Well, we’ve been here a week, and I have to say it’s gone by so slowly and so quickly at the same time! Megan and I were driving home yesterday from Hartpury Horse Trials, and I turned down a horrible song on Radio 1 and asked, “Did we just do a three-star this weekend?” And she said, “Yup, actually this morning.”
That’s one of the cool things about England—an hour down the road you can run a three-star with William Fox-Pitt, Andrew Nicholson, Bettina Hoy, Mark Todd, and a few Americans you know as well, and be home in time for an early dinner!
I have to say I’m relieved this weekend is over and in the big picture we got what we needed, a good clean cross-country run. And I shook off the nerves and rust in the dressage and show jumping, and I have a very sound, happy horse today.
Tate arrived well but tired to Maizy Manor last Monday. By Thursday he began to get a little spring back in his step, only to be put on the lorry at 6 a.m. to travel to another new place with new horses. I wasn’t sure what I expected, but Tate was actually very good in the dressage warm-up. But I found myself without much of a warm-up plan. In all the fuss of actually getting to England, then getting a lift to the competition, I actually missed a chance to sit down and plan out my dressage warm-up, as well as running through the test a few times to get familiar with it.
I knew the test and the moves in it but had not actually run through it since early this spring. So I found myself panicked in the warm-up that I was going to forget my test. Since Tate was being good, I wasted half my warm-up watching the rides before me making sure I new where I was going, convinced I was going to forget... Not ideal prep for a good test.
Tate was very well behaved but a bit flat, and I didn’t help since I was just working on getting through the movements, not actually making them seamless and smooth. We had a less then grand entrance when I asked for the halt from the canter lightly, and being that Tate was just a bit tired he kind of fell into the trot then walked into the halt—not a great first impression.
I had an accidental flying change in the counter canter, which I totally blame myself for, again just riding the line not the actual canter balance. All in all we both were just lacking in our confidence and maybe both a little jetlagged, but most importantly Tate didn’t have a bad experience in the ring, just a boring one!
After being furious with myself for not riding well I went and walked around the cross-country and I felt a bit overwhelmed, to be honest. I haven’t had a run on Tate since Rolex, and this track was SERIOUS! At the first water they threw in what course designers are calling “retro logs”—narrow logs that are toothpick width (I’m exaggerating, but really freakin’ thin) that are just ugly! There was a large upright retro log and then two strides to a big log pile into what looked like a deep pond, then left handed over a huge cascading active waterfall roll top... I was like, “I don’t feel so good...”
The course carried on like this, big questions that Tate just hasn’t seen before. Then there was the second water, think angled skinny cabin, one stride, retro log one and a half feet past the end of the bank, just hanging out there with one little twig of a tree in the middle. UGLY. It looked like something Bruce Davidson would have jumped back in the day, and we would be like “No way they would get away with that stuff now...” WRONG.
Tate is a wonderful genuine cross-country horse, but he’s still green in certain ways. He’s very careful, and he often skims jumps into the water and then lands quite steep trying to get ground under his hooves as quickly as possible. For these jumps he needed to just believe me and jump UP then OVER then OUT! Not his usual skim, then straight down.
I had entered Blenheim as well as Burghley just in case Tate wasn’t feeling confident or something went wrong at Hartpury, and as I looked at this track I was glad that was an option.
At the CICs in England, you do your dressage then trot up Friday night, show jump Saturday, then cross-country on Sunday, and then there’s no second trot up. I thought the show jumping on Saturday was a nice track. I was certain I was going to actually ride and not just sit there for the jumping, but in my efforts to be active I was jumping the round like it was a speed class! Tate jumped really well. I had the last pole down, as I just got a bit anxious, and again I left the arena not so pleased with my ride, but very pleased with my horse.
At this point I had a chat with Megan, and we hashed through the mistakes and realized they were all things that pointed to the fact that my mental game, which is normally quite good, was just a bit frantic. I needed to just take a breath, believe in my horse, have a plan and realize this is why I came to England early, to hash through mistakes before Burghley. So I am very glad all of these things took place and I got my head on straight before we went to tackle the cross-country.
Will Coleman and I walked the course a few times together. It’s always helpful to chat and talk through the course with a familiar face. We both laughed and respected the fact that we better just get used to feeling that pit in our stomachs if we’re going to Burghley!
Will was the first out on course, but he planned to pull up after the double corners before the second water because the ground was a bit hard, and Twizzel had been dealing with a small skin infection. And although that had cleared up by Sunday, he’d already had a great run at Barbury, so he didn’t want to risk stressing Twizzel.
I hacked up to the warm-up on Tate with just enough time to wish Will Faudree good luck before he went on his first ride, Pawlow. I listened to the announcer say Will had a bit of a rough ride through the first water, but in Will style he navigated through without a penalty. But that didn’t help my nerves about the water jumps.
I jumped a few fences in the warm-up, and Tate felt amazing. We were back in action, and thank God—the nerves and noise in my head started to drift away as we started to get into the work zone, where you don’t think, you just do.
The first real questions were two very large triple brushes on a very long two strides at the top of a hill. Tate jumped the whole first brush putting us very far away from the second brush, but with a kick he covered the ground and got up and over the second. Then came the first water.
I was a bit closer than I wanted to be at the first log, but you gotta just commit to what you have, and Tate was fantastic! He jumped a great big jump out into the water and carried on well. He navigated the corners, tables, turning questions, no problem, and then the small angled cabin of the second water came into view.
I steadied him so I was sure I had my line, because once we got on the line, we were going! He jumped great over the cabin, and I felt him for just half a second upon seeing the log suspended out in mid-air think, “What the...?” But I gave him some encouragement, and then he bounded up and over the massive hanging log out into the water and carried on without ever looking back.
He finished up with 8 time faults, which I thought was fantastic, since I wasn’t hustling him, but letting him get on at a good gallop. He finished barely winded, which is great, considering this track took us about 6:40, and Burghley is 11:40!
We’re definitely set on Burghley after Tate preformed so well on the cross-country! I’ve already entered a dressage show the week before so I can get in the ring and practice the four-star test and am going to a jumper show next Tuesday.
We’re surrounded by fabulous riders and horses and are soaking it all in. Megan and I have also been running every day, which I have to admit I was dreading but now am finding pretty enjoyable. We also watched the Burghley Course Walk, and it seems “retro” is back—Mark found every place on the course to put those bloody ugly skinny logs!
But sometimes you just gotta put on the bellbottoms and the tie-dye and show up to the party. Bring on Burghley!