This season absolutely hasn’t gone to plan and there have been more hurdles this year than I’ve had in a long time. As well as that, we’ve had lots of changes – I think all for the better but trying them all out for the first time at a 2* isn’t always the wisest choice. The saddle dramas deserve a post all of their own!

I am so so proud of Chippy’s return to the FEI scene. This was his first race of the year, having only commenced canter work at the beginning of June. Training didn’t always go to plan, constantly being plagued with ill-fitting saddles, or at least saddles that fitted before big training and seemingly didn’t quickly after. Huge thanks to Maggie Pattinson, of On the Hoof Distance Training, for lending us her Devoucoux which we did a lot of our training in before he outgrew that one too!

Poor Kate (ACPAT Physio) has had her work cut out keeping up with the all the saddle changes too but we have been able to keep his back manageable between it all and began Euston with a really positive approval from Team GB physio Sam. My biggest thanks to Kate for being there for us, all season. Euston was just the tip of the iceburg in terms of Kate’s dedication to Chippy. She’s been there through the lows and has been fundamental to our return to success.

Kate treating Chip in a vet gate

Another change this season, and one that’s definitely been for the better, has been our new farrier Phil. I was knocked for six when I found out just how unbalanced Chip’s hind feet had become at the start of this year, and rather amazed that he was sound on them, luckily with no significant or long lasting damage! On my vet’s recommendation I found Phil and true to his word his feet were in much better shape after three shoeings and so we’re were able to increase the training from there. Since then he’s gone strength to strength with each shoeing, putting Chippy’s gait firmly back to a leg in each corner J Team farrier Kelvin was very impressed with his new shoes too. Euston Park was testament to them. Chippy’s feet were rock crunching, he honestly didn’t feel a single flint for the entire 120km and he didn’t wear pads.

Taking part in the Best Shod competition

Yet another change has been finding Claire our new instructor. As I can’t load Chip by myself, I decided to make the most of the summer by finding an instructor who could come to us. We don’t have an arena but we do have lots of fields and Pheobe has very kindly made me some marked up flower pots so I now also have an arena shape to work in. Claire has progressed both myself and Chip on hugely. He’s such a quick learner it has been an absolute joy. Pretty much learning a new lateral movement in every single lesson. It gave me so much confidence going into Euston, especially the lesson we had on the Friday morning before travelling. He was feeling wonderful! We were doing canter shoulder-in up the long sides, leg yielding off the three-quarter line and simple changes through X. Pretty cool stuff for an endurance horse first and foremost!

The biggest change of all was an entirely new saddle purchased on the Tuesday before i.e. 5 days! Saddle fitter number 8 was the charm – Ruth Wyatt was brilliant and took lots of time to go through all of my existing saddles as well as bringing a huge selection of her own to choose from. I rode him in 5 and as a partnership we chose the one. I felt comfortable as soon as my bottom landed in the Thorowgood dressage saddle and Chippy had great lift and swing in it too. It was very nerve wracking taking on a 120km 5 days after getting a new saddle but the fears were proved unnecessary as Chip’s back was excellent throughout the race. I started to feel the slightly different shape I was put into at around the 100km mark but I have no concerns for future races as I will have had time to actually train in the saddle. Overall though, I absolutely do not recommend changing saddles just before a race, it was a very risky strategy and it could have easily gone either way.

The new Throwgood :D

For a control freak like myself, change isn’t usually my friend, but this year I’ve had no choice but to adapt and go with the flow. It’s been a good life lesson I guess. And anyway, it’s worked out for the best!

So now to talk about race day itself. It was the Europeans on the Saturday and I was so keen to go there and watch it all and soak up the atmosphere but with Chip’s first ride of the season on Sunday I felt I had to give him my 100% otherwise, again if anything had gone wrong, I would have totally blamed myself.

Pre-ride vetting was relatively late on the Saturday, starting at 5pm. As we only live 2.5hrs away I decided we would travel late morning, arrive early afternoon and then have lots of time to set up the stable, hold area, crew car, tent etc. etc. and Kate would have time to give Chip a post-travel treatment. Though Chip is naughty to load, when he’s actually in the trailer he’s hoof perfect and doesn’t move around at all. Despite this, no matter how long the journey, he always picks up minor tightness after travel, typically in the base of his neck. Luckily, Kate is able to clear it and ensure he starts the race as perfect as can be.

Kate treating Chip before pre-ride vetting. Note we got a good end stable position so good ventilation and airflow.

We were well ahead of schedule and the management GB team of physio, chef d’equipe and farrier came to see us in the stable block. Lots of positives from them :D :D D:

Pheobe and I disinfected the stable thoroughly before Chip was allowed in!

