We had a different, but really lovely Christmas. For the first time for 31 years we had Christmas day without Anna or Sophie, but we celebrated with them the weekend before Christmas and had a wonderful family carol singing evening with our friends the Colemans before waving them both off to their respective in-laws for Christmas. We had a lovely Christmas Eve with the combined Bunn and Breen families at Hickstead, which was a huge party in the conservatory very much reminiscent of the Douglas Bunn era. We both had particularly good luck in the seating plan, and it was a very festive start to our Christmas day. On Christmas day Mark and I gave ourselves a little lie-in (7.30) before mucking out, and driving to my brother David for a delicious Christmas lunch.
David Simpson managed to fit me in for a last training session before he left to jump in Dubai, and I set of for Sentower Park in Belgium. Askeaton, Kvint and Emma all jumped really well and I felt that we were ready for our first international foray of the year.
The new year started with the very exciting news that Precision Joint Solution are sponsoring me for 2019. Precision have developed a whole leg supplement developed to support not only the horses’ joints, but also their bone, hooves, ligaments and tendons. I have been using Precision on Emma and Kvint since they came back to work in November and now that they are working hard the results seem to be extremely exciting. They both have bounced back really well from this show, and hopefully they will do as well after two weeks in Lier.
Every year my family, the Watt family, have a get together somewhere round Christmas. This year my eldest brother Andy organised a fabulous dinner in the Admiral Codrington Pub near Sloane Square and we managed a full attendance. All the siblings, all the nephews and nieces, my stepmother Zandra and her partner David, and this year at least Tom had the moral support of Alex. Everybody is growing up so fast, and we had a brilliant, raucous evening and a delicious meal. We had the added bonus of having my sister Polly, her husband Vincent and my two nieces Ellie and Nina staying for the few days that they were in England, so we could have a good catch up with them.
Having waved Polly & Co off on Sunday morning Steff and I gave the lorry a new year turnout before packing it up again and on Wednesday morning I set off for Sentower Park at Opglabbeek in Belgium with Doonaveeragh Emma, Kvint and Askeaton. The horses travelled well and I was lucky enough to be met by lovely Britt Nigul, who kindly groomed for me for the week. Britt had already found my stables and bedded them down, and so we quickly gave them some water and hay, and I rode them so they were ready for the trot up.
Thursday was a very long and cold day. Askeaton jumped at about 8.50 in the six year olds. This was quite an ask for her first ever indoor show and she certainly rose to the occasion with a lovely clear for 1 time fault.
The two older horses were both jumping in the 1.30 which didn’t start until 6.30, so I gave them both a quick ride, then we gave them an early lunch and had a bit of a rest ourselves. Emma jumped 3rd in the 1.30 and was just a little bit spooky to the first fence, and I didn’t have quite enough leg, but apart from that jumped an increasingly confident round. Kvint jumped a great round, but in my hurry to win some money I turned too quickly out of the last double causing him to have it down. By the time we had put Kvint to bed it was 10.45 - a seriously long day for poor Britt.
On Friday we had a much more sensible day. Doonaveeragh Emma jumped a lovely clear in the 1.35 to finish just out of the money.
Askeaton then jumped a really great clear to finish 10th in the Six Year Olds, after a rather alarming start when she spotted the photographer moving, and Kvint was rather strong in the 1.30 to have one fence down.
We were all finished by lunchtime which meant both the horses and Britt and I could have a relaxed afternoon and give the horses a little pick of grass, and we were able to get an early night, after two very long days.
We had a relaxed start on Saturday with Emma and Kvint both jumping the 1.35. Once again I failed to have enough leg on Emma down one distance which led to a back bar falling, but on Kvint I got my act together and he got his first placing at 1.35. He really has got the hang of it all now, he is much more switched on and I am starting to really trust him to keep in front of my leg, so I hope he will start to be really quite competitive this year. He also feels completely unfazed by the size of the fences, and generally much stronger this year, so I am very excited to see what he will achieve in 2019
The only one left to jump was Askeaton in the 5 & 6 year old Final. From the moment we started jumping she felt fantastic, and she jumped a really lovely round, just finding one distance a little bit short for four faults. In retrospect I should have created a bit more room by taking an outside line, but I’m always a bit anxious to “get there”. Until the 29th December I wasn’t completely sure she was ready to jump a six year old class, so I am absolutely thrilled with her and so looking forward to competing her this year.
Britt and I were able to have a leisurely late lunch before packing up the rest of the lorry ready for an early getaway on Sunday. I had a lovely evening at the Young Horse Auction, as always wishing I had ridden a little bit better, but really being so pleased with the horses. I had lost a little bit of confidence with Emma, and by the end of the show I felt much braver with her again. I had a very swift journey home on Sunday morning, managing to get home in time for the horses to have a couple of hours in the field which they were very pleased with.
Sentower Park is the most fantastic venue. The indoor school is so huge that there there are three warm-up areas as well as the main arena. I’m really looking forward to going back in April for their three week outdoor spring show.
After two quiet days and a lot of washing and ironing all the horses seem to have come out of the show very well. Askeaton has travelled so well she actually looks as though she has gained a little bit of weight. It is full speed ahead now with plans for CSI2*/CSIYH1* Lier in February. Hurricane Heidi will also join me for this show, so the plans include getting her to at least one indoor show before we go.
Many thanks to Britt Nigul who was the most fantastic and good-natured helper, and to Mark, Steff, Camilla and Izzy who kept everything going while I was away. Many, many thanks to my sponsors, Saracen Horse Feeds keep the horses looking absolutely fabulous and feeling fit and healthy for the job, Precision Joint Solution is definitely helping them stay sound and recover quickly from their exertions, Just Equine keep us supplied with smart Kentucky Horsewear boots and saddle pads and MacWet Gloves will always be my favourite gloves for all conditions. Stride Management do an excellent job encouraging and supporting us.