After coming sixth in our first 90cm one-day event at Munstead in Surrey, I decided there was no going back. In all honesty, 80cm courses felt pretty easy, although lots of fun! But, me being me, wanted more of a challenge. So I entered Borde Hill.
However, I didn’t realise, how much of a challenge that would be. When I told friends I was doing my second ever 90 at Borde Hill they literally gasped. What had I let myself in for?
It turns out that the course there is notoriously tough – and on a par with most 100 courses, elsewhere. Yikes. I called the secretary asking if I could transfer to the 80, as I didn’t want to frighten myself by attempting too much too soon. She offered to put me on the wait list, but I’d missed Borde Hill the year before and was determined to compete there. It’s my local event, with a fabulous course in a beautiful location. Sod it, I thought, I’ll do the 90.
It just happened the event was the day before I was going on holiday, and the day after a family funeral. Stressed? Just a tad. Luckily I wasn’t competing until late in the afternoon, which meant I could pack for our holiday and prepare for the show that morning. I plaited with the help of my eight-year-old daughter. It did feel slightly like child labour, but my god those tiny fingers are dexterous. I could never get plaits that neat!
For the first time in years my mum was coming to watch along, with two of my sisters. While it was lovely to have support (I often go to shows alone) I felt the pressure of expectation. Suddenly I was a 12-year-old girl again with my mum watching anxiously, praying I didn’t screw up and get tears and snot of frustration all down my newly washed shirt. The bad news is, I did mess up. The good news is, I didn’t cry. I forgot my dressage test – something I have never, EVER done before. It was a really easy test (BE90 95 (2012), if you’re interested), which I knew inside out. But once the bell rang I found my mind wandering. I couldn’t stop thinking about those massive cross-country fences yet to come, and worrying about whether I had packed suncream. Suddenly I was at M and I didn’t know why. My mind had gone completely blank. I stood there for a while trying not to panic, before the judge sweetly asked if I’d like to pick up canter at B and carry on. But by then I didn’t know how to carry on. I knew nothing.
Somehow I managed to compose my thoughts and gradually it came back to me and I finished the test. But I was gutted. How could I have messed up?
With two more phases left to go I had to somehow pull myself together. There were two hours until I was due to showjump, so plenty of time to walk the cross-country course. Once Pepa was back on the lorry I went to get a course map and saw that the dressage scores were up. I often don’t look at the score as it adds pressure if we’ve done a good test, but this time I had to know.
To my amazement we scored 36! You only get two penalty points for going wrong, and the rest of the test had obviously been OK, so were still in the running. Armed with this knowledge I was filled with renewed vigour and ready for the challenges that lay ahead.
Yes the course was big, yes I was scared – but I was also very excited. I knew that Pepa was more than capable of going clear, I just had to kick on and sit up. Easy, right? I always feel so much better when I’m on board and I’ve hiked up my stirrups ready for jumping. My confidence was buoyed even further by Pepa, who was clearly up for the job. It was like she knew the fun bit was about to start, and she jig-jogged her way to the warm up.
She was equally keen in the ring, and I struggled to steady her at number three, so we got too close and had it down. Darn it. Other than that, it was a great round. Cheers from my family and big pats for Pepa. After another change of outfit (eventing involves more outfits than a Kylie concert) it was time to make our way to the cross-country course. Gulp. I was excited and keen to get going, but also fighting the butterflies in my stomach.
I love the count down at the beginning of the cross-country, it makes me feel like a pro! So it was with a big grin and an even bigger kick that I headed off for number one. As always, Pepa was more focussed on the jump judges, dogs and spectators than she was on the course, so I had to give her a couple of taps on the neck with my stick to get her attention. But despite her spooks and looks, she had no problem jumping the fences. There was one sticky moment when we got very close to a corner fence and had to clamber over, but other than that it felt like we could do no wrong.
The two biggest fences on the course, which I was desperately trying not to worry about, felt incredible. I even let out whoops of delight as we flew over – as you can see from the photo. Not a good look – but it does make me smile whenever I look at it. We crossed the finishing line clear – and utterly elated. Wow. What a buzz! There really is nothing to beat going cross-country.
We incurred 8.8 time penalties, which is something I need to work on (all that spooking doesn’t help). But to go clear felt like a massive achievement. We ended up 14th in our section, which considering I forgot my test wasn’t bad. It gives me lots to work on – and now that I’ve done a 90 at Borde Hill I feel super confident about the rest of the season.
Bring it on BE. We’re ready, willing and able.
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