Vetting was next and the EP committee had wisely made us a filter lane into vetting away from the Europeans to keep up a good flow. However, the space provided was a little on the narrow side and it soon became all a bit close for comfort. Chip is usually okay in pre-ride vetting but I guess his first appearance at Euston with such a big atmosphere meant the flapping marque was one step too far! For the first time ever, I genuinely panicked that we were going to fail pre-ride vetting on HR! Luckily, the vet was very kind and let us take his pulse just outside of the canopy so we started on a HR of 48 in the end. Quite possibly an all-time high for Chip on a start vetting (bar the baby days I guess!). Anyway, we managed to get through pre-ride vetting without kicking or flattening anyone else in the lane so that’s good! haha

Pheobe and I holding Chip down for his number to be written on his bum!

Next we set up our cooling lane and hold only to be told that we weren’t allowed to set up until 5am in the morning. Apparently this had been in the notes but I’d missed it so we had to pack everything up again – not a great use of anyone’s time!

The rest of Saturday went to plan with Chip being taken out for hand walks, treatments from Kate and lots of attention from all of us, which is what Chippy likes best of all at rides. He likes having his people! Ahh

Soon it was time to get some sleep so I resorted to some herbal sleeping pills, and whether or not they worked or it was placebo I don’t mind because I got at least 5hrs sleep and that for me is very good going. I decided I couldn’t tackle a 120km on no sleep again (that’s what happened last year) because my mind is too active and I just run through all the things that could go wrong and worry incessantly. But when I woke up at 4.30 that was totally fine and I felt quite refreshed.

The morning antics of setting up the hold and sorting Chippy started to get to me and for the first time in a long time my nerves were really on the edge. It all seems so unnecessary now but in fairness to myself, when you consider all the changes I was facing ahead of this 120km, I think it’s understandable that I got myself worked up. Probably not quite to the degree that it was okay for me to be throwing up in my stable but there we go – all part of life’s rich tapestry (isn’t that what people say?!) Thankfully, once I’d actually been sick, I felt a lot better and by the time I landed my bum in the saddle I felt fine again and Chippy was being uber professional and chilled about it all and gave me a lot of reassurance. Who would have ever thought that?, Chippy giving me reassurance! He’s normally too hot to handle!

Kate hand walking Chip in the morning

Off to the start line, transponder on, we were soon in the warm up field. I saw Shanti Roos and decided I would stick to her and Valli for the start line. I find Chip is always happier if he has a friend to focus on and we managed to pull together a very sedate warm up – no bucking! Our trot was probably a bit too sedate as when we finally made it over the start line, behind some 100 horses or so, we were very near the back. It seemed like a good idea but I found later in the day it had some different outcomes – more on that later.

Crossing the start line right at the back!

The first loop became more exciting as we started and pretty soon Chip’s back legs were flying out in all directions and I was thankful for the significant amount of red tape in his tail. It’s hard when the ride is so international and for many riders’ English isn’t’ their first language and don’t understand when you try to tell them that he kicks, at least red is universally understood. Sadly one rider didn’t quite get the memo about the red and her horse got a double-barrel in the chest! Oops, naughty Chip but nothing I could have done – she got too close. Everyone else managed to keep a safe distance and I just focused on staying on and riding him through it.

Despite the craziness of the first loop I was really happy with the pace (16kmph) and he was feeling great. 4th ride in the saddle so far so good! Before we knew it we were back to the vet gate, having ridden most of the first loop with Shanti which was nice to chat, we’ve never actually ridden together before!

The vetgate went as smoothly as can be expected for a VG1. We decided this year to vet him in his bridle as he can be just too full on when he gets in off the loops. This worked really well and the team were super slick and vetting went fine. Interestingly, we had two vet lines. The first was HR only, so that was cool. Then you passed through and into the trot and met lanes. A system I’ve not seen before but it seemed to work well overall.

Out on course :D

Nothing to report really in the rest area, I was happy with the saddle so far, Kate was happy with his back. Shez, Pheobe and Cameron were brilliant, ice boots, traumeel, feeds, rugs, Energex everything went to plan and before we knew we were at the big screen watching our countdown to leave for the second loop.

