• Hannah Craft

Whoooaah…we're halfway there, whoooAAH…living on a prayer

Tweseldown BE100

I know by now that some of you are wondering if I ride so terribly because it makes for better reading.

Sadly, I can confirm that the answer to that is no –

I am this much of a disaster.

Anyway, after a night drinking prosecco* with first mother-in-law and co., I woke up at 03:00am (I mean really, was it even worth going to bed?!) and headed to the yard to disturb Sid's dreams of a world where his feed bucket is never empty.

*alcohol required to numb the fact that, at 62, she looks better than I do now. I hope my kids get her genes.

To thank me, he had covered himself in stains (even underneath his hood and rug, because apparently he's a less impressive version of David Blaine) and had strands of hay plaited throughout his mane à la Little House on the Prairie.

Deciding that I'd rather be on time than late but pretty (literally, story of my life every morning) I loaded him up and began the journey to Tweseldown.

We were one of the first to arrive so I unloaded Sid and took another look at those stains.

After Sid had broken my (not inexpensive) tie up in several places in an effort to reach the grass (despite his haynet being within each reach) I gave up and tied him loose enough to graze, hoping that he wouldn't strangle himself on the lead rope whilst my back was turned.

I was parked next to some very friendly neighbours who, as luck would have it, had a grey pony.

They were also on stain control and lent me a magical stain-removing spray (thank you!) which I can confirm ACTUALLY works – now to purchase a majority shareholding in the company.

I stopped short of using some of the spray on my breeches, but to be honest they could have done with it.

As Sid and I were flying solo, we headed over to the dressage after a peaceful breakfast and tack up. I had possibly overused my massage rug whilst munching on breakfast - poor Sid had been vibrating for about an hour - but there's no such thing as too relaxed, surely…?!

Our warm up was short and sweet and only marred by Sid stumbling over his own feet at one point and then getting upset that he had tripped (the definition of unreasonable). All too soon, we were heading over to the dressage arena to do our test.

At this point I did regret that extra 30 minutes of vibration as we didn’t have the most brilliant test ever and Sid actually fell to trot out of canter at one point, which is unheard of.

On the other hand, the ground was pretty hard (not for lack of effort by Tweseldown, I should add) so I wasn't particularly concerned. In any case, it turned out to be a 36 which is a far cry from the 46+ we were getting this time last year.

As we were strolling towards the exit, a spectator shouted out "Well, that wasn't too bad."

Now, without getting on my high horse (in fact, I was already on him) I thought that was a bit odd coming from a stranger and turned around, prepared to give some sort of haughty set-down. At least, that would have been my intention, but being incurably British I'm sure I would have ended up apologising for not riding a better test and/or for blocking his sunlight as I walked past him.

Unfortunately, the stranger turned out to be my coach, who had seen my "desperate" (direct quote) post on #twittereventing asking whether anyone would help with my show-jumping warm up and decided to turn up to "help".

He's quite essential in ensuring that my terribleness ascends into mediocrity one day, and so I merely smiled and nodded benignly, whilst wondering if I could subtly manoeuvre Sid into standing on his expensive boat shoes for a giggle.

We headed back to the trailer and changed into our show-jumping gear. By this point, I had new stains on my breeches, which made me feel happy, because they hid the old stains.

I had walked the show-jumping course the day before and it looked fine, albeit that there were two dog legs at jumps 1 to 2 and 3 to 4 to start. Sid has no problem with dog legs, but sadly I have a habit of forgetting all about a second jump if it's not quite in my line of vision, and riding straight past it.

Today I was determined to build on the relative show-jumping success of Brightling and do Sid proud.

It started off well in the warm up because a lovely lady complimented Sid (apparently he has a relaxed canter and is a lovely horse?!).

Sid takes very well to compliments (don’t we all) and working trot very quickly became extended trot in his efforts to show just how lovely he could be.

My coach arrived and we started warming up.

I have to say, Sid could not have been more perfect in the warm up.

He listened to everything I asked him to do, he came to each jump in a nice even rhythm and we could not touch a pole for love nor money. Even when my coach suggested I try and bury him to an upright, he jumped cleanly over it from a deep stride. I think I may have even enjoyed it…..?!

I went into the arena and headed to the first jump in a nice canter, but I was slightly too 'full of purpose' as I was getting nearer and nearer to the start and no buzzer had sounded.

I had that moment of "…wouldn’t it be annoying if we have to circle…oh wait, we might actually HAVE to circle…should I just circle now… OK I'm ABOUT to circle… " before we heard that blessed sound and locked on to what I like to call the crosspole-oxer-wagonwheelish-jump.

It was a triumphant moment for me as I actually DID NOT forget the course. Small victories.

Sid had a pole midway round where it was an upright on a downhill slope (pretty much always coming down with us) and then jumped super over the rest of it, just rolling the final upright where we got a bit complacent.

A new favourite of mine are the wings that look like little bridges – even I took a second look at that, on a horse that either goes "over or through" show-jumping but does not stop, but of course Sid was on the money there.

My coach told me it was the best round he's seen Sid jump to-date, so you would be forgiven for thinking that we plodded off confidently to get ready for cross country.

Confession: I had walked the course the day before and it made me feel physically sick.

