As per usual I am a little late getting this up. And I will use the same excuse as before. Eventing in England is full on. I have just come back from Blenheim three day event, on Monday I took three horses to Pontispool for a run in the novice and intermediate classes and today (Tuesday) we are packing up the truck again to take the babies to Purston Manor. It’s another quick turn around off to Gatcombe on Friday.
I won’t go into too much detail about Blenheim as this blog is (although belated) about the Olympics. I will say though that despite an unfortunate stop on the cross country, it was pretty exciting to get such a low dressage score and be in the lead going into cross country. He is such a classy horse and I am really lucky to have him.
Now to the Olympics…
I was warned going into the Olympics that it isn’t the same as any other three day event. I’ve been on a few teams before and it is really not the same as that either. Nothing can really prepare you for the magnitude of this show. Looking back at it, it really does feel like a surreal dream that came and went very quickly. I’ve ridden in big atmospheres before but nothing can prepare you for the world stage of the Olympics and the enthusiasm of the crowd. When you trot into that main arena to find the stadiums full, even early on the first day of dressage, you realize there is nothing else like it.
After Shane returned back to the training camp from the brutal media conference where he had to announce his withdrawal from the Olympic team, he acted so admirably and showed what a true sports person he is. After a couple of beers he got quite nostalgic and gave me some advice I will never forget. Two simple sentences; “roll with the punches” and “enjoy it”.
The second we arrived at Greenwich I knew exactly what he meant. It is not a three day event where you are in control. Plans will change. The running order will change, training times will change. Course walks will change. There are press conferences to attend. And we are now a team of individual leaders, used to ruling our own program, suddenly thrown into a team environment where we are not able to be leaders.
If it wasn’t for the advice of Shane Rose I could have found myself struck with stage fright. Instead, I couldn’t help but crack a huge smile when the capacity crowd gave me a very warm welcome into the arena. I was easily able to ride well and I loved every minute of it. We have ridden in front of big crowds at three day events before but the crowds at Greenwich just gave that bit extra. They made up for the limited crowd capacity of Greenwich through enthusiasm. It really did feel like they were carrying me over every fence. When Lani had a slip in front of the first water it was the crowd’s gasp that alerted me too it first, only after that did I feel her craftily putting her legs all back where they were meant to be.
I was delighted to have the mare storm around inside the time. And took equally as much delight in telling our kiwi competitors that the time was easy to make and not to worry about it. They got their own back for that one by picking up the bronze medal. Well played.
Despite not coming home with a medal, I loved every minute of the Olympics and it is something I will never forget.
Apologies everyone for the delay in getting this blog to you. One thing about eventing in England is that with a handful of midweek and weekend events to choose from every week we tend to be away a lot. Anyway, as a result of being busy this is quite a long blog and full of some quite exciting news. Graf Liberty and Underdiscussion picked up wins in Ireland at the Tattersalls in the CCI* and CCI** classes, Underdiscussion won the CICO*** at Aachen in Germany and of course Holstein Park Leilani and I were selected as part of the team to represent Australia at the London Olympics. It’s fair to say that I’m having a pretty good run at the moment. Eventing can be full of ups and down and I’ve learnt to enjoy the good times when they come.
Winning on both horses at Tattersalls after just coming home from a 1,2 result at Saumur almost seemed rude. But the truth is that at the moment I am just very lucky to have such a nice team of horses. The win in Ireland was very welcome following a much less than desirable journey to the show. We left the yard bright and early in the morning, drove seven hours to Holyhead and as a result of ‘unforeseen circumstances’ missed the 2pm ferry. The Irish Ferry company were (thankfully) very accommodating and allowed us to board the next ferry… at 2:40am! As it turns out, there is not much to do at a ferry terminal for ten or so hours so we did what any respectable team of horse people would do and ate the weeks worth of snacks and watched movies. Time well spent.
It was onwards and upwards from here and we arrived at Tattersalls at around 7am the following morning. Although very confused as to what time of day it was Elena and Lizzie did a great job sprucing up the horses for the trot up and they were both accepted. The facilities were amazing. Tattersalls is a big sales and racing facility and we were very lucky to have great undercover stable blocks. Graf Liberty (Danny) looked very impressive in the trot up and it left me feeling like he had been there before. As it turns out he had. He was Irish bred and sold at the ring right next to the trot up. Both his breeder and first owner were at the event and recognised him straight away. Talk about a small world.
