The aim of the year was to complete his 2* and he did that, in a big way!
After his super successful 1* in June I was really confident that he could do the distance because he felt so good at the end of the 80km. BUT a 120km is really so different to an 80km and of course he did 2x 80km before whereas this was his first attempt at going over the 80km mark….
Safe to say, as the date got nearer I did start to get more nervous. Chip gave me no cause for concern but I am a worrier by nature. It’s been two years since I trained a horse for a 120km or completed one myself and a horse’s first 120km is a big deal – that extra 40km shouldn’t be underestimated! But I made a plan and I stuck to it, completing my training rides at the speeds I wanted them to be done and everything stayed on track – for once no set backs! Being selected for Team GB in the Nations Cup was just a little more added pressure!
Crew and friend, Shez Hides, very kindly picked us up on Friday morning to take us to Euston in her Discovery so we had a proper crew car with lots of space – which was totally needed for how much stuff we had to bring! A full crew team plus rider camping = a lot of stuff! I borrowed my friends trailer too as I don’t have one right now so before I get any further into my write up a huge thank you to Margaret and Shez for facilitating us even getting there!
Chip was very calm and collected – the new and improved 2018 Chip – and we vetted in on a pulse of 40. Super crew team of Pheobe, Archie, Cameron and Shez had the cooling lane and hold set up in no time and we were all done in plenty of time for the briefing. Physio and crew member Kate was working on Friday and couldn’t come until later in the evening and going into pre-ride vetting without her seal of approval was terrifying. I know it sounds ridiculous but Kate knows Chip inside out now, and even though in my heart of hearts I knew he was okay, I really really trust and rely on Kate. Of course, he was totally fine but I won’t deny I felt really apprehensive – silly!
The briefing was fine with no changes – the best (I hate last minute changes, does not bode well with my OCD!). Our Chef D’Equip Liz Finney asked Team GB to stay behind after the briefing for a team chat. We were told to ride our own rides and that ultimately they wanted completions from all of us. Fair enough, that suited me because then I could just ride to my plan and not get dragged along or slowed down by anyone else. Next up was the amazing Gala Dinner that the Euston Park team put on for us, wow, wow, wow! Totally amazing display, dancers, meal, drinks – everything! I just wished I had already ridden then I could have had a drink and got more into the party spirit! I left early to take Chip his dinner and for a walk out and the full team were back at the tent for an early night at 21.30.
The 5am alarm couldn’t have come soon enough for me. We had set up our tent in a very bad spot – under a floodlight and generator! It’s a good job I’m not a good sleeper generally and can function with very few hours sleep on a regular basis. Chip drank 20L overnight and had eaten up really well so I was pleased to see he was so ready to race and had fueled up efficiently when I dropped his breakfast in at 5am. He was such a good boy to be walked in a very tense stable block and stood still and was tacked up very politely – all such positive changes from previous Chippy behaviours.
In the 1* he was so collected in the warm up I thought he would be the same. However, I think I underestimated the difference from a 20 horse mass start compared to the 140 odd riders in the CEIO2*… Chip kind of lost his head a bit and I was airborne for quite a lot of the 15min warm up. Annette Masterson who was also riding for the team was so kind and came to ride next to Chip which did help to settle him a bit. We went across the start line towards the back of the pack together and I was by some miracle still attached to my pony so that was good. I rode with Annette for about 10km but she was going a bit faster than I wanted to go so I pulled back a bit and got him into his own space. He settled a bit but there were so many horses in front and behind any time anyone came near the back legs where flying and he was leaping and yanking and being a total pain. He pulled a front shoe off in one of his moments but the going is so good at Euston I decided I would be best to not worry about it and he certainly didn’t seem to notice it was missing. Before long we were at the first river crossing. Chip has got his confidence with water now and did a proper x-country leap into the water and a leap out! I was totally soaked – thanks Chip! Oh well, better than not going in.
