2014 – A year of almosts, learning and finding my XC mojo


Our eventing season came to an abrupt end a couple of weekends ago as our lovely lorry suffered an electrical malfunction, which proved to be something more than I had realised and meant I wasn’t able to have my last run, and a Novice spin at Oasby.

Disappointing times but I will come back next season raring to go and sometimes these things just happen. After a hectic couple of weeks of work, poorly children and general crazy times I’m quite glad to be sitting on the sofa for a few minutes before evening stables, having a little recollect over our season. It has flown by way too fast!

Our season started indoors with great clears at JAS and JT 100 competitions. Not in the top ten but really pleasing style marks and really positive feedback at our first time running in these classes which Wanda loved jumping. We will be back next year and riding much faster!

With a wet spring we only had time to XC school once before having an easy start at Iselham round the 90. We needed headlights for XC but came a credible 9th with time faults as I took things easy in the failing light. Isleham pulled out the stops and while other events were cancelled they ran on near perfect ground – such is the joy of well drained fenland!

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Next up was a wet Gt Witchingham, again spinning round the 90, frustrating time faults that knocked us out of the placings after a consistent double clear. The time issue was to be the focus of my season, at times frustrating but I’ve learnt so much by tackling this head on, getting the right advice and just kicking on. I have to thank my trainers and friends who have given me lots of invaluable advice.

As I felt it was time to upgrade we had a run round Burnham Market 100 and produced a great double clear and 33 dressage and 1.6 XC time to come 8th. It really felt that we had learnt how to sort out our speed and I rode so confidently XC.

Following this we went to Milton Keynes, again in the BE 100. Again a 33 dressage, one down SJ and clear XC but my nerves set in and we got 14 time faults. A real disappointment but as I’ve written in previous blogs, my personal stressed had a real impact on my confidence and ability to ride forward. This came to a head at Rockingham. I was second after the dressage on 30.5 and had awful nerves before the SJ. This was the first time I had been photographed by Lauren Causer, one of my sponsors and I really appreciated her kind words that day. I just wasn’t in the zone and decided to withdraw after having two show jumps down. Wanda felt flat and so did I. It was such a great event with a brilliantly built XC… we will be back in 2015.

At that point in the season I called in the help of Jo Davies, a sports psychologist, who helped me with my anxiety and worries. She gave me some great tips to combatting performance nerves. My nerves nearly reared their ugly head at Little Downham BE100. After a disappointing 35 dressage, 2 down SJ and SJ time I could have easily gone home! Thanks for my friend Hannah Galley who had come to support me and help out I did make it to the XC start box and set off. A really silly rider error stop was not what I needed to add to the cricket score but it made me so frustrated I then rode one of the best XC rounds I’ve ever ridden and came back understanding a lot more about what makes Wanda tick – essentially to just get on with it, let her use her neck and kick on!

Mid-season I had a couple of XC schooling sessions with the lovely Bill Levett who really helped me learn how to get the best out of Wanda. I really did appreciate stepping up a gear at Calton, jumping some of the biggest hedges I think both of us had jumped before, and again Wanda making light work of it.

A confident run at Buckminster followed with a 31 dressage, one down SJ and clear XC. Again the time faults crept back but I did feel like the jumping was getting easier and the whole day was great fun, wonderfully assisted by my friend Rosie Lloyd. At this point I had made a conscious decision to just go out and enjoy my eventing… it was a case of enjoy it or maybe look towards doing something else. I can safely say after this run although I was still getting nervous my ability to deal with anxiety and nerves was improving.