Both Underdiscussion and Graf Liberty did outstanding test and proved that going near the beginning of the class isn’t always a disadvantage as they both went early and did the only sub 40 tests in their class. Tattersalls is quite a flat cross country course with its fair share of ditches. The going was perfect and they both ran extremely well, jumping clear and under time to hold on to their first places. It was a true credit to Danny’s honesty to jump around this 1* track as he is still very short on runs at this level due to all the event cancellations this year. Mel gave me a beautiful ride around the 2** and showed what a galloping machine he is as he ran down the nine minutes easily. I was surprised to see the going on the show jumping arena held up so well despite the heavy rain the night before. Mel did another one of his beautiful foot perfect rounds to finish first, after which I had to rush to the other arena to jump Danny in the 1*. He also held on to his first place by jumping clear. It was a very exciting few hours.
This was my first time in Ireland and I think it is fair to say that it is one of the most accommodating countries I have been to. It wasn’t just the event staff who were fantastic and helpful, but almost everyone we came into contact with wanted to go out of their way to help you. We will be back for sure!
After Ireland we had a few small events for all the horses. Teddy, Charlie and Hugo, the babies of the team, went to a combined training day at West Wilts. We went to the new event held at Nunney. This was a great show for a new committee. Graf Liberty kept his winning streak alive by winning the Novice, Kinnordy Rivaldo enjoyed his first event out in a while due to balloting and cancellations and ran around the Intermediate. Teddy, Charlie and Hugo all got some extra miles under their belts in the Pre Novice, all three showing big improvements from the last show. After Nunney was Salperton. This was a beautiful event. Haruzac, Leilani, and Kinnordy Rivaldo all had a good run around the Open Intermediate on the Saturday and Underdiscussion ran around the Intermediate. Due to (more) heavy rain, the rest of the event was cancelled and the babies had the weekend off. Following Salperton was the very impressive Barbury Castle. This has to be one of the most beautiful and spectator friendly courses in the UK. With the course set in a valley, the crowd can see every jump from the tents on the hill. Graf Liberty once again won the novice, making it a trifecta. Underdiscussion had a nice slow run around the intermediate in preparation for Aachen, Leilani did the 4**** Olympic combined training which she led after the dressage! Hugo (Dancing Hugo) did his first Novice run, he showed what a horse he is by leading the dressage and jumping around the cross country clear. Kinnordy Rivaldo did his first Advanced and really showed what he was made of. He did a great test in atmosphere, jumped a good show jump round for one unlucky fence down and answered some very tough questions in the cross country. He had a green run out at some big open corners, but with that being the only issue I was very happy with him.
And then came Aachen…
I was so excited to get two horses into Aachen, Haruzac and Underdiscussion. Some of my very supportive owners jumped on a plane to come and see what many consider to be the world’s best horse show. This event really is made for riders and their entourage, with catering during the day, catered parties at night and passes into all the stadiums. Leave it to the Germans with their flair for organisational precision to pull off a stunt like CHIO Aachen. It really has to be seen to be believed. You not only get to enjoy the worlds best jumping horses in their final run before the Olympics but through the week we were also able to cheer on the top Aussie dressage riders and the amazing world number 1 Australian carriage driver Boyd Excel.
For me the show was made that much better by being able to enjoy two great rides on Haruzac (Harry) and Underdiscussion (Mel). Harry, being the reliable beautifully tempered competitor that he is, was obligated to go early to fill his spot in the team. He did a super test, trying every step of the way and with just made a few mistakes at the end in the extended canter and the centre line he finished on a score of 44 penalties. Even a horse as genuine as the mighty Haruzac was taken back by the grandeur of the massive Aachen arena, and had an uncharacteristic rail down, but he was in good company as many other good horses did the same thing on the day.
He was quickly forgiven of this mistake when the next day he was one of only a handful to go clear and under time on the cross country course, showing what a reliable cross country machine he is. Harry, being such the winner that he is, was a bit taken a back when he saw one of his stable mates coming back with the blue ribbon.
Underdiscussion came out in style in the dressage and did a 37. He coped so well in the show jumping arena, jumping clear and showing us he was made to be at such a big show. The big and very testing Aachen cross country course had me questioning whether I was over facing Mel when I saw riders like Ingrid Klimker, Sam Griffiths and Bill Levett have problems. But this little horse gave it everything he had on cross country and I was so impressed with how easily he jumped the big fences and how much gallop he has. For a little half warmblood, he’s bloody fast! Fast was the key in the end with the two horses in front of him after show jumping having time faults, which saw the little speed daemon move up into first place. I have always said that this is a horse that once he got everything right he won’t come second.
It wasn’t until the presentation that it really sunk in what a big thing I had done. I had just shown the world what a force Australian eventing is and that us little Aussie eventers will always be a force to be reckoned with. This has given me a lot of confidence in the wake of the Olympics. I can’t wait to go back next year and see my name on the famous honour board.