Overall the first loop wasn’t much fun but I stayed on despite his various attempts to ditch me and we were back to the venue only slightly faster than I wanted him to go. He was quite wound up into the vet gate and I thought we were going to have a problem with his HR. I let Chip go in at 69 and it was sticking at 71 but we still managed to present in 2mins 30secs so not really all that bad and a HR of 61 we should have gone quicker. A straight A card we passed the vetting and now to get the shoe back on and rest for the next loop. Team farrier Kelvin was ready to go and the spare was back on in minutes – thanks Kelvin! Chip ate and drank well, I sat down and let the super crew team work their magic! Dry socks and trainers on and we were off on loop two.
Chip left the vet gate like a bullet with ears pricked – proud owner moment. The next loop was 38km and I decided I wanted to ride this loop steadily because to do 80km by VG2 is actually quite tough going on a first 120km. Chip was so much nicer to ride this loop and we ended up leading two other horses the whole way round. What a good boy his is, so happy in front. Ears pricked the whole way around and working in his lovely uphill canter frame. Love, love when he is like this. So much nicer and easier for me too and really enjoyable. Into the next vet gate and we wasted more time again taking 2mins 50secs to present and a HR59 – need to be quicker. Another straight A card and a post trot HR50 – superstar. All shoes still on, eating and drinking well. Kate happy with muscle tone, all was going really well. I was enjoying myself much more too now that I didn’t have the feeling that I was going to get dumped imminently.
Loop 3, into unknown territory asking him to go over the 80km mark. He didn’t hesitate or question me, off we went out of the VG once again at speed no questions asked. This loop was the same as the last loop of his 1* and I think he remembered that I had let him run on last time so he was super keen. There was a long two-way section on this route and large groups of 8-12 horses passed us three times on our way out and he didn’t so much as bat an eyelid. For a horse that I previously couldn’t even hack out alone because of his separation anxiety, to canter happily away from home over distances he’d never done before with all the other horses going away from him was just amazing. He coasted around the loop, drinking well at the crewpoint and in no time at all we were back on the two-way strip ourselves heading for home. 100km completed, 2min 20sec presentation, HR58 still not quick enough! Straight A card – I’m really thinking this horse is super. I didn’t know what speed we had completed the third loop because the print out only tells you the time of the re-exam so in my head I thought we’d done loop 3 at about 17kmph. But here is the tricky vetgate, the all important and daunting compulsory re-exam. 15 mins before going out onto the last loop is another full vetting. All the parameters are the same but it’s where most problems are picked up. Usually the horses are starting to tire, they get stiff or metabolic issues start to show. The crew team and I had discussed at length our plan for this vetgate and we kept the HR monitor band on to assess what he was doing. Kate was totally happy with him with no soreness anywhere and he was standing eating on HR44 – I guess I should worry less. Even so, still scary. Into the re-exam HR51 before trotting and 44 after trotting! Straight A again we had passed and were allowed to go out on the next loop. Amazing boy!
So for the first time I asked Chip to do a 4th loop. Chip seemed quite confused, he was quite happily eating and definitely thought he had finished. But I got on and he was like “oh okay, sure thing let’s go”. Out onto that last loop the fastest leave ever, totally on it! So in love with him! In my elation on how amazing my pony was I totally forgot to start my garmin and I hadn’t realised until we were about 20mins in. Not to worry, it didn’t really matter I guess and he felt so good and I thought well it’s the final loop, I’ll just let him canter on (within reason). He felt sooo good, still so strong and balanced around every turn, taking whichever canter lead I asked for – it’s really what dreams are made of. We flew through the first crew point at a canter – like professionals haha. We were overtaking horses left right and centre, Chip thought this was a very fun game. Pick a target, hunt them down, pass them and onto the next one. The last crew point, we were in a group of 5 horses but Chip needed his drink so he stopped. He had his drink whilst the others carried on (another big deal because normally he won’t be left alone) and as soon as he had finished he did a halt to canter transition and literally leapt off his haunches to a speedy canter to catch back up with his new targets.
