Bonheiden

Kvint - 1.35

Kvint - 1.35

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.

Askeaton - 5 year old final

Askeaton - 5 year old final

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.

Doonaveeragh Emma - 1.40

Doonaveeragh Emma - 1.40

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.

Kronenberg

Doonaveeragh Emma- 1.40 Medium Tour Final

Doonaveeragh Emma- 1.40 Medium Tour Final

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.

Kvint - 1.30 - Friday

Kvint - 1.30 - Friday

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.  

Emma Medium Grand Prix

Emma Medium Grand Prix

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.

Kvint CSI1* Grand Prix

Kvint CSI1* Grand Prix

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.