Carlton followed, a rather poor dressage, show jumps down but clear XC. Frustratingly again not consistent in all phases but definitely getting used to preparing, warm ups, focus and trying to get the best out of Wanda. Sometimes eventing feels like spinning plates, this year more than ever, but I do think my knowledge and feel of how to keep all those plates up there has really developed. As has my XC riding. I’ve realised that as much as I enjoy dressage and love a good show jump, particularly over a technical course what really thrills me is a technical and bold XC course where I have to think fast and rely on my instinct to get the best out of Wanda and have a really rhythmic round. It’s quite an art and only one that can be achieved with miles on the clock. This is something I feel I’ve really got to grips with this year. I have been very grateful to my trainer Val Gingell who has really got me working hard with exercises that make both myself and Wanda think, technical lines and forward riding, all on grass and in all weathers. In sum, some of the best training an eventer can have. I owe her a lot. She trained me as a junior rider over 20 years ago and has never given me poor advice. She really has been pivotal in my return to eventing – not least for recommending I went to view Wanda when I was struggling to try the right horse to event.

We stepped down a level for the BE90 RF at Milton Keynes in August. I knew that it would more than likely be important to get a good dressage score and I really trained towards this with the help of the very patient Matt Cox. I don’t really know what happened that day. My test was consistent and accurate, some parts better than others. But I scored an awful 38. Very annoying and I felt it wasn’t that reflective of the test. The judge seemed stuck on 6’s and marked harshly across the board. It was equally frustrating as Wands jumped a foot perfect double clear. Another ‘if only’ moment and 2/3rds perfect. So no Badminton Grassroots for us, but a really fun day and again a re-affirmation of how much I love riding Wanda XC.

To finish the season off I decided to do Burnham Market 100 again. I love the environment and course building there so thought I’d give it another bash. Sadly I was subject to a really nasty chest and sinus infection (aka the Burghley Flu) which went on to last for 5 weeks and two courses of antibiotics… then spread to the rest of the family. On the whole I don’t like to withdraw from events unless I really have to but there was no way I could have driven for 2 hours to compete on my own. Frustrating but the right thing to do.

Which led me to Little Downham, back to my local event to try a 100+. It was a delight to learn a Novice dressage test – at last something to ride. I was really lucky to be helped by my friend Fiona Reddick who gave me a great judge’s perspective on riding that test. I have to say I was getting paranoid about my dressage ability – Wanda is always consistent and things went a little askew this season. The test rode so well to sit in 3rd with a score of 33. I had taken a lot of time to break down the test and knew it inside out. I also think I had started to gain my core strength back and now I’m riding with a lot more strength. In addition, I’ve had the amazing support from a new sponsor Stephanie Pittam from Cambridge Equine Osteopath who has been treating both me and Wanda.

It has helped both of us no end and more importantly I am starting to iron out unlevelness which has been really problematic for some time.

I have been really lucky throughout the season to be supported by the team at Forelock and Load who have been superb cheerleaders and always ensuring we look so smart. Lauren from Lens Vanity Photography has been amazing, capturing some classic eventing moments that are a delight to re-live. Sarah Skillin from Equiexcel has been an amazing support, helping me develop my website and integrating the social media within it. More recently Hawkins Organic has been supplying us with superb naturally sourced grooming products which are always a real treat to use. On top of all of this I’ve launched a new project www.thebituk.co.uk . The Bit UK is a country and equine lifestyle and fashion online magazine. Our little team have been thrilled with the success of this site, already being featured in our web hosts global marketing campaign and receiving over ten thousand hits per month.

I digress from the main theme of this blog… the eventing! I think 2014 has been the year that I discovered that I never really forgot how to ride XC, I just needed mileage and to have the balls to kick on. I have confirmed what an honest little horse Wanda is and the braver I get, the bolder she becomes. I firmly believe that we have a really solid working partnership now and will undoubtedly be able to get all those plates up and spinning in 2015. I’ve also got a couple of other exciting projects in the pipeline so next year is destined to be full on and very fun!

At this point I’d like to thank all my family who support my passion. My children for their well wishes before I leave to compete and understanding when I am away competing, my partner for very rarely complaining about the long days and early starts, my parents for helping me fund everything from bedding to feed and upkeep of our lovely farm. A special mention to my friends who come along and support or groom, again you know who you are and I appreciate every minute of help – its so hard to get out eventing when you have kids so any help is very much appreciated. Most importantly I want to give Wanda the biggest pat possible. She has helped me turn my life around. Without her my life would certainly be different, maybe less hectic, but not as fulfilled as it is today.

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