In what felt like the shortest time ever we had the finish line in sight. I wanted to cry with happiness he’d done it, his first 120km feeling bloody epic the whole way. Across the line at a happy canter and more in control than his 1* finish. A little trot and then a quick dismount into the cooling lane. HR70 – what a cool horse. I didn’t want to take any risks at the end so I said let’s just wait a few minutes so we went in after 5mins to a finishing HR of 58. But then the machine wouldn’t give us the green tick! So we had to get a different machine so officially we had a HR of 53. Then for that all important final trot, I knew he was sound next to me as I ran him up, he did his lovely gliding trot and I was really having to hold back the tears because I was confident. I know him so well, he was happy and I was happy. Our vet finished our metabolics and scored us our only B of the entire day for his guts. I was a bit surprised given how well he had eaten and drunk all day long but still it’s a B, not the end of the world. Now to await the ground jury to tell us if we’d passed the trot – and president of ground jury, Sharron, had walked off with our results. A tense few minutes waiting for her to be relocated and then we were told PASS. My super-duper amazing boy had done it! His first 120km, in my eyes a textbook performance.
Out of the vetting and back to the hold for lots of food, ice boots and a massage. I had such poor signal and battery all weekend I realised I had no idea what speed we had done it in the end. Then I found out we’d done loop 3 at 18.26kmph and the final loop at 20.35kmph! If I’d had my garmin on I would have probably pulled back because that seems very fast but it didn’t even feel it when I was riding along and he was so relaxed I just let him bowl on. Oh well, all’s well that ends well. Chip looked fantastic and though of course he had done 120km he by no means looked too tired and I’m sure would have gone out again if I’d asked him to! Next we found out team GB had come 4th – good pony Chip!
Crew team and I all had our pancakes and slowly packed up – the worst part of all is packing up. Chip had ice boots on and off, ad lib food of whatever variety he wanted and was walked lots. We popped him in the stable for nap whilst we went into Thetford to my favourite Chinese for dinner. Sadly, I hadn’t booked and we couldn’t get in! So we ended up going to a place just along which as a bad decision because it took almost two hours to get our dinner! I started to get stressed that we had left Chip so long and was actually just passed the point of hunger and didn’t really want to eat anymore. Anyway, I forced a bit down and then we all drove back quickly to get back to check on Chip. Of course, he was totally fine. I took him out, took his bandages off and ice boots on and then we went walking for about an hour. He was striding out really well, ears forward as always for Chip, ready for the next adventure. It get’s dark so early these days, I think I need to invest in a highvis/reflective rug for late night walks! Into bed for 10.30 I still struggled to sleep, it’s a mystery to me why after 120km I still couldn’t sleep. Maybe I was too excited haha. I must have fallen asleep as some point because when I woke up it was 5am so I got up to give Chippy his breakfast.
He winnyed to me when he saw me – so I guess even after 120km he still loves me (or he wanted his breakfast haha). Chip lives out at home so I did think he might be stiff after a night in the stable but he strode out like he’d been nowhere and was really happy to be out walking. We all took it in turns to walk him once the crew had woken up and he mooched around the venue happily. Once again, no swelling in any legs and sounds as a pound. Team farrier/physio/vet checks all pleased with him. Soreness in his loins so always something to work on but, give the boy a break, he had just done his first 120km. We got everything together and were on the road for 9.30 heading for home. Back before lunch, this time not getting held up in traffic, Chip went back out with his girlfriend at the trot. Trotted round and round his field, had a roll, did some more trotting and then settled down to graze. You can’t be happier than that!
Where next? It would be easy to end the season now on an absolute high, but with the European Championships firmly in our sights for 2019 I think we will go for that second 2* qualification in October. First of all though, a three week holiday and maybe a dressage competition as a change of scene, let’s see how things go.