The other exciting news is of course my Olympic selection. I have had the dreaded phone call before from the selectors but this time it came with good news, that Holstein Park Leilani and I had been selected to be a part of the Australian team at London 2012. It was not all smiles though, as my mate Sam Griffiths was left off the team on his well seasoned horse Happy Times. It goes to show the depth in talent Australia must have to be able to afford to leave a horse like that off the team. That said, I am very excited to be a part of the team selected. Leilani being so experienced has already had her final pre-Olympic run in an Advanced Intermediate at Salperton. She is looking fantastic, feeling stronger than ever and showed everyone she means business when she lead the dressage in the 4* Olympic combined training class at Barbury Castle.
Unfortunately it’s not all good news. While we were away, the rain continued to drench the UK. While we keep being told it is the worst summer anybody remembers we can’t help but think “why are we living here?”. Although, to avoid sounding like a winging Pom, I have to say that on a sunny day it is a stunning country and you very quickly forget how soggy you have been for the last few weeks.
Let’s hope the next blog is laced with gold!
Before we stop I want to tell everyone that Bek and I are both trying to ‘give up alcohol’ for a while as we are doing ‘Dry July’ in aid of adults with cancer. If anyone would like to donate please go to http://www.dryjuly.com and look for the team ‘Prisoners of Mother England’ – all proceeds will go to adults living with cancer. We thought it was a good thing to do to prepare for the Olympics and so far we are one week in … so far so good. We have substituted to sparkling mineral water and lime, although I have to say winning at Aachen did create an obstacle because it seemed un-Australian to celebrate without a drink!
I really don’t know what to say about this one. Sometimes you just have a dream run.
We arrived in Saumur with Holstein Park Leilani and Haruzac, both fitter than any horses I’ve ever prepared for a three day event. The local word was to watch for pine cones falling on your head in the pine forest on cross country, avoid the poisonous caterpillars in the grass whilst grazing and beware the biting midges. Those little bugs made the Wednesday very hard for me to work them on the flat. Come Haruzac’s dressage on Thursday, a little bit of rain and wind was enough to chase them all away and he did without a doubt the best test I’ve done on him to date. He had a little trip in the extended trot which was nobody’s fault but the only blemish in what, to my mind, was a harshly judged and close to perfect test. Lani came out the following afternoon and showed everyone how experienced she is, getting 8′s for her entry and halt and awesome flying changes. This beautiful mare really knows her job now.
It was so nice to have the fantastic support from my amazing owners. Jean and Herman were there to watch Leilani, and Alan and Cher alongside Haruzac. Their support was duly noted as everything I asked for got delivered. I was especially grateful for the rain that fell to wet down the heavy sand and made the going on cross country a little bit faster, especially up the long hills.
As event riders, our biggest fear that makes us nervous is stuffing up and ruining all that hard work we put in for this date. Luckily I had two dream runs. Haruzac went out early and held the fastest time of the day until the fire-breathing red head cross country machine, Leilani, got wind of it and put the boys in their place, going two seconds faster than Harry around a course that proved very difficult to make time. It is rare that you get such a good run but both horses pulled up fit, sound and blemish free which meant super groom Elena could have an early night and Lani and Harry had a good nights rest.
The rain continued to fall as we trotted up in a downpour on Sunday morning, which you would think I would be used to after the weather we have had in England lately. However, my very supportive owners made sure the rain stopped for the start of the 3* Jumping. Thanks again guys. The going at Saumur was very sandy and the ground held up all day. Haruzac jumped one of his beautiful clear rounds and because he was feeling so well, did it in spectacular style and kicked the sky in. Last to jump was Lani. She likes to find herself in this position these days. She jumped beautifully until I got too far off the combination at the end and had the vertical down on the way out. All my fault, sorry Princess.
I was not sure what this meant, couldn’t believe my eyes to see my name first and second on the score board as I finished the round.
I don’t really believe in superstitions but Alan, Harry’s owner, may have changed my mind with a seemingly powerful pink shirt. Alan has worn this shirt whilst watching Harry jump to victory in a number of three day events at pre novice, 1*, 2* and 3* level. Either that shirt means something, or Harry is just a bloody good horse. Whatever the answer I am very lucky to have both him and Lani, thanks guys!
With Graf Liberty the only horse on the big truck (lorry), we shot off to discover our most local event. Anyone who knows Dorset will know there’s a few hills round the place that aren’t suitable for HGV’s and anyone who has followed the instructions of a Tomtom before will know they are very insistent upon taking you down the narrowest country lanes they can find. Tomtom and I were getting on well until he faced us at a lane we simply couldn’t fit down and when I pulled over to scratch my head the gentleman in the car behind knew I was looking for the Portman One Day Event. Little did I know that the gentleman was not gentlemanly at all and in actual fact had quite a sick sense of humor as he gave us directions for the back entrance of the event.
This landed my large truck stuck, smack bang in the middle of the cross country course. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t been parked in the middle of combination 12a and b and holding the start of the cross country up. The ground staff were very helpful and jumped to attention after it was announced on the loud speaker, ‘Could the large red lorry please vacate the cross country course.’ We then had to do a drive of shame down past the show jumping and get a gate unlocked to get into the truck park.
