Race Report: Euston, Fougeres, Corlay

Goodness, where does the time go! I suddenly realised I haven’t written a blog since I first moved to France, and can you believe that was seven weeks ago now! They say time flies when you’re having fun, and honestly can’t quite believe I’m half way through my French trip now! Anyway, for fear of forgetting what’s been going on and in an attempt to keep the blogs to a readable length I thought I should write one now, before this weekend where I will have even more to talk about!

So my first ‘race’ to attend whilst living in France was Fougeres on the 22nd July with Blackwater Azahr in the Young Horse class of 20km! Crazy that this even is a class in France as in the UK competitive classes start from 32km and 20kms are just pleasure rides! Anyway, young horse classes are a big deal in the France and so it is a race, based on French formula. That said, in young horse classes everyone is a winner? It’s very odd! Anyway, so my first competition here, a mere 20km, successful (no great surprise there). I was impressed with the marking, organisation, venue set up. It was all incredibly professional and for a relatively local ride had an FEI feel to it – well in comparison to UK rides of the same level! It had rained a lot and so the ground was very slippery! We had planned to take two horses the following day for a 60km, to use as a training ride but changed our minds based on the ground conditions and instead stayed home and did our own training.

The next race I attended was to crew for Olivier Bocher in the CEI2* 120km at Corlay on Saturday 5th August. I was keen to get out to some races as July for me felt like a very quiet month with only an 80km and 20km ridden, and a 40km and 1* crewed! Also, I knew that I was going to be riding at Corlay the following weekend so I wanted to go and see what it was like. Sadly the day didn’t go to plan as Unhbel If Abble, the horse, fell down on the first loop and was lame in the first vet gate! However, it was good to get out, meet new people, practice my French and see how things are done. Once again, I was very impressed with the venue set up. Everything seems to be so much more slick than comparative rides at home and people seem to go out of their way to help you and make sure you’re having fun.

The following weekend it was Corlay again! Sort of like the Euston Park series, Corlay runs three times in August! All from the racecourse and all on the same route! This was Azahr’s first attempt at 40km which in France is made up of two loops. Another difference as in the UK this would always be one loop. I can see the fors and against of both sides, it does seem silly to have a break after 20km though! But in this case, it wasn’t even 20km, it was 18km! Weirdly, we got awarded the full 40km distance despite only riding 36km! Timings are worked out based on the ridden distance, so we weren’t given a ride speed that wasn’t what we actually rode at but still it seems strange to be given the full distance when they know full well that its only 36km. Apparently, the 10% rule is widely used in France! Azahr was pretty full on and excitable in the vettings but the vets are incredibly understanding and really seem to want to get you a pass so I’m certain her HR wasn’t under 64bpm but nonetheless they let us through each time! In the UK I’m not sure we would have even let us start! All I can say is I think if you want to qualify horses then you should come to France! It’s no criticism, they understood she’s a young horse who found the bigger venue very exciting and if it had been a horse with a high pulse that didn’t look good then I’m sure they would step in but they are certainly a bit more forgiving here!

Last weekend was Euston Park, back to the UK! It was very strange to have to fly into a race at home, I’m usually flying out! It was really nice to go home and see my family and friends back at home though. Euston Park was really great fun though not exactly what we were hoping for! I was riding Elsa Del Azahar who I have ridden once before in a CEI1* 80km in Romania in June where we finished in 5th place! Elsa was very naughty in the first vet gate in Romania so this was playing on the back of my mind for Euston, knowing that it was going to be very busy! Kate, Elsa’s owner and trainer, had been doing lots of vetting practice with her which paid off for the pre-ride inspection where we started with a HR of 40bmp! Unheard of for Elsa. So after a lot of pre-ride stress we relaxed because she had behaved so we went to the party and Kate was lucky on the lucky loto and won £500! A good start to the weekend! The CEI1* at Euston was operating a staggered start but we decided it would be much more fun to head off at the mass start – 162 horses entered in the class! But I have to say the start was actually fine, not everyone opted for the mass start anyway, and Elsa actually was really quite good. After a few km, Kate dropped back on Qi, the horse she was riding, to try to get him into a space to settle so Elsa and I carried on. There were a few bolting moments but she was overall quite good and before we knew it we were back at the venue. The first vet gate, I was VERY stressed, because of how she was in Romania. Nonetheless, not with Qi, we managed to calm her down enough to get her into vetting and through the vet gate. A 14min presentation time is frankly embarrassing but the way Elsa is on the ground, I was pleased we had managed to contain her long enough to get her through the vetting. Onto loop 2, Kate and I back together we really cruised round with both horses feeling very keen still. We did 20km in just over an hour so I said to Kate we ought to slow down a bit, as the aim was completion. So loop two completed at 17.5kmph I was almost certain that Elsa was going to be fine in this next vetting and I didn’t have to worry so much. However, disaster struck – in a big way! We went into vetting, together this time, and then got sent to vet lanes separate from one another – that was it. Elsa lost the plot, sent out for re-inspection with Elsa being more than bulshy and excitable. With Qi out of sight Elsa just wouldn’t calm down – at all! I knew we wouldn’t get her through the vetting when she starting rearing up outside the vetting area. Conscious of time, and the 20min presentation time allowance, I said well we might as well go in. Elsa was awful, rearing, spinning, barging – total nightmare! In fairness to the vets they did all keep trying but she was just too wound up to care, if the stewards had let us vet next to one another at the beginning the problem wouldn’t have arisen – but its FEI level competition, they can’t vet next to their buddies just because! Totally fair, I got eliminated for METS because they couldn’t actually get the electronic HR monitor on her! Very embarrassing I have to say! Nonetheless, you live and learn. I had nice ride, it was good to be home and be part of the biggest endurance race in Europe!

I’ve got another busy weekend ahead. Tomorrow, Azahr and I are taking part in the 5yr old Inter-Regional Championship 40km race – at Corlay again! She has been bathed and plaited today so I’m hoping she doesn’t get too dirty tonight! On Sunday I am very excited to be riding Unhbel in the CEI2* 120km and so I hope I will be more successful than her last attempt at the distance! After (hopefully!) 160km at Corlay this weekend, I think I will be glad it’s the last one this year!

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