September kicked off with a day out at Milton Keynes doing PR for FLAIR. Although it was rather strange wandering around the lorry park without either a lorry base, or the sort of hectic agenda normally fuelling my legs, I did enjoy having the time to really chat to people and hear their stories. Horsey people always have good tales of trial and tribulation! It’s quite hard persuading people that what essentially looks like a large equine sticker is really going to make a difference round their BE90 course, but I did enjoy my super sceptical friend George Hilton-Jones admitting that his steed (who normally struggles at the end of the course) did in fact finish much better! Unfortunately the strip’s innocuous appearance also seemed to work against it further, and I couldn’t believe the number of people who refused to even test out the free sample in case it worked to their detriment. Who would have thought that it could hide such sins! Anyway, I think a fair few were converted by its merits, so hopefully FLAIR will continue to expand in the UK market.
Blenheim was next on the cards, and despite a slightly stressful 10 day build up – during which Zul freaked Cara and I out to the absolute maximum by looking a bit sad and sorry for himself, and going back to his old tricks of threatened drowning when swimming – we all made it there in one piece. Needless to say, he had us all fooled and as soon as he set foot on the hallowed turf he bucked his way off the lorry to the stabling, proving that he was just as excited as the rest of us to be at a party! As soon as I was on him though he settled down and worked well, and felt great as we headed down to do our test on Thursday afternoon. He felt fantastic warming up; totally focussed, connected and listening, and he kept it all together in the arena to produce a beautiful test. I’d really hoped we’d be mid-40’s, but there hadn’t been many even in the 40’s by that stage, so I really didn’t know what to expect. Just before they announced it we got a call from my sisters who had been watching the results online – all we could hear was screaming! It turned out that I’d gone into the lead on 44.2! We finished the day in 3rd place, which not only meant a great Birthday bonus, but also lots of exciting press meetings AND a feature on the 6pm and 10pm news!!
Sadly though it wasn’t meant to be, and we were one of the many who fell foul of the double of brushes at 5. I can’t say it was a bogey fence, as I knew it would be the one to catch Zul out, if any, as it was early on the course and he has been known to get distracted by the crowd in tightly roped areas. However, I told myself – possibly too much – that he has been so much more focussed the last two years, and that this would be a nice pop round for him. For whatever reason/s – I have been over it 6 million times in my head – I wasn’t as revved up and aggressive as I normally am riding him at that level, and indeed trusted him too much. I set him up well, but in hindsight I should have given him a smack on the shoulder as we came to it, as he was evidently still in show-off mode and didn’t lock on at all.
Having snapped him back to the here and now we leapt it the second time and trundled round the rest of the course without drama, only to discover whilst washing him off that he had punctured his knee. Luckily Spike and Liz were both there and having discovered on closer examination that it had gone into the joint, we made the decision to flush it out and give him the necessary antibiotics, thus ruling ourselves out of taking any further part. To be honest that was the least of my worries – joint infection is no small concern, and we just had to hope and pray he’d be ok in the morning. Cue a few vodka shots at the bar. By the morning he looked a lot more cheerful though, THANK GOD, and I think if it had been up to him he would have given the show-jumping a shot, full length leg bandage and all. What an absolute legend he is.
So a disappointing and frustrating end to Blenheim, but unfortunately that’s what happens in sport sometimes, and we live and learn from it. Zul was allowed to go back home to Scotland the following Monday, and has since been released with a clean bill of health to frolic with his friends in his lovely big field. Meanwhile, I have been to Ireland in search for superstars for the White Heather syndicate – that was mentioned in Horse and Hound a few weeks ago. Thankfully it was third time lucky to the Emerald Isle, and I now have two very exciting babies preparing to venture across the water. My Mum and I are getting ready for stage two of the search though, as Germany beckons next week.