After two days of quick turnaround, a lot of washing and an alarm clock failure, Mark, Twiglet, Emma, Kvint and I hit the road at 4.30 on Wednesday morning. We had a long queue in Dover to get on the ferry and then a four and a half hour journey to de Peelbergen in Holland. Apart from a quick stop to get an OBU, which is how the tolls in Belgium are collected, which involves scanning your truck documents into a machine in a layby in the hope that it spits out a little machine, we had a very good journey, and for the first time ever I found the showground without a single wrong turning. Unloading was highly organised, the trucks parked by the stables to unpack, and there were helpers and free bedding, so the horses were quickly comfortable and had a good drink and a quick lunch so that I could give them a leg stretch.
The facilities at the show were absolutely fantastic. A huge grass arena, and a second grass arena not being used, and four sand arenas, with a huge building housing the normal cafe/bar and three indoor schools. Several big local jumping/producing yards and other private investors, together with some government money, have been put together to provide a fabulous centre. This is the way it seems to be done in Belgium and Holland, having seen a similarly impressive show centre in Lier, and my understanding is that Sentower Park is even grander. It would be interesting to see if we could ever find sufficient private money in the UK to copy this way of attracting a really wide range of international competitors, and then craftily having lots of young horse classes to showcase our fabulous British bred horses. Centres like Pyecombe operate on a similar basis, but with a single investor/stud taking all the risk themselves, whereas this was on a very grand scale with maybe 20 investors providing an competition centre for 12 months of the year.
Both horses trotted up well on Thursday morning, and Emma jumped in the 1.40 medium tour class in the fabulous grass arena in the afternoon. She jumped a lovely round to finish just out of the money.
First up on Friday morning was Kvint, who also jumped on the grass. He jumped very well, but was rather ridiculously fresh and just had a fence down being silly. Emma jumped in the sand arena in the afternoon and just had an early fence when she didn't quite make a back bar, but apart from that she jumped very well, although in retrospect she has had a lot of back bars recently, and this did make me email Ed Lyall with a view to having a look at her when we got back to England.
On Saturday I worked both horses in the morning, and then jumped Kvint in the 1.30 speed class on the sand. He jumped much better for having some work in the morning. This was a new experiment because he is a rather cold, lazy horse, and although he is charming he's never keen to over exert himself, but the result is that now he is very fit he suddenly wakes up in the ring and can be a little bit all over the place. I then jumped Emma in the medium Grand Prix. This was a fair old 1.40 with some big fences in it in a pretty tight sand arena, so would never be the easiest course for Emma. She actually jumped very well, and for the first few fences felt superb, but she had the back bar of a big oxer off a corner which made her a little bit worried so that she had two parts of the combination.
All my hopes now lay with Kvint for the 1* Grand Prix. The course was a proper Grand Prix course in the sand arena. There were very few clear rounds, and Kvint managed to be particularly frustrating! I didn't ride him before jumping because he seemed tired - not true! He warmed up really well and jumped the first few fences beautifully before seeing a dragon and dashing off to the side so badly that I couldn't get him to the double and had to circle. He then jumped the rest of the course like a careful cat! So it was back to the drawing board. He is a lovely horse and has come from jumping 1.10 to 1.35 in 12 months, he is very fit and justifiably very pleased with himself. I will take a bit of a firmer line with him now, sort out our flat work a bit better and I think we have a lot of fun to come.
We packed up quickly and had a very quick journey to Calais, and amused ourselves by listening to the live feed from the Hickstead Derby - what a great win for William Funnell. We were then held in the port for four hours because the freight part of the tunnel wasn't working and there were huge queues for the ferry. We got home at 1 am, very tired, with two tired horses. Slightly discouraged with my performance, no disasters, but no prizes either, there was some soul searching about why I couldn't do better on the way back. We'd had such a good show at Bolesworth and this one could have been even better, but that's the way it goes.
I got back on Heidi on Monday morning, a quick lunge - or rodeo, and then a hack round the village. She looks and feels fantastic, and after a few days has settled down. The babies are spending their nights out now which is much better for their brains.
It's been a rather busier week than anticipated: the power steering on the lorry wasn't working on the way back from Bolesworth or in Holland, it was a whistle stop tour to get that mended on Tuesday before meeting Ed Lyall to assess Emma.
Emma was definitely sore - so she has spent two days of luxury at Sussex Equine Hospital having a full work up, X-rays and an MRI scan, and I am waiting rather nervously for the results and hoping that her problems are ones that will be easily treatable. At the beginning of the season, and especially in Lier and Windsor, I thought she jumped out of this world, but actually in Chepstow she did fail to get up a couple of distances which isn't like her (she has a monster stride) and from Bicton onwards I think she hasn't felt so scopey as normal. She jumped beautifully again in Bolesworth, but she has tended to jump her best on day 1 of a show - whereas I would normally say she gets better and better. The jumping and travelling is hard for the horses, and to assess her the day after a show and a 10 hour journey is quite brave, but I don't want to compete her unless she is 100% right, so we need to do the best by her.
Horses aside I had a lovely trip to London to have lunch with my friend Sarah-Jane Tillard and to see her beautiful new house in London. So civilised and just a lovely grown-up break from the horses, and my sister, Polly, and niece, Eliane, came to stay on Friday night on their way back home to France. I just love this fantastic weather, hot for riding, but lovely long, warm evenings - I can hardly ever be too hot. We had a very exciting evening watching the Global Champions Tour in Monaco last night where Shane and Ipswich van de Wolfsakker won the 5* Grand Prix. What an amazing achievement for Shane and a relatively inexperience, but very special horse, but also for Nattie who works so hard to make sure the horses are at their absolute best for the competitions, and the whole Breen Team.
Askeaton and Kvint are gearing up for shows at Felbridge and Pyecombe next week, and Heidi is also entered for Pyecombe, so hopefully we will have the whole team in tip-top shape for the Royal International Horse Show at the end of the month.
As always many thanks to the team here, Steff, Camilla and Izzy, to Cinder Hill Equine Vets, Sussex Equine Hospital and the Casserly family who keep the horses on the road, and my sponsors Saracen Horse Feeds, MacWet Gloves and Just Equine, along with Stride Management who make life so much easier.