The weeks before Hardelot suddenly raced by and with a lot of very excited butterflies I drove out of the gates of Hickstead at 2.45 am last Wednesday morning with Emma, three of Shane Breen's horses and Leo Tierney in hot pursuit of Shane's head girl Nattie in the super-charged Breen Truck. I have failed to replace the map of France that I left in Polly's van after Auvers so it was imperative to keep up!
Hardelot is a seaside-town about one hour south of Calais where a lot of Parisiens have their weekend homes. It feels a lot like Long Island, New York, but with very different architecture. The showground is in the middle of a residential area with no lorry parking, which makes unloading and parking a bit of a challenge.
Once we were unloaded and the stables organised, the horses were trotted up and ridden and tucked up for the night all ready for an 8 am start on Thursday. Being stabled in the same barn as Laura Renwick, Jessie Drea, Joe Clee and William Funnell made me realise how very lucky I was to be there. I was 5th to go so I had an early night followed by another early morning.
Michael Duffy and Leo helped me warm up and we started out really well, before Emma spooked at the stands at fence 3 and I was so switched off that let her stop. However, the rest of the round got better and better and she felt fabulous jumping on the grass.
On Friday morning I was 2nd to go with a 9 am start. The boys helped me warm up again, and Shane and Michael Quirke arrived in time for the final few jumps. Emma jumped a really lovely round, feeling much more confident, and finishing half-way up the class. So the decision was then made to run her in the Grand Prix on Sunday rather than the Little Grand Prix on Saturday.
The advantage of the early start was being able to watch the CSI3*. Hardelot is the first show of the season on grass in France, and so it is the place to see the up and coming stars for the year. It was great to watch Michael Duffy and Shane go really well on both young and established Breen Stars, and watch Nicole Pavitt and Laura Renwick on winning form.
Mark and Chloe, Lorna, Darcy & Dougie Breen arrived on Friday evening, along with my sister Polly and her girls Eliane & Nina and her boyfriend Vincent, so it was ideal not to be jumping on Saturday. The beach was visited while I rode, my bicycle brakes were mended and we had a lovely meal in the evening in the town centre.
The first two days I rode Emma in the afternoon as well as in the morning, finally getting her really relaxed by day three. Sadly there was very little grazing on hand, although she did manage about 20 minutes each day and a nice bit of hedge by the wash-down.
The small Grand Prix of the CSI3* on Sunday was huge and very technical, followed by the Grand Prix itself which was enormous, so by lunch-time I was feeling a bit quiet. Emma felt really good when I worked her in the morning, so I knew we were as good as we could be. But the course for the CSI1* Grand Prix was as big as anything either of us had ever jumped and very technical too. Being 15th to go was about right. Quirkey worked me in and calmed me down and off we went. She gave me a really fabulous ride, just getting a little bit close to the third fence, but I could not have been more thrilled with her. The adrenaline was a great help on the drive back to Calais.
If all goes according to plan Emma and I will join the rest of the Breen Team in Lummen next week for the 1*. The pack-up has started and I am very excited. I am going by myself this time so I will need more than a map of England to find my way there!