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  • Writer's pictureHannah Craft

Educational day out

Saturday was our first trip to Firle Place International.

Firle is known for being a tough competition and I think the courses really lived up to that reputation.

Walking the cross country course the day before, I felt like I had inadvertently entered the BE100.

Most of the jumps were shared with the 100 course anyway and it's fair to say that this was the biggest, widest and most technical 90 course I've seen so far.

The cross country course is built and designed by the Willis Brothers, who are responsible for the Badminton courses. I walked it and hoped that it rode a lot smaller than it looked - otherwise we were in trouble!!

When my alarm went off at 03:45am I was ready to roll.

Sid was pretty sleepy but soon perked up when he saw the trailer - he loves going out so much!

Once he had finished his pre-travel toilet break, we loaded him up and we were off.

We arrived at the venue, after taking a very indirect route (thanks satnav), and quickly dashed to get my number and check out the coffee van.

I had decided last night to leave clearing his stud holes out for the next day, as they had been plugged the last time I studded up.

That turned out to be a big mistake - with only 20 minutes to go before I needed to mount up and head to the dressage warm-up, the bleeding things were filled with stones and mud and my stud cleaner had bent and was next-to-useless!

Thankfully Yvette took over and started wrestling with said stud holes and the lovely people parked next to us offered to lend a hand (and a stud tap!)

By the time I had got dressed, sorted out my stock and given Sid a quick flick over with a brush, he was studded up and ready to go.

The dressage warm up was not particularly even and Sid was feeling a little tender after some boots had made his skin very raw and sore on his back legs.

We were also in the dressage arena a metre away from the portaloos and a lovely big marquee.

Needless to say, it wasn't our best test as his heart just didn't seem to be in it and I left the arena feeling rather deflated.

I was slightly relieved to hear that we had managed a 36.8 despite said awful-ness. On his dressage sheet, one of the comments at the end said that he had "obvious ability" so I think his paces must be coming along and hence why we had a disastrous test but an average mark.

We got into the show jumping warm up and Sid came alive. He does so love his job. The obvious enthusiasm put a smile back on my face and we warmed up nicely.

The show jumping itself was very spooky, with a lot going on around the edge of the arena.

Sid trotted into the arena on tenterhooks, but the buzzer went and he leapt into canter.

The round went almost to plan, he did get a tad keen at a few of the longer lines. However, compared to last week it was brilliant.

I managed to remember to sit back and throw in the odd half-halt and Sid was clear until the last, where a turn back on ourselves and a flapping sign in his eyeline caused him to stutter and then just roll the top pole.

4 faults to add to our score - I was happy with that.

The time came to mount up for the cross country.

Although the course was the biggest, and trickiest, we had faced so far, the nerves were slightly less than they have been.

I still felt a little sick heading towards the start box, but definitely getting better!

The warm up had almost gone to plan, but it was a very narrow space and I almost cantered through the string barrier not realising....but had managed to swerve and instead rode into the low-hanging branches of a tree. Maybe it knocked some of the nerves out!!

We were counted down and off we went.

Sid popped over the first few logs like they were twigs - so far so good. Then we came to the first 'challenge' - the big roll top with brush.

Honestly, I am happy to say that it rode beautifully and Sid made it feel like a 50cm jump.

Pleased with ourselves, we headed towards the next couple.

When I walked the course, I remember noticing the cows in the field adjacent. Luckily, there were none there! We sailed over 4a and b and flew 5 - which I know caused some people issues - and galloped down the hill.

Unfortunately, the cows then came into view. Sid had a tantrum at a plain and simple brush fence and pulled out of the jump. I circled and popped him over it but then he stopped again - at the gate crossing into the next field!

I was so surprised I nearly came off over his head!

I gave him a quick talking to and we trotted through the gate and scrambled over the brush hedge and into the next field and Sid picked up some speed - I think he was glad to get away from the cows.

We then came to the tricky water combination. This had worried me a little when walking the course, as Sid is a big horse and not adept at the technical/accuracy questions.

I needn't have worried though, as he popped the first, trotted down into the water, a big pony club kick from me and he jumped up the step out of the water and a few strides later (and a big "GO ON" from me he hopped over the skinny log/brush thing at C.

We galloped over the palisade oxer and popped the log and step down and turned for the line of big, wide fences by the trees.

I knew that Sid would be fine over the first two, as big, bold and wide are his specialities being such a beast, but the third element was as wide to jump as the second and a third of the length - and as above, we do NOT like narrow/skinny fences!!

Sid read it perfectly though, despite an awkward line to the third, and jumped over them all with room to spare.

We then flew over the next brush, had a slightly wobbly line to the hedge as Sid fancied the 100 option instead but decided to co-operate in the end and a nice jump over the skinny corner and wishing well.

Unfortunately I think Sid had started to tire from all the bigger jumping efforts and we had a stop at the wagon where I just didn't give him the best stride and he said "mum, I'm not getting you out of this one". He jumped it nicely on his second attempt though.

Then we popped the wooden cross and were home!

Sid was very pleased to have completed such a tough course and I am so proud of him.

A few years ago he was a green but willing happy hacker.

Now he is making a tough 90 seem small!

The heavens soon opened and we headed home (after a wonderful hot chocolate with smarties) and a few carrots for Sidney squirrel. What a horse.


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