I started writing my end of season blog by going through blow by blow of what happened and then I realised that was both repetitive and very boring because most of you will have read my blogs or can go back and read them if you want to.
I normally feel upset that the season is ending and worrying what I will do with myself in the off time. I spend the winter longing for the spring so I can start training again. And I’m glued to the results apps to see how endurance is going in other parts of the world.
In comparison, for the first time this year, as the season has finished I have a feeling of relief. A weird feeling, and new to me too.
After Nahdia’s elimination at Lions Tail I was really upset and it really knocked my confidence. I’m not sure why because I’ve been eliminated enough times before. I think it was probably two fold. There is the context that Nahdia is for sale and it doesn’t look good on her record to have a lameness on there and also that my season had been going so well I didn’t want an elimination against my name either. Aside from that, I really couldn’t put my finger on the reason why she went lame and that was really frustrating. I spend a great deal of time and focus on knowing their 'normal', making sure they are properly prepared and functioning at 100%. On the ride there wasn’t a single event which I could say that’s what caused the lameness. I am a self-confessed control freak – or I have good attention for detail – either way, not knowing the reason why is infuriating. Because how can I prevent it from happening again if I didn’t know what it was? On reflection, I think it was probably a multitude of factors but even so, it doesn’t change the result!
The final race of the season was the CEI2* at Royalties with Chip and I had to mentally file away Lions Tail. My aim for the year had only been to complete a 2* so this was an additional one that wasn’t particularly on the agenda at the beginning of the season. Having completed Euston with so much ease I felt he would be fine to do the second one and it would be an additional qualification needed for the Europeans next year. Training went really well, he was feeling great and I went into the race with absolutely no concerns about him.
My only worry was the weather forecast. Chip (and I admit myself too) is a fair weather horse. This may sound silly, but he’s happy when it’s hot & dry – not when it’s cold & wet. The problem is, when you’ve done all the training, paid the entry fee, stabling and accommodation, organised the saddle fitter, physio, farrier and crew for this one race it would be really silly to not go because a bit of rain is forecast? Hindsight being the wonderful thing that it is we should have just given it a miss because I knew it would be a challenge and that we both really wouldn’t enjoy it (who does enjoy the rain?!). The weather had been dry for ages and arriving at the venue on the Friday night there was dust behind the vehicle and the ground was as hard as concrete. So once the rain came I knew it would be slippery.
There was a reasonably good turnout for the class and I decided to set myself up in the middle of the pack. Sticking to my ride plan of building up the speed over the course of the day. We settled into a nice rhythm and after the usual leaping around at the beginning all was going well. By the end of the first loop the front pack were in sight and into the VG we managed to leap frog into second place with a speedy presentation time.
The challenge in the VG was keeping him warm enough and we used soooo many rugs. My crew team is now so slick that I left them to it completely and went inside the lorry for a total outfit change. I couldn’t feel my feet at all but hey ho! There was no shelter for the horses in the VG at all, and being a very flat open venue I did feel really bad for Chip out in it!
We went out onto the second loop 30secs behind the leader but quickly caught her up and then we rode together the whole way. We alternated who was in front to give each horse a mental break. The rain was quite relentless. Despite the ground conditions Chip was feeling pretty solid and was remaining very foot sure. Unfortunately we had just one really big slip, and I do mean a biggie. I think we fell down a crack that had opened up with the water. He quickly righted himself and I can’t say that he felt any different on the loop. I was beginning to think it might be an idea to quit whilst we were ahead and retire after this loop. There’s still a reasonable amount of time next year to qualify for the Europeans and we were not having a lot of fun.
Into the second vet gate and we vetted in first- 45secs HR60. Top boy! We trotted up, what was now a very muddy vet lane, and I was confident with his trot. His second HR was 64 which made me panic slightly and then after scoring a B for muscle tone too I was sure I would retire. Then to my surprise I got asked for a re-trot. I really was taken aback because I am super critical and I didn’t see anything in the first trot. Anyway, we trotted up for the second time and I could see something very minor but was still thinking that we would pass and I could then retire. Unfortunately the vets voted to eliminate us and we were out.
Unlike after Lions I’m not as upset about it as I thought I’d be. I am of course upset because Chip is my baby and I also didn’t want any failures on his record but I know why he went lame and that makes me a bit more accepting about it. He was sound on Monday morning and I have been doing loads of TENS and Arc treatments on him. He was really happy on Sunday evening and that’s all I ever ask for.
So now to the earlier point and my feeling of relief that the season is over. It’s really weird because I really LOVE endurance. Quitting has absolutely not crossed my mind, not even for a moment. But I do need a break. Having worked as a rider and been immersed in the sport 100% previously, I know that to be at the top there has to be an unrelenting focus, determination and commitment. There can’t be skipped training sessions, skipped physios, skipped shoeings, skipped anything – there has to be total dedication – mental, physical & financial. And with dedication comes sacrifices too.
This makes it sound like a burden. It’s not, but it is intense. And it takes over your life a bit. And I know, I could just take a step back, I could take it less seriously, perhaps compete at a lower level. But that’s not my character, I’m ambitious and I’m not afraid to admit that. Why be mediocre when you can be great? That makes me sound big headed – I’m not great – but I’m aiming to be!
I don’t believe in doing anything in half measures either. And that has financial consequences. You can’t expect the horses to work as hard as they do with anything less than the optimum. Saddle fitter every six weeks, maybe more, shoes every 3-5, physio every 2-4 weeks. Travelling two hours away to train on good going. It all costs money. This isn’t a complaint but it’s a consideration. I put a lot of my salary every month into my horses, that’s my choice completely. When it doesn’t go right, you sit there and start adding up the costs… fuel, entry fee, accommodation, stabling, that’s just for the weekend, then add on all the costs at home, the shoes, physio, saddler just to get you to the race. And then you think– why am I crippling myself financially just to fail?!
But then I look back to Euston Park and I know it is absolutely all worth it. This blog is my end of season in review and I can’t finish the blog on a negative note because the season as a whole has been absolutely phenomenal. And it’s when you get the results that you trained for that all the other sacrifice become worth it. When the unrelenting focus and dedication is payed back in heaps and heaps. Without doubt, the CEIO2* this year was my best ride ever. And I am so unbelievably proud to have trained Chip for that and ridden him around. In my eyes, it was a textbook performance and given the difficulties we’ve had getting there, this result was even sweeter. And looking at Nahdia, the horse which last year failed a ride on pulse – to present a 2min HR60 in her first 80km and first ever VG – what a turnaround! I can’t help but smile when I think of just how much both horses have achieved this year! And how much this year has set them up for next year – the potential!
Ten days on from Royalties, I’ve already looked at the 2019 calendar. Just this little bit of time off has refreshed me. I’m going to have my little break now, keep myself on no pressure and low pressure, build up my bank account a bit and unwind everything. Have a bit of fun with some dressage, maybe even go out with the bloodhounds.
Then I am going to come out of the winter fighting. I’ll openly put it out there – I’m aiming for the Europeans 2019. It’s no small goal, I know that. There are a lot of combinations already qualified, there are a lot who will be qualifying in the spring like me. The competition for selection will be fierce. A championships on home turf…we all want to be there. But I want it more and there’s no one else with a Chippy in their stable!