All our prep went well, with a great mixture of showjump training, xc schooling, fitness work on the gallops, and even our flatwork seemed to have come good just at the right time – now that I did NOT see coming! After a eureka moment with our training, Willo is now working soft and round every time, not only in flatwork but jumping which is a massive leap forward. With that progressing, I did feel positive going into the event, knowing that we have never been better placed to start out BE.
The day came, and first up was dressage. Willo warmed up ok...but not to the same standard we’d been achieving at home, and was bouncing on and off the contact, dropping me and coming hollow at times. We were called forward and went to our test, which was a complete disaster! All of a sudden, the bay giraffe had made a reappearance, chomping and mouthing with his nose in the air, and flicking the proverbial V’s. We ended up with a shocking score of 46 which I was mortified at, but was fair given the performance...the most annoying part was our downward transition to trot in prep to do a ½ 20m circle. I was half halting for all my life was worth and Willo got slower and slower but refused to trot, so we were essentially cantering without going anywhere. Not our finest hr! Although it has to be said that I think I was a little thrown by his antics warming up and let him get the upper hand, as looking at the pics my reins weren't short enough and I don't look like I'm riding with the same confidence.
I hopped off and went to check out the SJ course. It definitely looked up to height, and there were a few good colourful ones there too. We warmed up and he flew a large oxer like Pegasus! Height would not be an issue. We were called forward, so off we went. We weren’t as balanced and rhythmical as I’d have liked as he was proving strong and quick (although he always feels faster than he looks!), but I was happy that he was taking me to the fences. We came to the last, a very bright and colourful double, almost home clear, and Willo changed his mind at the last millisecond, leaving us stranded amongst the wings and poles, and his bottom somewhere on the floor. Somehow I stayed on, (superglue, according to the commentator!) and thankfully Willo was unhurt. The fence was rebuilt and we took the last 2 again, clear this time – that really pleased me as it could’ve put him off completely and caused him to throw his toys out the pram. 4 faults, not too bad.
I hot footed it to walk the xc course, (should’ve taken trainers, riding boots are not designed for walking, ouch!) and then took Willo to warm up. There were a few that I was wary of, but would just heed some very good advice; heels down, eyes up, and hopefully we’d be ok! We set off, and came to the 1st fence...a few smacks down his shoulder as he had a wobble, but took it on with encouragement. He was flying round and felt confident, ears pricked, and seemed to be enjoying it. My only concern was brakes – or lack of them. He was hurtling along! A few of the more technical fences required some collection, and I had a job to contain him to make the turns, but we were certainly doing ok. We were coming down a hill towards a hanging log, with the 2nd part of it immediately right and up a short hill. I’d really have to get him back if we were going to make the 2nd element, but thankfully I got hold of him just at the right moment; he popped the first, made the turn and up to the 2nd...at which point he made to jump the fence, and immediately pulled back again, leaving me over his head and on the ground. Elimination for a fall, and unable to carry on. How very disappointing! Such an easy fence, and I genuinely have no reason for why he objected, as we got a great shot at it. Thankfully we were both unhurt, (bar a spot of concussion and fat top lip for me), but I was so disappointed...he is ace at xc usually, an absolute machine and if we could’ve gone clear I would’ve been happy with that as a first time effort. Unfortunately nobody was there to see the fall to say it was me, it was Willo, wrong stride etc so I’m not too sure what to work on...I don’t think it was nerves as by this point the adrenaline was pumping, I was ‘in the zone’ and enjoying it, but who knows. Maybe his confidence was low after the SJ mishap?
In any case, next weekend we have xc clinic with my trainer Sharon, so hopefully we can get our flow back in a safe and familiar environment. Willo will have today off, and I will have him looked at by a physio to make sure he’s physically ok, but then it’s back to the training as before. Next BE is Larkhill in April, so a nice break to regroup, reflect and prepare again. The first one is always going to be the hardest, but fingers crossed by Larkhill we can find our mojo again and learn from the experience. I must be a glutton for punishment because I can’t wait to go again, and try to make amends for a performance that I don’t think is a reflection of our capabilities. I’m not expecting miracles, but certainly an improvement.
Lastly, a million thank you’s to Sharon Kilminster, my trainer, sponsor, friend, mentor, driver and groom for the day for all her help – both in training and on the day. I hope next time we can are able to put in a performance more befitting of the level of training she is giving us.
Positives: meeting some lovely fellow eventers, with some great advice. Experience!
Learnings: take trainers to walk the course. Need to find a more suitable xc bit. More superglue required. Sit up and kick! And for the love of God smile and stop looking so terrified!