All thoughts that entered my mind during my 1st (and currently only) BE90. As it turned out, my dressage was shocking (47) - I was literally scared stiff and so rode like Pinocchio, a small wooden child, aboard a head tossing disobedient horse/ giraffe who cantered at walk pace for half a lap of the arena after our canter-trot transition should have taken place. My showjumping was on course for a clear...until the final fence, where on a perfect stride, my horse inexplicably sat down in the fence (4 faults). (See this video for your amusement. Only positive would be the commentator and crowd being rather complimentary about my stickability!) Across country we were hurtling round like a bat out of hell (his choice not mine) and flying everything – until half way, where he bailed out partially over the easiest, smallest fence on the course (E). Cue eating sand and mild concussion. An inauspicious debut, which I’ve been dying to lay to rest ever since! Hopefully I will get the chance this year with my lovely ex-racer Pha Mai Blue.
My personal learnings that I will take forward to next time?
1. Not everyone rides like Pippa, William and Mary. You shouldn’t expect to either - at least not straight away. ;-) But we all have to start somewhere; don't worry if it isn't perfect - every small step is progress and experience that you'll learn from.
2. Remember you’re there to enjoy it. Even if you’re petrified, try to smile or you’ll end up looking like this (see my exorcist style facial expression in the photo on the left) in all your event photos....
3. Even the professionals get it wrong sometimes.
4. Whatever you're worried about doing most - someone has already been there, done it, got the t-shirt - and others will almost certainly do the same again!
5. Heels down, eyes up, breathe, be prepared and most importantly of all, always keep the horse between yourself and the ground.
Starting eventing can be a scary thing for newbies such as myself – but if you’re thinking about giving it a go, or you've just started, here are some experiences, tips and stories from a whole range of eventers from grassroots level right up to four star Olympians that might help you on your way...
(You can click any of the pics on this page to enlarge them to full size and see them in their full glory!)
"Starting to do BE can be very daunting and one of the main things to remember is it is meant to be fun, and a lot of riders get too wrapped up in their nerves and forget to enjoy it!
"It can go right, but it can also go wrong for everyone including professionals. I remember one year at Blenheim, I was so shocked my horse cantered in and halted square, I remembering halting for about 10 seconds trying to work out which way to turn at the end. I knew the test, what you did one way you did the other, I tried to look at the foot prints in the grass to see if that would help, in the end I said eeny meny miny mo and guessed left; luckily I chose correct and got away with it!"
“My first event was Munstead, I was 13, riding my Mum’s huge horse Jake, doing the BE 90. I was so nervous, and we were running late and completely out our depth. Having only competed with PC, we didn't know about start fee and number bibs, so we held everyone up, oh and hat tags!
“I was practising and practising my dressage test out in the warm up and then it was my time to go in... Down the centre line track right, horn beeps, judge gets out...’It's Down the centre line track left, start again.’ Down the centre line track left, B 20 m circle, horn beeps, judge says; ‘You should have changed the rein across the diagonal, have you learnt the right test?’
“Nope I hadn't, she gave me 30 seconds to learn the right one! Nightmare and I had no margin for error. Managed to do it! That's my first BE disaster!”
“At my first ever event, we pulled into the lorry park at Chilham and a BE volunteer tapped on my window and said 'you might want to leave your horse onboard while the emergency helicopter lands' - definitely made my mum feel happy about the sport we'd chosen together!
"But went on to do a decent dressage, about 2/3 poles and a faultless XC. Went to Pulborough a few weeks later, the unaff there and scored 28 dressage, 8 faults SJ and came second so first event is just about getting into the swing of all the changeovers etc... Never looked back!”
- Make sure you have competed at dressage, sj and xc comps (or combined training) before you enter. I usually sj and dr one level higher than I event at - so if doing 90s I jump at 1m. Train on grass and do it in all weathers!
- Train regularly with a trainer you trust and can rely on.
