CSI1* Hardelot

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.

Doonaveeragh Emma, CSI1* Hardelot

Doonaveeragh Emma, CSI1* Hardelot

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. 

Doonaveeragh Emma - CSI1* Grand Prix Hardelot

Doonaveeragh Emma - CSI1* Grand Prix Hardelot

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!

All set for the new season.

It has finally stopped raining and my spirits have instantly lifted, and my energy and enthusiasm, which I thought had succumbed to old age, have returned.  I even managed to catch the sun, or at least the wind, at Pyecombe on Saturday. If we get a few weeks of this weather the grass might start to grow and the horses can go out at night.

Luendi - Discovery Pyecombe - March 1st

Luendi - Discovery Pyecombe - March 1st

We have finally managed to have two training sessions with Shane which have made me really pull my socks up and start riding all the horses more positively forward. This forces me to look for a distance far earlier and keep the horses in a much stronger rhythm and hopefully give them more space in front of the fence so that the two babies have enough time to get their front ends folded up, without giving them a fright. I am much more scared of Shane than of falling off, or the huge things he makes me jump - a system that also worked brilliantly when my mother was in charge - so it does make me shut up and get on with it.

Espirito Santo - Discovery Pyecombe - 1st March.

Espirito Santo - Discovery Pyecombe - 1st March.

Both Luendi and Espirito Santo (Rabbit) are now jumping quite happily round Discoveries and even jumped their first 1.05 at Felbridge this week. Sometimes it is prettier than others, but they are both quick learners, and, like all of us, they need lots of practice to get it right consistently. I am thrilled with both of them, they are both lovely characters and terribly well behaved at home, at shows and in the very smart new lorry.

We hardly know ourselves with so much space for getting the horses ready, lockers and a lovely living. I am really looking forward to our first stay away show. We live up a very narrow lane, so there has had to be some modification of our driveway to get it in and out! I can't claim to have reversed in in one go yet, but I haven't scraped it either.

Luendi - Discovery - Pyecombe, 1st March

The lovely Emma has now done her first few 1.30 classes. Two lovely double clears and twice I have made a mistake in the jump-off. I am trying terribly hard to ride her more forward and to be more relaxed with my hand. She is inclined to be hot, so it is a major challenge to force my brain to make me do the right thing. I know how lucky I am to have such a fabulous little horse, and I am determined to make a good job of her, so I will be training really hard, and making sure that as "practice makes permanence" the practice is correct.  Emma is entered for the CSI* at Hardelot in the first week of April, so I am very excited. The CSI* is a very small affair compared to the CSI3* that it runs alongside and so it will be thrilling to be there at all, let alone competing there, and having the chance to watch some of the world's top riders working in as well as competing. I think we are on track with our training, but I will need my super competitive and efficient head on as the French can jump clear rounds at about the same speed as the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham - and I am the one who could never go fast enough eventing!

Doonaveeragh Emma - 1.30 Pyecombe - 6th March

Doonaveeragh Emma - 1.30 Pyecombe - 6th March

I have been very proudly watching Biscuit (Little Penny) and her progress with both David Simpson and Helen Cruden in Vilamoura in Portugal. She won a 1.30 in the first week with David and went consistently well for Helen in their first show together in the second week. We have also heard from Homer who is a huge success in his new home with the Wynnstay.  There was even a back view of him in the Horse and Hound in the New Year.

I have just got back from a lovely day's racing at Sandown and am really looking forward to my annual visit to Cheltenham on Wednesday. I have a very spoiling day with my youngest brother David and I absolutely love it - it is about the best day out ever! The rest of the week is spent cramming as much work as possible round the racing. Hopefully Crofton Manor will have their TV working so I can watch Bob's Worth in the Gold Cup on Friday.