When I'm asked which jumps in particular I am worried about before an event, I can usually name one or two, but for this event I could name half of the bloody course!

Nevertheless, we warmed up and I attempted to shake off the nerves.

Clearly I wasn't doing a very good job as my coach came over and told me to pop Sid over a narrow house but to let go of the reins 5 strides out and just hold my neck-strap, as I wasn't letting go enough over the jumps.

Because I am programmed to do as I am told whatever that may be (yes, I am basically one of those ridiculous cliff-diving penguins) I let go as we headed towards the house, all the while chanting in my head the mantra that "…a fall in the warm up is not elimination, a fall in the warm up is not elimination…"

A few seconds later and we were cantering away from the house after Sid had jumped it on a lovely, flowing stride.

Probably an indication (if I ever needed one) that:

(a) Sid does a much better job when I stop interfering and

(b) my coach is usually right.

Luckily I didn't have too much time to ponder on the annoyingness – is that a word - of being proven wrong as I was heading over to the start box, but not before my coach told me to pull up after fence 3 if Sid wasn't feeling 100% keen.

I MEAN WHAT THE.

I think it's the equivalent of jumping out of a helicopter and then realising that your parachute has a hole in it…

Thank goodness Sid had his s**t together as he very nicely popped the first fence whilst I recited "hold with your legs, not your hands" in tune to Little Mix – Power.

My coach had told me that it was not a course you need to take any sort of a pull for, and so I rode around with my foot on the gas. Sid is not a fan of jumps in a line (which one do I jump, so many jumps to look at, panic panic) but he flew the second.

We headed to the third and Sid was spooking at a gap in the hedge, but we took a wide, curving line and he hesitated, then locked on and over we went.

At this point I had about 10 seconds to make a decision….and I can't choose from a menu in less than 25 minutes…so on we went to the first of my bogey fences – a hanging log at the top of a steep incline.

Full disclosure: we had a run out at the equivalent of this in the 90 last year. However, that was a year ago and I tried to stay back and drive him up towards the blasted thing. Well, I couldn't believe it when I opened my eyes and it was behind us!

The next jump was the absolute worst: a trakhener. I tried to ride positively but I must have been a little tentative because Sid was not having it the first time around. I circled and over he went (which is a minor miracle I suppose given how much trouble I have with trakheners) and then he hopped over the skinny house B element.

We then flew the log pile and turned towards what I felt was a tricky combination: a gappy upturned tree, down into a valley and then over two angled brush fences.

At this point I morphed into Andrew Hoy (or at least the smart-price version) and Sid effortlessly navigated the combination, to my complete and utter dismay.

We were now heading to what has to be the meanest jump I have seen at 100 level (although to be fair it was black-flagged). I had considered taking the alternative when I walked the course, but I was feeling #somoneysupermarket.

For those that didn't compete at Tweseldown, I can only describe it as a downwards trakhener…a step down with a hanging log next to it. Sounds fine, but the hanging log was higher than the step and was placed at an angle to the step down, making it pretty gappy (and we all know Sid likes to get stuck in gaps!)

I lined up my approach and took a deep breath. Sid had a little spook (it was a gap in the hedge, after all) but I clamped my legs on and grimly stared into the distance at our next jump, hoping we would get there.

Sid took stock of the jump and then threw himself over, a little surprised by the drop (but it was too late at that point). I gathered up my washing line reins and headed to the next, beginning to believe we might actually make it round!

We jumped over the hedge (with a hidden step up) and I managed to swerve over the narrow arrowhead brush B element, making a mental note to give Sid an extra carrot later for that piece of honesty.

We headed up to the trailer and I wondered what Sid was spooking at, realising just in time that there was some white string in our way and narrowly avoiding jumping that too.

He flew over the trailer and we headed for the water.

It's not an exaggeration to say that Sid LOVES water and he jumped quite exuberantly over the raised log into the water, giving me a very short space of time to turn for the duck at C.

Sadly Sid then quacked his pants (sorry – couldn't resist) and ducked (sorry again…) out to the left, which was completely my fault for not presenting him properly and giving him time to get over the fact that he was about to jump a brightly painted wooden duck. I circled and we flew over (SORRY) at the second time of asking.

He then made light work of a solid log spread and the two brush-topped walls on a curving line and popped over the hedge fence.

We had one final jump – the biggest brush fence on the course – but Sid made it feel easy and we were over the finish line before I had time to obsess about seeing the perfect stride.

I was beaming and doing the usual loud, amateur-identifier thing of patting the horse and telling them how awesome they are – but he really WAS.

On a side note, Sid very much appreciated the water that Tweseldown had placed at the finish line – such a great idea on a hot day.

I had to stop praising Sid for a second because my coach gave me Sid's saddle to carry back to the trailer and I had no spare breath for it, but rest assured he had a bucketful of treats when he had cooled down.

Overall, it was not a great score but I have taken so much confidence from our run over the hardest course we have attempted so far. All we have to do now is build on that and I've no doubt we will start finishing on some decent scores at 100 level. One thing I've learnt from stepping up is how capable my horse is and how much faith I really can put in him – and so we are halfway there and learning all the time!

Next up is Chilham and I cannot wait.

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