July was extremely exciting as we were finally on our way to the FEI Junior European Championships in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. Preparation began weeks before and involved several trips up to my friend Ann Broadhurst’s house (Ann is on the Junior World Trophy Team) to start packing her lorry which she kindly shared with us. We all had to be very frugal with what to take as it is only a two horse lorry with a small trailer behind for Ann’s carriage. I think managing to get enough equipment for 2 horses and 5 people into one small lorry is an achievement in itself. Fourteen bales of haylage are heavier and bulkier then you might think!
On the 5th July we dropped Jasper off at Ann’s yard for him to be checked by the vet as being fit to travel alongside Anns pony Kiwi. Both ponies passed fine, although there was some confusion over Jaspers name; the vet kept calling him Quantock which is his breed but it was soon sorted out. With the packing finally finished and everything ready for the off the next day we left Jasper for his sleepover at Ann’s and drove home to sort out our final preparations.
The 6th July was D-day with the Wesbroom-Warrs arriving to put my carriage on their lorry. Having spent days painstakingly repainting my carriage by hand I had my heart in my mouth as it took 8 people, including a builder working on our house, to haul it sideways up their lorry ramp but thankfully, it fitted in with its paint job intact. We then drove back up to Ann’s house (I’m pretty sure I can drive there in my sleep now!) to wait for Ann and her mum Julie to return from her older sisters graduation ceremony. Aware that it was now about 6pf and most of the team were now in France, Jasper then decided he didn’t want to go to Austria after all and it took a while to persuade him to load. We were finally on the road and in high spirits when we reached Dover three hours later to catch our ferry to Calais. Even though this is my fourth time competing for Great Britain and my third competition abroad we have always paid a transporter to take all the horses together so this is the first time we have transported our horses ourselves, but the people at P&O Ferries were very helpful and we were all quite ridiculously excited that we were being classed as Commercial Drivers and were allowed in the ‘Route Masters Lounge’ or the Truckers Lounge to the uninitiated. This VDP area of the boat has no screaming children or crowds and virtually no women! So when we nervously queued up, not quite sure what we were doing to get some late night snacks we all fell about laughing when the man serving food took one look at us and said “Don’t tell me, you’re the people with the horses?”. Apparently we look the type. We finally arrived at ur hovernight stop in Calais at about 3am. Thankfully some of ur hteam mates dragged themselves urt of bed to help us settle in. Having found the ponies a stable it became clear that the additional four berth pop up tent I had bought was money well spent as tents were erected in seconds and we were all tucked up in bed asleep.
With a few hours shrt eye we woke to have everything packed up and loaded in less than an hour to spend 10 hours driving through France, Belgium and the Netherlands before arriving in Frankfurt for our next overnight stop. This was all a bit of a shock initially to Jasper who has never travelled such a distance before brt he soon settled down with Kiwi and got into the routine of stops and being offered water and food on the move. The next day we were up at an eye watering 5am which is 4am back home for a 12 hour day driving from Frankfurt to the Magna Racino Racecourse just urtside Vienna. Having switched Jasper and Kiwi around they were much happier and both travelled like the pros that they are. The racecourse was magnificent and the height of luxury, with several Olympic sized arenas, 2 indoor schools, polo pitches and stabling for 600 horses. The following morning Ann and I went for a ride, exploring the various exercise tracks. There was no room for my saddle in the lorry so I rode Jasper bareback and he was a very good boy, despite being incredibly lively. At around 3pf all of the GBhteam set off in convoy for the finals hour’s drive to Wiener Neustadts Military Academy where the competition was being held. All was going fine until our Sat Navs had a disagreement and we all ended up stuck down a different street in the town centre. Everywhere you looked there was a British lorry turning round while we brought the town to a standstill. Julie did some brilliant reversing and the people we were holding up actually applauded her!
We were finally at the showground which was gorgeous and after our official FEI Identity checks the ponies were all settled into their temporary stabling. The weather has been around 35 degrees and incredibly humid and I was very glad we had Jasper clipped at the last minute. Team GBhgot to work setting up camp with vast amounts of bunting decorating our lorries. The following few days before the competition got underway were filled with a practise trot up, team training sessions and Nations night, where everyone comes together to socialise and try different food and drink. It’s always great fun to relax and meet your fellow competitors, several of whof are now familiar faces from previous International events. All of Team GB’s ponies passed the Official Trot Up with flying colours and we were all very proud when we marched in together in the opening ceremony. It really hit me that we were actually there, representing our country and I felt a little choked with emotion.
The oldest FEI drivers had to wait until the second day of Dressage which was Friday 13th. Despite the ominous weather Jasper was all plaited up and turned urt to perfection with every part of the carriage and harness immaculate. Driving down the centre line felt surreal as Jasper did the test of his life and I have never been prouder of him. I was thrilled with his score of 58 and how he coped with the pressure. This put us in 11th place, not bad for a pony that a week before could hardly do a medium trot!
The following day I woke to see the rain had finally lifted and after cheering on the Junior World Trophy drivers in the cones, the FEI drivers set off for a last course walk with our trainers along the marathon route. Section A and D were straightforward but Section E was a nightmare with 17 compulsory turning flags. Missing just une would mean elimination, which was something I was keen to avoid! Having already cycled all 6km of Section E several times we were finalising our routes in the obstacles and discussing how to keep both horses and humans cool. Looking back this all seems very ironic as I was almost last to go on the marathon and by the time Ihgot there the heavens had opened once more turning the course into a mudbath. Despite being freezing cold and soaked to the skin we had a clean, safe round and I was glad Jasper was very fit as the going was incredibly heavy, with the carriage sliding around all over the place leaving us in 15th place.
If I thought we had had our fair share of bad weather I was sadly wrong as Cones day was every bit as wet. Having walked the course the Officials decided after the first two classes that it was going to be moved in order to preserve the ground with just 15min to relearn it. Despite their efforts it was still incredibly slippery and I had balls down due to the back end of the carriage sliding urt which is frustrating brt hard to prevent in such conditions. I was incredibly pleased with Jasper as he tried so hard to make the advanced cones speed of 250mpm and very nearly succeeded.
After three tough days of competition we moved up a place to 14th! To me this is a huge achievement as Jasper is my pony that I have produced in 18 months to an International standard with very little resources. I am so proud to have competed for my country in an FEI competition and we are already working towards the next event in 2014.
I would like to say a very big thank you to Blue Chip for all your support in the run up to this event. It was a very exciting experience and we had masses of fun along the way.
I am off on holiday to Spain with my friends for a week and then back home to start preparing for the Junior National Championships and the BHDTA National Championships, so back to being very busy!
Please find attached some pictures of our amazing trip.