Things have moved on swiftly since my last blog and this one is, I’m afraid, rather late.
The first goal set was to complete a second 40 kms novice qualifier with Chiara. She didn’t get a lot of work since completing her first 40 kms in May; one full week off followed by rather intermittent training and schooling as everything was based around Fantom’s training for his 160 kms 3* ride. We didn’t even get a chance to do any loading and travelling practice at all.
I had made arrangements to ride with my crew Katherine on her new FEI horse; only a small ride for her! This was reassuring as Chiara can still be somewhat erratic and still needs a little confidence boost. Chiara had been on her Steady Up Advance supplement for a few weeks now and it would be interesting to see if she is more settled and less tense.
Loading actually went smoothly with only a small hesitation and travelling, once we had started moving, also passed without incident and Chiara only had a sweat mark on her quarters where she has a stiff muscle area. Note to self; arrange a massage for her to work on this area before her next competition.
On arrival she did seem a little calmer than usual and behaved beautifully in the vetting,
standing quietly to have her pulse taken which was only a little elevated. Tacking up as usual was the most stressful part, attempting to ‘decorate’ a moving target is no mean feat! Off we went with our companion and Chiara leading most of the way through the beautiful Boconnoc estate (an area where horses are usually forbidden). The course was lovely through ancient woodland and tracks finishing with a long canter through ‘Paradise’ – a truly stunning park, complete with herds of deer.
After a little cooling (she didn’t need much) off we went to the post ride vetting. Cool, calm and collected; Chiara had a low enough pulse for the top grade. An excellent result and an enjoyable and fairly relaxed competition, the only blot being me managing to get my foot under one of Chi’s. Sound horse, lame rider!
Now the focus was firmly fixed on Fantom, although Dilmun had started some gentle exercise as a precursor to topping up his fitness for another 1* in August. My aim with Fantom was to build up the targeted training to total approximately 80 kms a week for the two weeks prior to the tapering week. This consisted of a mixture of sustained canter work either on the beach, around the cross country course and around a large sandy fallow field close to the dunes. We mixed this up with interval training, schooling and work on the Pessoa interspersed with strategic rest days after the more intense work. By the time the tapering week had come around I was fairly confident that the training Fantom had been doing was spot on and he felt good.
My own training, however, was definitely not all it should be. When competing at Euston Park with Dilmun I had managed to forget my all-over fleece saddle cover and I therefore had to do the whole 80 kms without. Not only did I have scrapes and blisters on the inside of my knees, but also wounds where a seam on my thighs had been rubbing. The following week doing 68 kms with Fantom complete with saddle cover, I had taped up the grazes but found to my horror that all around the edge of the tape my skin had blistered! I spent the next couple of weeks pretty sore and unable to do my leg exercises or much running. Another lesson learned!
Fantom had his new shoes with front pads put on a few days before the competition and benefited from a message from Kate McCarthy who had also obtained a small gadget that fitted to her iPhone enabling her to take thermal pictures of Fantom highlighting any hot spots – absolutely fascinating.
After a long drive of 8 hours, via Bristol airport to collect Kiwi our Dutch crew, we arrived at King’s Forest. What a beautiful venue and so well laid out. It’s amazing what a bit of sponsorship can do to transform what is one of the UK’s top endurance competitions. The following day I had a little ride out in the forest to familiarise myself with the start of the various loops. In the afternoon was the pre-ride vetting. Graham was to trot up Fantom for me so we had a little practice. I have never seen Fantom behave so badly! He alternately stood on his back legs and kicked out behind and sideways, eventually managing to catch Graham’s arm with one of his back feet. I trotted him up in the vetting not wanting any of my crew injured. This was the only time I have ever felt fearful doing a trot up but, of course, Fantom behaved himself perfectly…
5.30am and start time! It had been light for hours and Kiwi and Katherine had also been up for hours feeding and walking Fantom. The tack went on, more walking in hand, then up I went to do the warming up at a slightly faster pace. Oh no, Fantom was back to the bad behaviour, leaping and making butterfly motions with his front legs (he must be double-jointed he’s so flexible). Off we went with Fantom taking a bit of a hold but then settling into his stride just behind the leading pack.
Loops came and went in a blur with quick and fortunately uneventful vetting in between. We maintained a good pace averaging about 16.5kph for the first four loops riding with the leading group. Disaster struck when the sun burst through making the already humid woodland pretty unbearable. I had to take a 10-minute break at a crew point and receive some intensive sloshing myself which completely revived me. Unfortunately, that meant that I was a bit off the pace and posted quite a slow loop.
I had such great comments from the Dutch vet at the penultimate vetting that I decided to go for it and see who I could catch on the last loop. As it turned out I only managed to overtake one rider but clocked my fastest loop at just under 18 kph and cantered over the line into 3rd place and a Championship qualification.
Well apart from the small blip, the ride went to plan and Fantom will now have several weeks off, possibly coming back into work in October to do some schooling and low level dressage as a base conditioner for his bid for the Euros in Belgium next year. I had prior to this ride decided to withdraw myself from the squad for this year as the Worlds were re-allocated to Slovakia in September rather than the hoped-for France in October. This would not have allowed sufficient recovery time for Fantom and would have involved a long, long journey across Europe.
On my return I discovered that somehow Dilmun’s mane had been shortened (this is his crowning glory). Wizard’s tail had also been drastically and mysteriously shortened over the last few weeks and now I know the culprit – little Miss Chiara! Total disgrace! Horsey hair extensions anyone?