Fortunately Graf Liberty ( Danny) picked my day up quite alot and scored a 26 in his first novice and had a silly rail down show jumping. I then looked even sillier when I decided to run cross country early and beat the imposing rain storm. Danny didn’t appreciate the hail one little bit but luckily the course was put on hold, not lucky for my underpants though which ended up soaking wet. He gave me a sensational ride on course, finished four seconds inside the time and I dismounted just as the sun came out.
The humor didn’t stop there as my listening skills failed me when I asked local navigator big Sam Griffiths for directions home. I ended up taking my 18 tonne truck down the aptly named zigzag hill which I’d just been told to avoid. When I got there I realized why I was meant to avoid it as I had to do 3 point turns in every corner and ended up with a line of cars behind me ten miles long. Fortunately the first car in the queue was a very patient old lady who must have admired my manoeuvre abilities and blew me a kiss when I could finally let her past.
Let’s hope my trip to Weston this weekend, some 4 hours away, is not quite as disastrous.
I’ve ended up so busy lately with all the competing that I’ve found it hard to find the time to blog. Since my last blog I’ve done Aldon, Gatcombe and Somerly Park so here’s a quick round up on how the ponies are going.
Kinnordy Rivaldo and Underdisscussion strutted their stuff in the Advanced Intermediate at Aldon and were in fine form. Both did good dressage tests and show jumped well and I certainly enjoyed giving them a slow run around the nice Intermediate course (What a nice sport this would be if the one day events didn’t have time faults). I also ended up with two pre novice rides at Aldon. A catch ride on Opposition Skylaw and my first run on Graf Liberty owned by yours truly. Skylaw was about as good catch ride as you could end up with. She was a beautiful mare who led the pre novice from start to finish. Graf Liberty didn’t disappoint either, jumping a very scopey double clear and proving to me he’s a proper horse for the future.
We shot off to Gatcombe Advanced Intermediate the following weekend where Haruzac overstepped some boundaries and beat the princess of the stable as Harry and Lani went 1,2. They both did great dressage tests, jumped clear show jumping, and made light work of the cross country. It was a good boost of confidence having those two horses feeling so well.
No sooner had I got my breeches clean I was off to ride, another catch ride in the CIC** at Somerley Park. I’m still astounded at the standard of one day events over here. Turning up to a midweek event I was amazed at how flash it was. Tregoodwell owned by Kirsty and John Johnston, went as well as we could expect given that my relationship with him goes only two rides deep. He jumped double clear and was a nice horse to sit on around a lovely track.
Off to Portman today. Post again soon!
Although Tweseldown was only a one day event I found it a huge relief to have it over and done with. I’m still getting used to doing all three phases in one day, and it certainly made for a busy event riding four horses. It was the first event of the season. Kinnordy Rivaldo, Haruzac, Underdiscussion and Holstein Park Leilani all started in the Open Intermediate. I had four lovely rides and given they have been so boxed up all winter they all behaved themselves extremely well.
They all did super dressage tests and I was very excited at how well they jumped in such heavy going. It makes me think that after having the winter off and gaining some weight, they’ve all come in much stronger and finally feel like they’ve completely acclimatized to the northern hemisphere. I ran them slowly cross country and was surprised to find some quite tough questions on the intermediate track for the first event of the season.
Unfortunately my chief super groom Elena has had to stay in the US longer than expected. ( I hope we are able to get her back soon.) Luckily I’ve enlisted the help of Lizzie who some of you might remember used to work for Sam. She has very capably stepped in for Elena and coped extremely well on her first outing with Team Burton.
Off to Aldon next weekend.
-10 degrees outside so I thought I would take the opportunity to go inside by the warm fire and let everyone know what I really think of England. Poor Elena is chipping 2 inch thick ice out of the horses’s water buckets. The taps in both the barns have frozen so the girls have had to run a hose from Sam and Lucy’s house. The discarded ice gets thrown outside and doesn’t melt. Something I have never seen before. We have also reached the bottom of our rug pile but the horses are all toasty warm and seem surprisingly happy, unlike their rider.
Because the arena keeps freezing and goes rock hard like the rest of the ground our day consists of a lot of hacking out. We make good use of the nearby Cucklington Hill which is great for getting them fit, but getting there and back can prove challenging because the cold weather really makes these over fed, highly spirited, boxed up eventing horses carry on like 2 year olds at the racetrack.
I have to say I have earned a new respect for British event riders. Trying to prepare a horse in these conditions whilst trying to put weight on them in the winter months is somewhat harder than preparing the laid back horses I’m used to riding in 30 degree heat in Australia’s gorgeous January.
Its started snowing outside so I guess I should go and get amongst it.