The great debate

Deciding which ride to go to is not a new debate. It happens at every level. Whether it’s your first 20km, first 40km or first 3* choosing the right ride for your horse is important.

So what is the ‘right’ ride? How do you decide? What are the influencing factors that determine if indeed the chosen ride is the most suited to your horse, or you both as a partnership? Venue, terrain, proximity, cost, atmosphere, accommodation. Just some of the things I think about when deciding which ride to go to.

My most recent great debate has been where to go for my somewhat illusive 3*. If we rewind to quite a few months ago, when I decided to pick up the training again with Chip after our forced COVID holiday, I was looking at the FEI calendar as to the possible events we could go to. I felt my safest bet was to go for a 3* in October/November time as I hoped this would give plenty of time for COVID to have settled somewhat. However, the UK season typically ends mid-October so this would entail a little foreign extravaganza.

A couple of weeks on and suddenly there were talks of a 3* on UK soil – Lavenham and a 3* had been added to the European Test Event at Ermelo, NED. The decision at this stage was still really fairly easy for me – Ermelo.

Chippy loves a busy venue and lots of atmosphere, hussle and bussle. He thrives off it. Ermelo would offer me that. The terrain too at Ermelo is ideal. It’s a flat sandy ride which offers a good average completion speed – very suited to Chip who has done all of his qualifiers at 17kmph or just under. Travel not too bad. Yes a ferry trip but a day’s drive from Calais. All very doable. Okay, slightly expensive, but when you get to this stage of their career, what’s another grand or so between friends? (Laughs through gritted teeth, cries at credit card statement every month).

7 weeks out from Ermelo we have a COVID mini-strike #2 – travel restrictions are put in place for both France and the Netherlands. Now the great debate begins – in full. Add a casual cycling accident, A&E trip and concussion into the mix – making the decision wasn’t easy. As soon as the news came in, my immediate reaction was, well, that’s our chances of a 3* in 2020 done.

The Lavenham ride wasn’t a certainty at this stage either. The financial implications of COVID have been widespread and our governing body, Endurance GB, has suffered the loss of income from rides throughout the season. A hefty entry fee was published for Lavenham in order for the ride to break even due to restrictions on entries, which were in place to ensure social distancing could be implemented. Whilst the cost of entering Lavenham would be less than going abroad, I still really begrudged the high entry fee. I’m concerned about the precedent it could set for future FEI rides in the UK. There was a time limit on making the decision too as deposits had to be in by Monday 17th August to confirm the ride would go ahead.

Lavenham really wasn’t / isn’t my first choice. I have concerns about so many aspects of the ride. Firstly the route, grassy headlands. Potentially lovely but also risky. Concerns – slippy or concussive. What are the chances of having that perfect middle ground? A grass route is just so much more reliant on the weather than a sandy equivalent. Atmosphere – quiet. Chippy loves the chase, it’s been quite a few years since we’ve competed at a quiet ride. I’m thinking way back to the baby days of first 40kms and first 80kms. All his FEI comps have been at busy venues were we never have to worry about looking for company at the later stages of the ride. If I’m not wrong, there will be just 6 in my class and in total a limit of 45 entries each day across all the classes. If we are not careful we could end up alone. On the plus side, no international travel required and a relatively close ride at just 3hrs away from home.

BUT. And here’s the very big BUT, it’s the only choice.

It’s become less of a question about which 3* should I go to, or even should I try to do this 3* to do I want to do a Championship in 2021’.

The answer to that question is a firm yes.

So I have to work backwards and ask myself ‘what do I need to do in order to qualify for a championships?’ - I need to do 2x 3*s. And it certainly makes sense to make sure one of those 3*s is completed this year, leaving us with one to do in the Spring.

Should I put aside my concerns for the bigger picture? Should I risk going to a ride I don’t think my horse is suited to? Should we give it a go?

Well I still didn’t know. I couldn’t decide. Years of hopes and dreams, potentially teetering on the edge of my own biases against the types of tracks that in all actuality I like, probably more than Chip. And the venue type I enjoy, again possibly more than Chip.

The fors and against list was written, deliberated over, carried around for a day, discussed with friends, scribbled on and scored against (until my concussed state got too confused by my own scoring system). And in the end, what did it come down to? Pulling it out of a hat.

This is not a joke. I decided whether to enter the 3* at Lavenham by pulling the decision out a hat (well actually a Tupperware in the kitchen). This was my sister’s recommendation and it happened under her supervision too. My fors and against list got ripped in half with a simple ‘yes’ ‘no’ written on the back of each side.

I pulled out ‘no’ and I was devastated.

That wasn’t the answer I wanted. Deep down I knew that wasn’t the right piece of paper to pull out of the hat. And that’s when I knew. I’d already made the decision. I was just looking for some sort of affirmation that I really didn’t need.

Of course we can bloody well get our arses around the 3* at Lavenham. Is it ideal? No, no it’s not. Will we knock out a text book performance – probably not. But will we get the job done? Get the box ticked? Get one of the two 3*s done? Yes we bloody well will.

For me and Chip as a combination I’m going to call it a sub-optimum track. It’s not exactly where I’d like to go to tackle our first 3* for the reasons already listed, but I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to give it a crack. As a ride organiser myself I can only but sympathise with the huge amount of effort that has gone into this ride thus far, even to just get it on the calendar. There were so many people involved in making this happen. And without all their hard work, I wouldn’t have even had a choice. The ‘great debate’ simply wouldn’t have happened!

You can be certain that once that decision was made – on the 16th August – that was that. Bella was on it. On it in the most Bella-esq way possible. Training plan re-formed. Every professional under the sun re-scheduled. Chippy let in on the plan change and all system go – LET’S DO THIS!

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