We’ve just got back from a fantastic week up at Hopetoun, which has certainly been the highlight of the month! I love going back to the homeland; it is almost a different world up there, and while I wouldn’t change living in the south for anything, it is a soothing change to sometimes leave the pressure and intensity that comes with it behind. Luckily Hopetoun is close enough to home for us to be able to stay there, and the boys couldn’t believe their luck when we released them into a lovely big field on arrival. In fact, Zul was so excited to be home again that I was a little nervous I wasn’t going to be able to get him back into concentration mode for his test… Luckily though as soon as we arrived at the event on Saturday he switched into superstar telepathic mode and contained himself impeccably. He really is the most amazing horse; as soon as we’re there his eyes light up and I can feel him soaking up the atmosphere, but he also has incredible self-control. I think he wants to win, and seems to know that he needs to behave to do his best, so the only give away to his inner excitement is his little tongue waggling around as we warm up. He did a lovely test -much softer and more connected than Barbury thanks to a good session with Adam mid-month, and we went into 2nd behind Paul Tapner on 43 which I was thrilled with. Woody tried hard in his test but just got a little tight in places, and unfortunately his jockey ad-libbed a couple of movements from Dumble’s 1* test which meant it wasn’t going to be a world beater.
The CIC3* track looked fair, with a couple of tricky combinations at the top of the big hill, before the big Forth Road Bridge water complex, which would be a good test of how fit and enthusiastic they were. I’ve been working hard on Woody’s fitness, so I decided after he jumped brilliantly show-jumping that I’d go for it and push for the time, which was going to be very tight. We went as fast as we could, with him popping over everything like it was a pony club course, and finished clear with 8 time faults to rise up the leaderboard to 11th, which in fact ended up being the fastest time of the day! That is one of the things I love about Scottish events – they are always a true cross-country test, and the competition is never over until the very end. Zul had a disappointing show-jumping round, due to a challenging warm up. This was due mainly to the weather, which was torrential rain and meant that by the time it was our turn the flatish areas of the warm up had disintegrated into a bog, which made it a serious challenge for me to get him soft as he had to struggle his way through it. Luckily the ground in the ring was very good, but unfortunately the result really is mostly in the preparation, and although he tried very hard to clear everything he fought me in a couple of places that he couldn’t afford to be tight in, and we paid the price with 2 fences down. Thankfully Zul is very fast cross-country though, and we raced round for the second equal fastest round (in good company with Paul and Francis Whittington!) to climb back up to eventual 3rd, and best of the British (and Scottish!)
Not to be outdone by his stable mates, Dumble tied up a fantastic weekend with 4th in the CIC*, posting his usual smart test and springy double clear. Unfortunately phase A was performed in almost record monsoon conditions, to the extent that when I saluted the judges and then clenched my hand, a torrent of water came out of my glove and the rim of my top hat resembled a marsh! He was so well behaved though, and I am extremely excited that Lady Bamford has decided to let me do some more events on him. In light of this I have decided to enter both he and Woody for the 1* and the 3* at Blair as having the two of them makes the drive worthwhile, which will be very exciting!
The only other event of note this month was Barbury, which as ever was beautiful and fantastically organised. It is such a brilliant show-case event for the sport, and the atmosphere also provides good practise for both horse and rider. Zul did the Dressage and show-jumping in the CIC3*, and while he did a nice test he was a little tense in places and got a disappointing mark. He was so happy to be out though, and jumped out of his skin the next day round the very snazzy Olympic fences to have just one very unlucky one down. He wasn’t fit enough so I didn’t even tempt myself by walking the course, but the ground was so hard wouldn’t have run him anyway. That is the only snag with this great event, and is the reason I went up to Hopetoun to run instead – when you’ve only got two horses at that level you need to wrap them up in cotton wool! Having said that I did run Woody in the CIC2*, mainly because it was such an educational course and there is nowhere else like it to teach them about galloping under such close crowd surveillance. He did a nice test and jumped really well just having one unlucky one down, and then popped round the cross-country very happily giving me another great ride.
In other activities, we had a great day at the start of the month with Yogi, filming a training feature for Horse and Rider for less experienced horses. Dumble was extremely brave about the camera man who lurked on the landing side of the fence… and both he and Al’s horse Eamon were very well behaved, so I hope they got some great footage! As a change, the weekend after Barbury I took up the offer of teaching at Lyneham for the NORC annual camp, which was great fun! We were all extremely lucky to be able to use the amazing facilities there, and it really reminded me how much I enjoy teaching. There is something very satisfying about seeing a rider filled with enthusiasm having just grasped a new technique that works for them and their horse, so I’m hoping I’m going to be able to start doing a bit more of that.
The other VERY exciting news is that the tax man has finally passed my SEIS scheme, so White Heather Eventing is finally LIVE – watch this space!!