Once we were safely back from Oliva Nova the horses had a quiet week, just going to the field every day, and Catokyo had two weeks of rest. For the first time for two years I was able to go to Cheltenham with my brother David. We had a lovely day in beautiful sunshine, the racing was superb and to top it all David and his friends won the place-pot!
I then hacked quietly for ten days and concentrated on getting Catokyo to jump more quietly out of a better rhythm. I had a very good lesson with Shane before he went off to Cagnes sur Mer with his team of horses and then took all three horses to a day show at Coombelands. All three horses jumped really well setting us up for the CSI1* at Le Mans. Catokyo got a last minute entry and off Steff and I went on the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen. We were joined on the ferry by Tracy Priest and four horses and Nici Wilson and Flossy Bellm so a good team from the South East.
We arrived in Le Mans at about 9.30 in brilliant sunshine. We got the horses bedded down and fed and watered as quickly as possible and had a nice coffee and sorted out the lorry while they got themselves organised. I then gave them a quiet hack round the lovely sandy tracks and trotted them all up. Early to bed for everyone - although we were parked very near a very vociferous horse - so not the most peaceful night.
Friday was another lovely day. Catokyo set off with a lovely clear round in the 1.20. Benny jumped a good round in the 1.30 in the main ring and Emma jumped a fabulous clear in the 1.35 - the French just go so fast you cannot believe it.
Saturday was a day of four-faultitis! Catokyo jumped the first two fences in the 1.25 so well that I tried a very cheeky turn to the third which she completely misunderstood. We had a quick chat with the wing of the fence and she jumped the rest of the round perfectly. Benny was fabulous in the small Grand Prix and just mis-read the second last fence. When Shane watched the video the analysis was that I needed a bit more leg as the fence was away from the gate. Very frustrating when there were only 8 clears out of 79 starters, but I am super confident with him now. Emma jumped a very quick round in the 1.35 but just had the middle of the combination when I didn't give her quite enough rein.
Sunday was a lovely day, and we were joined by my sister, Polly, her two girls Eliane and Nina and her lovely husband Vincent, who drove the two hours from their home near Caen to arrive just in time to watch Catokyo jump in the 1.25. When I walked the course I couldn't believe she could jump such a big course when she is always a bit tired on the third day. She was amazing - she just got her jumping boots on and pinged round for a clear. She is one of the most rewarding horses I have ever produced, she has the most wonderful temperament and every round is better than the last.
Benny jumped a great round in the 1.30 speed - we absolutely flew - and he was very unlucky to stumble as I did quite a daring turn-back and just brush a pole on the next oxer. The 1.40 Grand Prix was enormous - which I knew it would be. I went to Le Mans two years ago and really wasn't ready for such a big Grand Prix. I was 28th to go and there was only one clear round. Emma jumped brilliantly, but I just didn't sit up enough after the triple bar and she just caught the rail over the water tray. Stupidly I also had one time fault which kept us out of the prizes. There were only six clears and no double clears - it was won with six faults in the jump-off, which from 65 starters is a pretty serious grand prix.
We had a fabulous team for packing up, and Vincent also mended the lock on the grooms door, but we were still too late to guarantee catching the ferry from Caen so we made the six hour drive up to Calais. Steff was a star and stayed awake for the whole drive which was a fabulous help. We only had a 40 minute wait for a ferry, they did have to wake us up to get the lorry off the boat, and we were home at 4am, in bed by 5am and Mark kindly fed the horses and I got up at 8. A serious lack of prize money, but a great show. All the horses were fabulous and it keeps my eye in to keep jumping big courses on Emma. Hopefully we are all set for trips to Felbridge and Pyecombe before Chepstow CSI2* and if we are very lucky Le Touquet CSI3*.
Back home the horses had two days off. Mark and I joined Sophie and Alex to see Twelfth Night at the National Theatre which was absolutely fantastic, and the following night I joined some friends to see Beauty and the Beast which is a really lovely film.
Mark and I have taken advantage of beautiful spring weather to re-explore Ashdown Forest on the horses. Lovely for both us and the horses - sadly the lack of rain has made the ground hard, so no cantering, but it's still very relaxing for them and plenty of trotting up the hills is excellent for their fitness.