Bonheiden was my last overseas trip for 2018. Askeaton joined Kvint and Emma as the five year olds was 1.10 and I thought the lovely Belgian courses on a really good surface would be a good end to the season for her. Becky Forte came to help me and we set off at 4.30 on Wednesday morning. I haven’t been to Bonheiden before, but it’s just 3 hours from Calais, is the first show I’ve found without getting lost once, and when we got there the horses had lovely permanent stables, with automatic water drinkers: I’m sure I’ll be back.
The horses trotted up first thing on Thursday and Askeaton jumped at about 10.30. She is the most incredible five year old. The warm up was in a permanent tent, and it was busy - she didn’t mind a thing and then she went into the very spooky, grown up ring and jumped as if she’d been there all her life. Kvint then jumped a super round in the 1.30 for a low placing, and I exercised Emma so we were off to a good start.
On Friday Askeaton jumped early. Unfortunately the girl before me fell off and took the bridle with her so the horse careered round the ring before running out into the bar where Becky caught her. Poor Askeaton, given that she was only broken in December, and was very nervous and wary, we did have a few anxious moments, and she was very green over the first few fences, but then relaxed and jumped really well again. Emma then jumped the 1.40 speed class which was a qualifier for the ranking class on Saturday and the Grand Prix. She felt very fresh, and jumped a fabulous round to finish 11th. It was important to try to qualify and to jump clear so I didn’t hurry her, but her cruising speed is naturally quick and actually there were very few clears.
Kvint then jumped brilliantly in the 1.30, which had over a hundred in it, so it was very strong, and he was actually very quick, but I got a rush of blood to the head and had a bit of a wild stride to the third last resulting in him having the back bar - I was furious with myself for letting him down.
On Saturday I just had the five year old final with Askeaton, and the ranking class, the Small Grand Prix, with Emma. Askeaton was 8th to go which is always a little bit hard, and the course was much bigger than she is used to, finishing up a proper 1.20. She jumped beautifully, and I was thrilled with how much she had learnt over the three rounds. In this round she landed on the right leg, or changed immediately every time and was so good to ride to every fence. The video below shows her progression through the three days. I think she is quite exceptional, and just so lovely to ride.
I had a long wait to jump Emma in the 1.45 ranking class. When I walked the course I thought it was big and very technical, with a difficult combination away from the collecting ring at fence 4, with a dog-leg distance after it to a big oxer and then a difficult double. Unfortunately the person before me managed to make the combination look quite impossible and very long. Emma jumped the first three fences quite beautifully and I then overrode into the combination making it exceptionally short! She landed running and I was flustered so I added to the next fence and then overrode again to the double, so decided to retire. In retrospect, having watched the video and had a sensible conversation with David, it didn’t look too bad at all and she was jumping very well. But we have jumped very few ranking classes, and this was a big course in a smaller ring and there was absolutely no room for error. Back to the drawing board, more practice and a bit more support and I really think we will crack this. It is amazing what a big step up every 5cm is.
On Sunday I just had Kvint and Emma in the 1.35. With over 120 in the class it was as strong and technical as it could be. Kvint was 5th to go and jumped brilliantly. He had two down in the jump-off, but was flying and when I looked at the course after we had jumped I couldn’t believe how big the fences looked. Usually once you have jumped round the fences look much smaller! I then set off on Emma, knowing that the combination would be tricky for her, and managed to ride her exceptionally badly so that we had a fence down before the combination! She actually jumped the combination brilliantly, but she certainly found it difficult.
I was thrilled with the horses and it was a good note to end on for the season. I wish I had ridden Emma better, but looking back over the year I started the season being so worried about Emma’s health, and concerned about travelling with her, etc and actually she has jumped brilliantly and been placed in almost all her 1.40 classes. She was 6th in a red hot 1.30 national final and had good placings in her last two international shows. My self-belief when riding Emma has been rather inconsistent this year. I think I am riding better and that my ability to understand the technical aspects of the bigger courses has improved, but sometimes my lack of experience and confidence can be a massive obstacle. Kvint has been absolutely fantastic this year. He only stepped up to 1.30 in Lier in March, and has been so consistent at this level and has jumped his first Grand Prix and his first few bigger classes so well. He is the easiest, most charming horse and I couldn’t be more thrilled with him, and I have so much confidence in him now.
Askeaton has gone from being broken in December to jumping at her first international show in September. She is a little star! Heidi has also come on so well. They are all in the field now. The three young horses, Askeaton, Heidi and Riri, are in a beautiful field up on Ashdown Forest, and they are getting fat and woolly, and look really switched off and relaxed. For the youngsters I think getting them right away for their holidays really helps. Then they know that this is where they work, and when they are away they can relax and be horses. Emma and Kvint have had their back shoes off and are turned out together. They look really relaxed and aren’t getting too fat, but they are certainly woolly. They will have four weeks off in total and then it will be back to work for all of us.
One of the lovely things about stay away shows is the opportunity to get to know some of my fellow competitors better and in Bonheiden we were lucky enough to get to know Australian eventing olympian Chris Burton, and his lovely wife Beck and little son Harry and also Paul and Denise Bevan.
Needless to say I managed about two days of not riding before I was itching to ride something, so I have been helping out with some of the riding at Breen Equestrian. I have been riding some lovely young horses, and have developed a very soft spot for a five year daughter of the great Magic Fox and Balloon. I will certainly be watching her future with great interest - she is a really special one.
Meanwhile we are doing those end of year jobs, Steff, Camilla, Izzy, Mark and I are painting the stables, and the lorry has been off to have all the little niggles mended and checked, and to have it’s yearly major service. The horses are having a fabulous break in this lovely Autumn weather and we will all be keen to get going in December. We have Sophie and Alex’s wedding to be very excited about in November and a special birthday treat for Mark in December.
Of course nothing would get done without a fabulous team pulling it all together. Becky did a sterling job in Bonheiden. We had very early and very cold mornings, and some very late evenings, and it was lovely to have such great company, especially on the journey. The reason I didn’t get lost is Becky was so good at reading the instructions and looking out for the rather tiny show signs. At home Steff, Camilla, Izzy and Mark kept everything going. Many thanks also to my sponsors, Saracen Horse Feeds, Just Equine Ltd, and Macwet Gloves and for the help I get from Bombers Bits, Horse Pilot and Fabbri Boots - life would be very much harder with out all of you.