After a rather flat run at Rockingham where I decided to WD before the XC (Wanda felt off colour and we just weren’t on form that day) I decided to enter my local event Little Downham. I took a less is more approach to training and kept Wanda’s workload limited to short bursts of jumping and flatwork with some hacks and cantering. Basically enjoying her and not putting myself under pressure.
I felt really positive coming up to the event and quite excited about the opportunity to get out and compete again. My times were really late on Sunday (xc not until 6.30pm) which was a new thing for me and I was a little worried I might just be off the boil or a little nervous. To combat this I course walked on Saturday and met up with one of my sponsors Loren Causer from Lens Vanity Photography who stayed at our house and had a great night in of wine and curry.
On competition day we had a leisurely breakfast and got Wanda scrupulously clean and polished. It was great to have someone to chat to as it really helped with my nerves; it was also a really glorious day which made things all the more cheery.
We only live half an hour away from Little Downham and are lucky that it sits on fenland soil so is always excellent going – despite constant rain the week before. I was also met by my friend Hannah Galley and her mum. I’ve known Hannah for a few years now. She’s due to have a baby in late August so isn’t eventing but is a very keen spectator!
Wanda is very straightforward to get ready and we were soon on board, with a plan to keep the dressage warm up minimal as it was so hot. She worked in well and had really good focus so I was pleased and quite chilled. Our test went well. It was consistent and accurate, with only a couple of things I felt could have been slightly better. Sadly I scored a disappointing 35 which I felt was a little harsh. However I am fairly good at not dwelling on dressage scores and my main aim was to focus on confident Show jumping and XC.
Another friend, Brenning, who has a wealth of experience arrived at this point… and Wanda’s old owner, my mum and half of the children at the riding school where Wanda used to live! We had quite a fan club!!! Brenning helped put up some SJ warm up fences and I really appreciated his calm and encouraging approach. We warmed up well, and Wanda felt very much on form which was a positive boost.
The SJ at Little Downham was proving tricky for many, with a scattering of poles down across the levels. My plan was to ride a nice round. I wasn’t too bothered about the odd pole down; I just wanted forward shots and positive riding. That was pretty much what I ended up with. However, jumping out of the second combination Wanda found the distance a little long and we had a fence down. I panicked and a brain meltdown, turning left instead of right… so time faults as well as 2 down. It was a twisty course… Honest! However, I didn’t do the whole beat myself up thing, I was actually quite pleased. We met every fence positively and band on stride and looking back at the photos I can see how much of an effort Wanda took to jump cleanly.
At this point my nerves really kicked in. I felt like withdrawing but Hannah was great at keeping me positive and focused. We didn’t have long to get ready which wasn’t a bad thing! I had my new Lens Vanity Baselayer on and we both looked very smart in black and white.
I decided to keep the XC warm up minimal. Two solid fence jumps and an open up canter is all we needed. Again Brenning was a really calming influence and helped me focus on the positive not the negative.
Before I had time to think I had got to the start box and was trying to turn on my hatcam while Wanda did her usual excited cobby dance. 5,4,3,2,1, go. I was determined to try and ride forward and soon got into a rhythm, in the back of my mind I just wanted a nice steady confident clear.
After about 5 fences I really felt we were in the swing of things, not fast but clear. We went through both waters and jumped a moderate step up and swung left to a plank pile skinny. I think I just didn’t ride the corner positively. Wanda just wasn’t aware of what she had to jump and we had a frustrating stop. Usually I pick up on trickier turns and trouble spots and ride accordingly but I think I lost concentration – something I will need to work on!
We turned and re jumped easily but at this point I did feel Wanda needed to be travelling a little more and she had firm riding and a touch of the whip as we went into the next fence, a downhill drop hanging log. This totally lit her and I think all she needed me to do was say go. It was like a signal to say ‘I’m not nervous, kick on and lets do this’. In the official photo taken over this fence I have my reins in one hand, sitting well back and really riding – I look like I have my mojo back. The next fence Wanda flew and we ate the rest of the course, including a couple of trickier combinations and a large ditch palisade. As I had already had the stop I experimented with our in between fence speed, being softer with my hands so Wanda could really use her neck… and I got a faster Wanda! She also jumped more boldly, out of her stride and most of all it felt easy and fun. We completed with time faults due to the stop but really pleased with ourselves, Wanda barely sweating and feeling really well. Here is hat cam footage of our round https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oZX6I80Evk
So a pretty crap day on paper, not our usual dressage, fences down and a stop XC. But you know what… I feel really pleased with how we did. I’m a very driven and competitive person, I like to achieve and do as well as I can. But I’ve also had a pretty rough time personally and it was really beginning to mess up my riding. I was super anxious and not a happy person. I’ve worked through that a lot and really thought about why I want to compete as ultimately it has to be fun and rewarding or there is no point spending a fortune on it or hours away from my family. All this personal pressure had an impact on my jumping, as I’ve chatted about in previous blogs. I was just riding in a very introvert and over cautious way. This all changed on Sunday, I felt so comfortable on the second half of the XC. I got the buzz back and it was exciting again. Big lessons learnt and I do feel I have a benchmark now for riding Wanda XC. It’s taken me a few rounds to suss the best way to get her travelling and jumping boldly. I can wait to run again and I hope to get some show jumping in so I can practice going out competing and work on my nerves.
I feel so back in the game and happy again. All thanks to my lovely horse and very supportive friends, trainers, sponsors and family. Very very blessed 🙂
Lovely photos courtesy of Lens Vanity Photography