Chippy bombed it out of the vetgate ears pricked – my god do I love him :D The ride plan was to stick to the 16kmph mark and that’s what we did. Chippy started drinking really well on the second loop, using every river and crew point so that was great and he was feeling on fine form. On this loop the weather turned and we had quite a considerable downpour. Chippy is not a wet-weather horse and I seriously stared to panic, were we going to have a Royalties 2.0? Pheobe my super-duper sister had his waterproof exercise sheet out at the crewpoint and he was only just warm even though we had been cantering continuously. We had to make a quick decision, there and then. We could pull up to put the sheet on and let the group I was riding in go on without us or carry on as we were. The rain wasn’t forecast so I prayed that it was only a shower and said I’ll just keep him cantering and meet you at the vetgate. It was only about 5km from home at this point so I decided to just grin and bear it. Thankfully, the rain ceased and by the time we got to the venue he had dried off. Unfortunately, my crew arrived back to the venue at the same time as me so we didn’t have a HR monitor in the cooling lane and importantly I didn’t have Pheobe because she was trying to park the car! At the very last moment Pheobe sprinted across the vet lane just as we were going in. We definitely lost time at this presentation but it was still acceptable. As for vetting so happy days.

Lots more eating and drinking from Chip in this vetgate, Kate also happy with his back, team on form, all going to plan – so far so good! But still only 70km in so the hardest bits yet to come.

Once again Chippy cantered happily out of the vet gate which is such a great sensation. This loop was what I like to call the lollipop loop near the quarry with some weird ad ons. This loop was not for any horse that doesn’t like water, we crossed the river so many times and rode in some new fields that I’ve never done before! The 1* riders were all racing towards us going in the other direction as we were going out. It was organised chaos! Ahah I was grateful to be on a more experienced horse as it could certainly be demotivating for a young horse with so many horses going in different directions.

Towards the end of this loop I could feel Chippy was starting to dig a bit deeper but I still didn’t have to push him any, it was just a matter of supporting him and trying to keep an efficient gait. Chip makes that easy as he just maintains that lovely uphill canter – all day long.

Back into the vet gate for our slowest presentation of the day. Disappointing. But As again so not too shabby. Lots of eating and massages in this vet gate for Chip. The represent is always nerve wracking but at this point in the day I was actually feeling quite confident. I absolutely hand on heart knew he was able to go and do more and I was pleased when we got lots of As in the re-exam again too.

Out onto the final loop with vigour Chippy was feeling great. I could feel the benefit of that last vet gate, Chippy needed that little refuel! The last loop was a bit tough for me, the new saddle had started to take its toll and I felt like I was tiring more than Chip. The furthest I’d ridden this year was only 60km, not even an 80km so despite going to the gym, cycling and riding all these horses that I have in training, I was relying on pure muscle memory to get through this 120km. Actually, there wasn’t any specific muscle ache at all, it was more overall tiredness and skin chaffing on my calves – I don’t wear chaps so my own fault. Anyway, it will be fine next time because we will have trained in the saddle and the skin on my legs will have hardened exactly where it needs to for this saddle/stirrup set up. Luckily, I had thought ahead on the overall tiredness feeling and had some carbohydrate gels from SIS which really made a difference. I could feel that he was tiring but bless him he cantered at every opportunity on the last loop, kept up his walk to canter transitions and really just showed that he totally has the mental capacity to be a top flight endurance horse.

Into the finish, we did it! 120km just the final vetting to go – eek. We played it safe and made sure his HR was onto high 50s before going in. Finish line trot for the panel, I was happy. He trotted the same at the finish as he trotted all day. So so proud of him and me! Chippy and I as a partnership. Second 2* PASSED!

Chippy was great at the finish and has been great since. It’s been a couple of weeks now so I’ve had some time to reflect and think about it. On paper there is the tiniest bit of disappointment for our stats. His presentation times just that bit slower than previously around the 3min mark rather than 2 and not quite as much fuel in the tank for the finish as I’d have liked. I think this could be to do with the other horses around us at this stage in the ride. Chippy was the main motivator and lead them around the last loop which was that bit harder for him mentally. Last year we were in a faster group and it was easy to just keep upping the pace as all those around us were doing that too. Hard to know whether it was just a group thing or a lacking a bit of fitness compared to last year - which would have been totally fair given our delayed start to the season.

BUT I have to keep reminding myself how far we’ve come this year, and just how well he did. Still a very respectable speed at just under 17kmph for only his second 120km and first ride of the year. Another big plus for me is that I judged the pace well, holding a continuous speed for the first three loops and then I letting him travel on a little more for the last.

Most importantly, A for back and muscle all day, A for gait all day, A for gut sounds all day and just a few Bs mingled in for the other metabolic measures which we can certainly cope with. The main concerns of the day, totally not needed.

There aren’t enough words to express how grateful I am of my entire team, both on the day and at home. This result fundamentally wouldn’t have happened without each and everyone of them.

So plans. Well there aren’t any really, not for endurance. The remaining rides on the calendar aren’t really working for us. He doesn’t need another 2* now and there’s no 3* in the UK or nearby that are suitable for Chip. So that’s our season over. It was short but oh so sweet. We’ll be tackling an early season ride so for now we can play dressage pony for the next few months :D

Congrats if you made it to the end!

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