickly and after donning my Timothy Foxx Tweed which won the Best Dressed Male Rider prize at Blenheim we flew through the trot up.
I have recently taken to warming up with Mum passing comment in my left ear via a telephone call which works really well. On Thursday Brad was on form and we both had to focus on doing our “best puppet on strings” impression aiming for the lift, lightness and expression which do not naturally come to Brad. We were both very happy with his willing, flowing, rideable and largely correct test for 34.8 and after both days we were lying 39th out of 60 riders. The GB riders were out in force and there were a number of us first timers so the camaraderie, back slapping and joking was brilliant for settling the nerves.
On Friday Brad had an easy day with just a hack around the perimeter track and plenty of grazing in hand. I was interested to see many riders jumping in readiness for the cross country phase but our partnership is such that I knew that would not be right for us. I wanted Brad to conserve every scrap of his energy for his biggest test to come. We watched Nicky’s test, also her first 4*, which scored 0.8 better than us so we were very happy for her. Bing is a hugely athletic and talented horse with amazing trot work and I covet him.
Saturday and the cross country phase couldn’t come soon enough for me. “Itchy” would be a good way to describe how I was feeling! But finally, after three course cycles (I find riding the course creates a better flow and more accurate picture of the lines the horse will run than walking) and one walk with GB Teams Richard Waygood I was out of the start box to get stuck into 11 mins and 22 seconds of awesomeness! The track was the biggest question so far in my career. Brad always gives his heart and soul to every cross country round. He thinks so quickly, adjusts, manoeuvres and engages so well that a less than perfect shot up the step in the first water was well dealt with. This caused many others issues though the faults were well spread over the course and only 56.7% finished the entire competition. Testing combinations throughout the course, which really required commitment and accuracy, were wonderful to tackle and the big spread on a lot of the fences felt like flying! There are some cracking pictures and videos of us out there now. Brad finished so well that he still pulling for four big circles in the arena after the finish flags and we were waved anxiously out to make way for the next rider. I used my whip only once on the whole course, 10 strides out from the drop into water, just to get his attention as he can sometimes have a momentary hesitation before going down. I really trust the feeling he gives me and just aim to give him the impulsion and approach then stay quiet and let him do his thing. That was the best feeling of my career so far and because we were speedy (only 4 were inside the time) it bought us up the rankings into 12 position overnight.
Following physio, ice tubbing, massages, stretches and plenty of walking the second trot up was ahead of us, so a different colour pair of trousers later and we were through. After walking the show jump track all I could think was 16 jumping efforts later I would have completed my first 4*. The track was definitely big and very square but I went in feeling quietly confident. Brad was amazing and tried so hard for me. The 2nd and 12th fences fell due to my lack of straightness on the approach but with the time always counting down there is a balance to be had. Looking back I should have taken another stride or two and added those seconds for time penalties but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I now know that the horse I bought all those years ago as a failed showjumper is an epic 4* event horse! We have done it!!!!!
To top it all off my goal of finishing in the top 50% was blown out of the water with our 10th place. So now, all being well, I can enter Badminton 4* next year. We were 5th in the BE100 2012 Championships there so some would say this is our second visit. I wonder if that has been done before? Whether we get in depends on the ranking of the other entrants but the points we earned at Pau makes it much more likely.
My best friend of 9 years has always done his best for me. We have grown together, failed and learned together and triumphed together. He has made me the rider I am today. Pau was everything and more than I could have hoped for so my huge thanks go the organisers and the GB Team support who were brilliantly helpful even though we were not on the World Class squad. Thanks of course to Mum for being coach, groom and top quality support and the Hills for letting us share their adventure. Family, friends, clients and Pony Clubs have cheered me on all the way through France which has been so gratefully received. And of course as my top sponsor Timothy Foxx for making me feel great on and off the horse too.
This blog comes courtesy of tweed fashion brand Timothy Foxx www.timothyfoxx.co.uk