David Simpson kindly fitted Kvint and I in for some Derby training on the Monday before Hickstead, before he flew of to represent Ireland in Gijon. It’s amazing how quickly I have forgotten I was ever an eventer, as the hedge with white rails was the fence that terrified me the most! Kvint was green and spooky, but very willing, and we both felt that he was up for a spin round the Derby fences.
Camilla and I set off for Hickstead on Thursday morning, first up being Heidi in the five year old qualifier on the grass in ring five. The course was not overly big, but was difficult enough, especially given that these young horses have very little experience of jumping in big grass rings, and the Hickstead fences themselves are different. Unbeknown to me when she over-jumped at the first fence she pulled off a front shoe. I noticed she slipped badly between fences one and two, and then slipped again coming to the gate at fence five causing her to run out. However, she finished the course bravely and well and we retrieved our shoe from the kind pole-picker. This meant she didn’t qualify for the final, but in retrospect this was no bad thing, her foot was quite sore, and also the final was very big and caused a lot of trouble, and we didn’t take the risk of ending our summer on a bad note.
Askeaton was next up in the six & seven year old qualifier. She jumped an exhibition round to qualify for the final in the main ring on Friday.
On Friday, I just had Kvint to jump in a 1.30 qualifier and Askeaton to jump in her final in the main ring. The 1.30 was in half of ring 3, which for a strong 1.30 was rather like doing Prince Phillip games with huge jumps in! Kvint jumped really well, until he had a vertical in the jump-off and I then circled in the difficult turn between the last two fences, I expect that if I was still clear I would have galvanised myself better, but he jumped very well anyway. Steff and I had a little bit of time to kill before we needed to get Askeaton ready and I needed to walk the course. I already knew that the five year olds had caused a fair amount of carnage so I wasn’t expecting any concessions for the six year olds, but it was huge: 1.35 for the first few fences and then 1.40 at the end of the course. I decided to see how she warmed up, and then jump the first few fences and see how she felt. Askeaton warmed up beautifully, for some reason particularly loving the international warm-up, and she jumped absolutely brilliantly in the ring. Some horses, Emma especially, find the main ring at Hickstead very daunting, Askeaton treated it like any other field! She unfortunately had the second part of the first double when I was a bit too forward, and both parts of the last double where she was a bit strong. But I was elated with her bravery, scope and maturity. I knew she was getting a tiny bit strong in Bolesworth, but didn’t want her to be backwards in this class, but now I know she has the class and attitude to take on these big fences I can work on having her a little bit more polite, but I always feel you have to let the horses learn to enjoy their own scope and take confidence in it, and I lack the power to give them as much leg off the floor as a man, so we have to start a little bit forward.
And then there was one. On Saturday I just had Kvint for the Douglas Bunn Challenge which is a 1.35 class predominantly over the Derby Fences. Walking the course I felt it all started very quickly. Fence one is the Cornishman (the wall - which I never realised was so big - it’s about 1.25) then fence two was a big rustic oxer, followed by the dry ditch - considerably higher than I had practiced. Then a triple bar and a turn back to the white horse, followed by the double of water ditches, which are both wide enough to be a water jump. Straight down the ring to a big oxer, up the bank, down the soft side, an open water, straight to the road crossing, then the last two parts of the dyke, an oxer, Hickstead planks and then the hedge. I thought that if he was OK to the dry ditch we would get round. He jumped really well over the wall, great over the oxer, a little bit spooky but good over the ditch, he felt very relieved to see the triple bar and turned back well to the white vertical. He was just a little bit slow jumping the first ditch making the distance long and chipped to the second one making a bit splash as the pole hit the water. He galloped down and jumped the oxer brilliantly but was very surprised to be asked to go up the bank. He came down and jumped the water really well, but was super wobbly to the rode crossing and then unfortunately stopped going into the dyke. but jumped it second time and finished the course clear. I was really thrilled with him, although he is nine he has only been competing for two years, and I think as much as anything his brain got tired with the constant questions. I didn’t anticipate him getting quite so green after the bank and should have ridden with more authority. I will definitely do this class again with him, and possibly the speed derby. I was very pleased with his fitness, and he is the most willing horse you could ever work with.
We stayed to watch the rest of the class, a well deserved win from Harriet Nuttall and Silver Lift before taking Kvint home and finishing the yard. I was back the next day to help my pupils Claudia Savage and Kayleigh Grant. Claudia and Riri had a fantastic round in the Eventers Challenge round the fabulous new cross country fences, and Kayleigh and Lulu had a very good round in only their second 1.10. I was very proud of them both, lots of good things to come from both these partnerships. I stayed to watch Harriet have another great win in the Grand Prix and Georgia Tame win the 1.30.
For me the AEJC marks the end of the summer season, and Heidi and Askeaton had their shoes off on Tuesday and are up in their Autumn holiday field on Ashdown Forest. Kvint is holidaying at home, he probably will have a little bit less time off as he is a little bit older and rather inclined to be fat. Meanwhile I am catching up with a thousand jobs that have never quite got done since the competing started in earnest in February. My desk is tidy, all my work is up to date, I’ve found frames for photos and done all my credit card statements so I’ll be raring to go by the time the horses come back at the beginning of October.
As always Steff and Camilla were fantastic at the show. It’s the end of a long year of work, and with the young horses we have seen huge progress. Time for a few Autumn jobs now - Camilla and I started painting jumps this morning, and we are doing a few updates on the yard.
With very little riding to do, I am getting right back into my fitness training, following the program set by Connor at Integrum Nutrition. I started off with huge drive and enthusiasm in June, but unfortunately in August I struggled with the arthritis in my left shoulder more than I could cope with, and an unhelpful diagnosis and prognosis from an Orthopaedic Surgeon left me feeling very miserable. However, I survived the end of the season well, and the silver lining is that I have now found a fantastic new GP, so hopefully I can use this non-competitive month to lay down a good basis for a stronger core and better cardio fitness, all ready for when the horses start competing again.
It’s been great having the support of Saracen Feeds, Just Equine, Precision Solutions, Integrum Nutrition, MacWet Gloves and Stride Management throughout the year. The horses have been absolutely great, and all exceeded expectations, so once we’re all rested up it will be onwards and upwards.