- Get organised. Try to coursewalk the day before if you can. Take snapshots of the fences, suss out the layout of the site, where the loos are, warm ups etc. to help you not to get flustered in the day.
- Consider your fitness – both horse and rider.
- Attend one of the BE xc schooling days where they look at speed or canter over set distances to get an idea of pace. However, It is better to incur time faults and jump clear rather than storm round and get a run out. A safe confidence giving round is what you should aim for.
- Learn your dressage test thoroughly. Work out where you can gain marks and what you have to work at to get the best score you can (don't start trying to do this a week before - it takes time)
- Take an organised, unflappable helper who possibly has evented before and can be positive and confident doing things like practice fences.
- organise your kit. Pack it the day before, use lists if you are forgetful.
- Read the rule book to get an idea of xc number marker colours, correct turnout and clothing, flagging, faults xc etc. if you are confused ask for help - people are usually great.
- I have shaved loads off my time by thinking jump and kick on. Not by thinking jump, then WOOP I've made it over that fence relief
- Focus on each phase and only that phase. Don’t fret about xc during dr warm up! Forget any mistakes you make and move on. Ignore others cock ups and how good you think they look. It's about you and your horse, not them.
“I can assure you - no matter who you are these mistakes and amusing stories will constantly happen throughout your career, not just when you first start. I have done it all, missed out fences in the S-J, the X-C, gone wrong numerous times in the dressage, jumped fences backwards, stopped at the first s-j as I just sat there trying to look pretty as I thought all the big riders were watching, in fact they were only warming up so sure they were taking no notice - well until I collided into the first fence!
“My most embarrassing has to be at Blair Castle CCI** the arena was seriously muddy and sticky and I was on a horse that had the most awful up down canter to sit to - it felt awful on a good day. I did the whole of the right lead canter on the wrong leg....medium canter down the long side - on the wrong leg, I then came to counter canter (and was now riding true canter) and thought this is a bit comfier, the ground must be better here...the judge gave me 3 "wrong leg not corrected" then dittoed that for about 4 movements....so embarrassing!!”
(Thanks to Gatehouse for asking this question on my behalf.)
Q - How in the world do you manage to finish on a dressage score of 16.5?
A - Top Biats is quite good at dressage so that is a help. Also, I have been doing it for a little while now so every now and again a score like that can pop up
Q- Can you remember your first BE, and what are your tips for those starting out?
A - Yes, I remember my first BE event only too well. Tweseldown Horse Trials, March 1984 and it was very daunting. The important thing to remember is to keep it fun and have no expectations. I would also recommend getting stuck in and doing as many competitions as you can or can afford to as this makes each occasion less of a one off.
“Mine was in 2011 at Tweseldown. Good steady outing as the following week we were 2nd at Borde Hill. Hooked since then!”
“I can recall Winnie’s first BE event...I fell off head first into what’s now known as ‘hell ditch’ at Tweseldown! Didn’t quite go to plan!"
“Mine was at Portman in 2004. Had a horrendous dressage, all but eliminated SJ – followed by an argument with mum about letting me go XC and after begging to go...flew round, making the day totally worthwhile and catching the eventing bug! Never looked back since."
"Mine was when I was 16 so around 1989. I was rubbish at dressage and usually last but always managed to scramble round the jumping. I used to dream about winning a prize but it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that it started to click for me and I started to get placed. After that I’ve never looked back!”
"I did 2 PN’s in ’99 at the tender age of 17 and both went well so in 2000 I went straight for Novice.
"My advice would be to be realistic with your aims, whatever level you're starting at. Make sure you are enjoying it as at the end of the day eventing and riding should be fun."
Sally Corrigan: “West Wilts about 6 years ago and hooked since. Very intimidating but most rewarding day ever! Don’t worry about being a seasoned eventer, do your best and well done for making it there. Enjoy the moment and you’ll be an old hand before you know it.”
*Thanks to all who contributed to this article. Anyone else who has any eventing tips, stories or advice for newbies like myself - please feel free to 'comment' and add your experiences too. Nicki x*