Well the European Championships has now been and gone and a lesson learned. Unfortunately, despite all the meticulous preparation, it did not go according to plan. Fantom refused to eat and drink on the journey, including the overnight stop and arrived at the venue pretty dehydrated. This was easily corrected and he began to eat and drink well. He was, however, much quieter than usual which I was actually quite glad about at the time but in hindsight I should have been warned all was not well.
We had a lovely opening ceremony where we all looked very smart in our new Fairfax & Favor boots and the following day the pre-ride vetting went without a hitch with all horses passing with flying colours. The crew had spent two days looking for and at crew points. This was made pretty difficult by the heavy traffic and constant road works in Brussels which had to be driven through to access almost every crew point.
The start was at the edge of a large park which gave access to miles and miles of forest. Fantom didn’t warm up well, being very quiet but, after consulting with the team vet, we started with the rest of the squad near the back of the field. After about 100 metres we had two main roads to cross before plunging into the deep, dark beech forest. We only got to about 3 kms when Fantom applied the brakes and it became apparent that our race was over: he had tied up.
Fantom is absolutely fine now and it was a relatively minor episode with no lasting damage but at the time it was pretty devastating. In retrospect, I feel we should have had regular blood tests leading up to our departure to ensure everything was OK and, perhaps, we should have left home at the last possible minute, even sending the crew on ahead to do the preparation. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
OK, onto the next competition two weeks after returning from Brussels. This was originally going to be Chiara’s first 2* at Euston Park but, with all the work and preparation needed for Fantom and losing that crucial week training whilst we were away, I decided to consolidate at 1* and to aim for a faster speed at that level.
We had several good training sessions just after I got back. A long trip to the woods with the short sharp hills to canter up went well giving Chiara a reminder of the stamina that would be required. Euston Park is pretty flat so we did several sessions in the new stubble fields around here with her pulses improving all the time. Work and feed tapered the week before although I kept up her Replenish (she is on this all summer as have been Fantom and Dilmun). Chiara was shod with pads in front for the first time as, although she now has tough little feet thanks to Hardy Hoof, there are some wicked flints at Euston.
Although Chi was a little reluctant to load, she travelled well and regularly took mouthfuls of her special fibre beet tea with carrots and ate loads and loads of hay. As this was a smaller competition at Euston than the previous ones, the pre-ride vetting was on the morning of the ride and the start time was very civilised. This meant that we had plenty of time to sort everything out the day before and even take Chi out for a little wander round to get her used to all the flags and markers.
Ride day was great. It was a relaxed yet competitive atmosphere and the start was perfect with everyone trotting out across the parkland rather than the gallop that I remember from some previous occasions. However, as the pace built up Chiara got more and more excited and after a while I decided to turn her off course for a few minutes so that the leading pack could go past giving us some space. After that I had a much better race with Chi being responsive and much more focussed on where she was going. We still have to work on presentation times but generally her behaviour in the vet gate and vetting was much better. Eating and drinking could still do with improvement too but at least she seems to be able to drink with the bit in now.
It was a good result, 6th out of 17 starters and a good speed of over 18 kph. Chi also came 5th in the best condition and finished feeling keen so it all looks good for the future.
My season has now finished but endurance in the UK goes on until the middle of October so perhaps some crewing and helping opportunities will come my way.